As an adoptive family, we get lots of questions and comments. They provide for lots of awkward moments but they rarely keep me up at night.
Except one. One eats away at me and it comes in many forms.
The other day in the grocery store, it was just me and Jamie. Jamie was being his normal, silly and inquisitive self. As she was scanning my groceries, the checkout lady looked at him and then looked at me and simply asked, ‘Is he yours?” When I responded that he was, she followed up with “Is he adopted?”
I get this question a lot, so I had an answer. I knew the drill. But there was something very different this time.
This time Jamie was listening. After our exchange, Jamie looked at me and very innocently asked, “What did she say?” And when I told him, he immediately asked, “Why?”
As I looked at my precious boy, my heart broke. As I responded politely to the woman asking the question, I felt tears in the back of my eyes. And as I told Jamie a better version of what she had asked, I realized that I need to teach my children how to handle this question.
And the question comes in many forms:
Is he/she yours? Are they adopted? Do you have any children of your own? Are they real brother and sister? Are you their “real” mom / dad?
In addition to teaching them to brush their teeth, go potty, ask polite questions and pick up their shoes … In addition to family dance parties, group hugs and Lego building … I need to teach my kids how to handle someone questioning whether they belong to me or to their daddy or to each other.
I need to help prepare them that people will ask questions in such a way that it will call into question everything they have always known.
I need to prepare them.
And I’ve got to start now.
I know that this woman and the many, many others who have asked don’t mean any harm. I tend to assume the best of people, and this case is no different. And, most of the time, the comment I get most is about my children’s eye lashes and beautiful smiles.
I don’t blame that woman. She didn’t know me or my children and she was making polite conversation.
I’ve been wrestling with this blog post for some time. Adoptive families will tell you that this is a constant theme, especially if your family is very obviously formed by adoption.
And I’ve written lots about this subject. Some I’ve published, others are still too intimate, too personal to let the world read.
In the end, here is what I want people to know. Questions aren’t bad. I’m a teacher. I love questions. If you ask one, I will feel compelled to answer.
But, I need you to understand something. This is personal. Asking questions about our adoption story is like asking someone for their birth story. It’s not necessarily as graphic, but it is just as personal.
So, here’s my unsolicited advice: If you are interacting with an adoptive family that you have no personal relationship with, think about the question before you ask the question.
(For help knowing if a question is appropriate, I suggest you watch this.)
And, if you’re never going to see them again, don’t ask. Instead, squelch your curiosity and simply say, “they’re precious.” And leave it at that.
If you have a relationship with the family and are sincerely curious, my best advice is to admit that you don’t know exactly how to ask the question and proceed from there. As I said earlier, Brandon and I are very open and we love answering questions in the context of a personal conversation.
But here is my one request. Do not (I repeat) do not ask the question in front of the child. Just don’t. They hear more than you think and, even if they’re 18, they probably wont enjoy the question.
So, seriously, don’t.
In conclusion, here are my very own children, a very real brother and sister, at around the same age taking a bath. They both have beautiful curls and the kind of eyes that cause (and convey) all sorts of feelings.