I have found the answer varies from parent to parent and the range is wide on how people feel and tend to respond. Also, how they tend to respond isn’t always how they wish they would or could respond. I belong to several adoptions groups and that question has come up among us a few times. I have been surprised at how hostile a few of the parents have felt when they mentioned being asked in public if their child was adopted. They generally have vented to our group and asked for suggestions for some short; snarky answers they could give to any nosy busy bodies they feel have no business asking for personal information like that. The mothers almost always have an anecdote to add about the questioner wanting to touch their child or their child’s hair without asking which has obviously bothered them. While I can understand some upset, I have never understood a need to be hostile to a questioner
For the most part, the parents I’ve discussed this with are fairly open to questions depending on how and when they are asked. My experience is mostly with those who have adopted transracially. We are, of course, the obvious ones. You notice us easily in public places with our children and we, apparently, pique a lot of curiosity. The one thing we all tend to agree on is if you are going to ask us if our child is adopted, please don’t do it in front of our child. It is one thing when they are infants and don’t know or understand what you are talking about. It is another thing completely when they are toddlers and older.
My kids are 3 and 5 and because we have talked about their adoptions with them they already know what the word “adoption” means. They don’t understand it on a grand scale but know enough to know they came to us a little differently than most babies come to their families. We talk about their adoption with them as a time of great joy and have shared our belief that Heavenly Father helped bring them into our home and into our lives.
I don’t ever want them to feel they are not a natural part of my family. Think about it this way: Does anyone ever walk up to you in a store and ask you if you had your baby in a hospital and if so, which one? Do they? Of course not! If they did, my kids might think it was a normal thing to have strangers walk up in public and ask questions about where their lives began and why—but that doesn’t happen to all parents—just the parents of the “DIFFERENT” kids. Trust me, my kids are going to have enough challenges and reasons in their lives to feel different ~ they don’t need an additional one. I care deeply about how they feel. Don’t get me wrong, I won’t want to hurt your feelings--but their feelings have to come before your feelings, so if you put me on the spot in front of them, I won’t be mean but I will brush off your question.
That said; let me tell you how much I LOVE ADOPTION! Adoption gave me my family. ALL of my kids, with the exception of Carson, whom I lost in utero, came to me through adoption. I am thrilled to answer questions about adoption. But please, if I am with my children pull me off to the side and ask me. You can also tell me you have some questions about adoption and ask if you can call me later or get my email and send me some questions—just don’t embarrass my children or make them feel like they are somehow not a part of me. Trust me; my children are just that--MY CHILDREN. They were born in my heart long before they were born on this earth. They are a part of me and a part of my family and always will be. You will never hear me refer to them as my adopted children. In my mind and heart, getting them here was just a formality and how it happened in the end doesn’t matter at all. My body didn’t work right so God made other plans to get MY CHILDREN TO ME. They were always meant to be mine. It was just a matter of logistics, never a matter of where they belonged.
Let me suggest a way to ask about adoption without actually asking the “Are they adopted?” questions. Simply say something like, “Oh my goodness, they are adorable. Are they yours?” Or say, “My you have a beautiful family.” If you do this and the person is open and able to talk with you about their adoption story, they will. I am so proud of my little ones that when they were little and anyone would give me half a chance I would gush over them. I was also anxious to help anyone interested in adopting with more information. Now that they are older I am more cautious because I don’t want their adoptions to be constantly thrown in their face. I want them to just be and feel a normal part of our family—because they are.
I have never forgotten something I heard Marie Osmond say about her children. Marie adopted several of her kids and someone interviewing her one day asked her which ones were adopted and which ones were her biological children. Her answer was “I can’t remember.” I loved that! That is exactly how I feel. It doesn’t matter how they got there. They are all her children. That is exactly how I feel about all my children.
I mentioned this a little bit earlier but one thing I never realized was how much white people really want to touch African American hair. Seriously, nearly everyone who stops me does want to touch my little girl’s or boy’s hair. It never bothered me at all when they were babies. It wasn’t like someone would just come up and touch their hair. It was always someone who stopped and asked about them and was curious. It always happened when we were already in conversation. It has just struck me funny recently because I don’t think I ever had that urge or curiosity. I do have to be more protective now that my kids are older, though. I can’t just say “Yes, you can touch their hair.” My kids are little people and they have feelings and emotions. Sometimes I will ask them if they mind and sometimes I just have to say it’s probably not a good time.
I kind of get surprised sometimes at how curious people are—and like I said, when they were younger, I was a lot more open. Now that they are older, I don’t give as much information to random people who ask questions. Here are the general questions I get:
Are they yours?
Where are they from?
Are they brother and sister?
Why did their mom give them up?
How much did they cost?
How long did it take?
Couldn’t you have your own?
I started with the “Are they yours?” but actually, my husband and I were a little bit older when we adopted. So, sometimes the question is “Are these your Grandchildren?” (Actually, there are many couples that are older when they adopt. This often happens because couples go through the whole fertility issue and try to resolve it before they turn to adoption—and that can take years.)
Anyway, back to the “Are these your grandchildren?” questions. Let me tell you, if you want to put a woman in a bad mood, begin with that question. I mean, how stupid can you get? Let me give you a better idea if you absolutely must and need to at least try to ask. Walk up to me and say “And who are these gorgeous kids?” I might still know you didn’t think I was their mother but I won’t feel like running you over in the parking lot with my SUV. (Kidding. I don’t have an SUV—but my mini-van would probably do the trick. ;)) And maybe, just maybe if I am in good humor and up to it—I will slide off to the side a bit and tell you a little bit about them.
As far as the rest of the questions, when I look at them now answering them would provide a ton of information to a total stranger, and wouldn’t feel right, especially when I consider I haven’t yet given that much information to my children about their birth. So, especially if the person you are thinking of asking these types of questions of is a stranger to you; I think you would be wise to weigh your need to know versus your curiosity—and then decide, is it really your business?
As I said before, for me, it really is a completely different thing if I am helping someone who wants to adopt. I am more than willing to tell them everything I can think of about adoption. But, I am not sure anymore that strangers need to know where my babies were born, if they are blood siblings (which is the real question they are asking) because OF COURSE, they are brother and sister. I am their mommy! And strangers, I’m pretty sure you also don’t need to know things about my children’s birth mom I haven’t yet shared with them yet, either. So really, why go there?
As to questions like how much did it cost? How long did it take? – Those are incidentals in the adoption process. Again, I would truly love to give you the whole picture if you are interested in adoption. Let’s do lunch. Call me, email me, come visit and we’ll chat.
“Couldn’t have your own babies? That’s so sad.” Seriously? My uterus is your business how? Okay, here’s my real answer. These are my own babies. These are the children God gave me. This is my life, not a dress rehearsal. Again, I don’t care how they got here. They are mine.
I could go on and on but I think I will end this post with one last story. One day Rob, Carly and I were in Sam’s Club. I think we just had Carly at the time and she was still pretty little. Anyway, we were in the cafeteria area and got some refreshments and sat down to eat. Rob then remembered something he needed to go look for so he went back into the club area while Carly and I waited in the cafeteria. As I was refilling our drinks, the janitor, who was a woman came up and started a conversation with me-using the wrong question! “Is this your grandbaby?” (Don’t worry, I let her live.) She followed that happy question with several other stunners, one of which was, “Is your husband black?” I told her no, he was the white male who had been sitting with us a few minutes ago. Before I could explain that Carly was adopted, she said something back to me like, “Well, I thought that was probably your husband but I wasn’t sure because of the baby being black.” I let her off the hook and told her we adopted Carly. To which she said, “Oh good, cuz I was about to ask you if you had fooled around on your husband or something.” Hahahahahahaha! Can you believe that? Some people’s children - - and yes, I am referring to the grown up asking the questions here. Lol! I guess it takes all kinds.
As I end this, I really do want to say that to friends and family I have no problem at all being open and answering questions about my children’s adoptions as long as they are not around. I am still very open with people I am close to. It is only people who are complete strangers without a need to know I have started to be resistant with. So, friends, family feel free to ask if you have questions. (The rest of you—be frightened, be very frightened. Lol)
So, is it okay to ask if someone’s child/children are adopted? In the right situation, usually you can ask limited questions. The right circumstance is—NEVER IN FRONT OF THE CHILDREN (EXCEPTING INFANTS). And your safest way is to compliment the family or the child and see if the parents open the matter for discussion. If you are braver, go for it and ask a direct question. Just know that once in a while, you will hit a landmine!
Please feel free to make comments on this post. I would love to hear your thoughts on this or anything else I write. Thanks, Nancy