5 Things Not to Say To a Parent By Adoption (And How To Respond)
I could have called this “1000 Things Not to Say To a Parent By Adoption” but I don’t have all day and neither do you. As parents by adoption, we’ve heard it all. We’ve been approached by random strangers asking about the details of our adoptions or questions about why our skin doesn’t match. We’ve probably been offended and embarrassed in a million different ways as we’re caught off-guard and stumble over our response. We’ve tripped over words and tried to educate those around us. Sometimes we do this gracefully and other times, well, not so much. Sometimes, we’re presented with opportunities to educate on adoption and sometimes we must choose to smile and walk away. I am a mom of two daughters by adoption who are only 6 months apart and look nothing alike. They’re under two years old but I’m learning more and more how important my responses to these questions are because they are watching my every move. How we react and what we say sets them up to be proud and confident in their story or feel labeled and ashamed. And you’d better believe that I’m doing everything in my power to make sure it’s not the latter. Here are some of the most common questions that we get and how I usually respond.
- “Where is her real mom at?” Of course, I know what they mean. On occasion, if I feel like educating a bit, I’ll politely smile and say “Oh, you mean her biological mother, right?” and I wait for their response. It doesn’t seem like much but it corrects their language in a polite way. Then I’ll say “oh, she is definitely in her eyes and she has curly hair like her biological mother, too.” My oldest daughter definitely has her birthmother’s eyes and curls. I love this response because 1) it doesn’t answer their nosey question or provide intimate details on her birth family and 2) it honors her birthmother about beautiful traits I see in my daughter.
- “She must look like her father because she looks nothing like you.” I’ve gotten this a few times when I’m out alone with my youngest daughter. Although it’s a normal reaction to explain, explain, explain, just stop. This is a typical “smile and nod” situation. This stranger has already made a conclusion. They didn’t ask a question but rather made a statement. On occasion, I’ll engage a bit more and ask “does your whole family look alike?” They’ll stop and think and most of the time, they’ll tell us how their brother-in-law married a beautiful Indian woman or how their cousin just adopted a sweet girl from China and suddenly – we’re all the same.
- “Why did her mother give her up?” Yes, I’ve gotten this question multiple times from completely random strangers. I know, it’s baffling. Up to this point, my conclusion has been that a stranger whom is rude enough to ask something like this is not interested in being educated about adoption. They’re just plain nosey. So I kindly smile and look at them with a puzzled look on my face and simply say “Oh, what do you mean?”. Then, I wait quietly for their response. First, this keeps me from over-explaining or giving unnecessary details of their story. But, more so, it lets this random stranger stumble over their words and try to explain what they think they meant. In doing so, they have to stop and think of a gentler way to ask their question. And usually they come to their own conclusion that it’s none of their business at all.
- “Are they both yours?” As I mentioned, my daughters are only 6 months apart and look very different. We often get asked this question when we’re all out together. This is another example of giving the tried and true “smile and nod” and keep on walking. Most of the time, I will proudly say “they are absolutely mine” or something along those lines so my daughters can see my beaming pride. As a parent by adoption, I try not to constantly blurt out “they were adopted” at every turn or feel the need to constantly explain my family.
- “How much did she cost?” Oh yes, it’s true. I’ve been asked this more than once. I have to keep myself from physically cringing but again, I politely smiled and give another puzzled look and a “oh, I’m not sure what you mean”? And you can see them insert their foot right in to their mouth as they try to explain themselves and what they think they know about adoption expenses. At the end of all of that I’ll usually say something like “Oh, I’m not sure, but I can’t imagine her birthmother’s prenatal care and labor expenses were any more or less than a normal labor and delivery”.
I’m still learning. I’m still trying to decide the best ways to respond but it does get easier. And perhaps I just look more confident and less like a target from afar now because the comments have been fewer as my girls get older. I think it’s important to share pieces of our story when it could potentially impact or educate someone on adoption. But I also feel like it’s (maybe even more) important to protect our story and refrain from putting the constant label on our children or birth families.