Feb 19 2010

The things they say

As promised in my last post on adoption, below are some of the amusing, crazy and occasionally insulting things that people have said to us over the years about adoption. I generally give my friends a lot of latitude around this stuff since they all mean well. So please don’t think I’m singling you out (or mad at you) if you’ve said one of these things to me (other than the Bradgalina one – that does universally annoy me) <g>. My hope in posting this is to raise awareness just a bit and make people think a bit more before they ask these questions. Language and intent really do matter here…

What do I call _____”. First a few thoughts on adoption terminology since a lot of people ask me. Our daughter by birth is our biological daughter (“bio” in adoption slang vs. “adopted” for our other kids, although we don’t often refer to our children by any modifiers – our son, our two daughters…and leave it at that). Our adopted kids biological parents are their “first family” (this is preferred over “birth mom/dad” – which implies that they had only one task in this arrangement). We’re their “forever family” (although again, only really in context since we’re just “family” like any other family). Our kids were at a “Care Center” before we brought them home – generally a preferred term over “orphanage” which is more of a permanent facility (i.e., kids grow up there, they aren’t there waiting for their forever families).

Why was your child put up for adoption? What happened to their mom and dad?” We’ve shared this information with some of our close friends, but when you think about it, this is a deeply personal question and both my wife and I don’t feel comfortable outside of our immediate circle of friends talking about it. It’s not that we’re embarrassed about our kids history or even that we don’t want to share it, but we (and many adoptive parents) feel that ultimately this history belongs to our kids and it’s up to them to decide when and how to share it (they’re clearly too young to decide that for a while). When someone who we don’t know well asks us this we typically make some very general statement so as not to give away too much information (and both my wife and I have literally been asked this question by completely strangers). Best not to ask unless you’re close friends with the family.

“[insert name of adopted child] is so lucky”. This is by far the most common thing people say to us about our kids and I’m 100% certain that everyone who has said it meant it as a compliment to my wife and me (i.e., we’re good parents and we’re in the fortunate position of being able to provide a good life to our kids). I say that because I really do want to be clear on this one that no one has hurt my feelings in any way by saying this. But I don’t agree with this sentiment and here’s my chance to say why. Clearly the world would be a better place if adoption wasn’t necessary – if parents could take care of their kids and provide at least a basic life for them. I feel truly sad for my kids that they’ve lost the part of themselves which is their connection to their first family and their country of birth. I get that they are “lucky” in the sense that by world standards they now live in a wealthy country with parents who can provide to them things that their first families weren’t able to but I don’t really believe that this life is better than a life where they had been able to stay with their first families. I’d also point out that our biological daughter is similarly lucky (which is often lost in the equation) and that even more so, my wife and I are truly the lucky ones by getting to have such great kids in our lives.

When did you get him?” To be clear, the issue here isn’t people asking how long one of our adopted children has been home, it’s the “get him” part that just doesn’t sit right. The kids aren’t a new car or a handbag – and we didn’t “get” them.

Are you going to tell them they are adopted?” Just a quick comic interlude in an otherwise serious post. I really did get asked this question (once – by Ross, our Director of IT). When I just stared back at him blankly he quickly figured out that brown-skinned kids with pink-skinned parents will probably figure it out…

How much did you pay for him?” Ok – back to serious stuff. This one really irks me and we actually do get asked it on a regular basis. Adoption does cost money (as does giving birth, I might point out) – there’s money to the social worker who does your homestudy, money to take state-required parenting classes, money to the government to get fingerprints taken, money to the foreign agency to provide care for kids, money to travel, money for visa and more paperwork . . . you get the picture. In none of this is anyone “paying for” a child any more than when you give birth and pay the doctors, ultrasound technicians, nights at a hospital, nurses, etc. are you “paying for” your bio child. If you’re interested in adopting and are curious or concerned about the costs, say that exactly (even when people ask in a nicer fashion about the costs of adoption I typically respond with “why are you asking?” so I understand the context – I generally don’t discuss my finances with friends or strangers, so if the person is simply curious rather than asking a question as it relates to their own decision to adopt I will typically blow it off).

‘"You guys are just like Brad and Angelina!” Seriously? Is this the most original thing you can think of to say? I’m actually shocked at how many people have said this to us (usually strangers, often at a party or some similarly casual event). I typically respond “wow – I haven’t heard that one before!” and leave it at that. While I don’t actually know Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie personally, it sure seems from the outside that they are good parents who care about their kids. I get that these days it’s somehow seen as trendy to adopt a child, particularly one from Africa and I’m sure that some celebrities and non-celebrities alike have gone into adoption influenced by other famous people who have adopted. In fact, we know several people who have adopted in part because they were familiar with our family and our experience. So maybe Brad and Angelina are just following our trend! (I actually can’t recall if they had already adopted when we started our process or not)

I could go on, but I think that’s a pretty good start. I’d love to hear from some of my readers (a number of whom – I learned from my last post – are also adoptive parents) about their experiences, both good and bad.