Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Day 9: Things People Say to Adoptive Families

"When I grow up and have kids, if they REALLY misbehave, you know what I'm going to tell them? . . . I'm going to tell them they're adopted."

Shoot me now.  Did someone just say that with Wenxin sitting here?

Making my way over to stand near Wenxin, I jump into the conversation. "Well that shouldn't bother them. Adoption is a good thing. One of the best days of my life was the day we adopted Wenxin."

"Was it the VERY best day of your life?" Wenxin asks, looking up at me for a response.

"One of the VERY, VERY best, Baby. "

I give him a little squeeze, and he goes back to munching his snack.

So who was it that told the insensitive adoption joke right there in my kitchen? Well, it was none other than Wenxin's 12 year old brother, Nathan.

Now before you get mad at Nathan, let me say that Nathan adores his little brother. This joke wasn't motivated by jealousy or anger or a desire to put Wenxin in his place. It really wasn't. It was just a joke he heard at Boy Scout camp. A joke that he found funny and repeated without thinking very deeply about how it might make his brother feel.

It got me thinking about the clueless things that get said to adoptive families. I just googled What Not to Say to Adoptive Families.  You know, stuff like, "What happened to his REAL parents?" and "What do your REAL kids think about him?" and "How much did he cost?"  It came back with over two million results. 

I had to ask myself, "Why doesn't this bother me more?" Because honestly, I don't lose a lot of sleep over it.

A few random thoughts:

1.  We chose to become an inter-racial family and just seeing us out together raises questions. My most asked question in the grocery store is, "Are they all yours?"  Until I sat down to write this post, I always assumed the question was being asked because there are four of them.  But now that I think about it, maybe sometimes they are asking because one of the four is Asian.  How dare they? 

2.  It's not everyone else's job to learn all the politically correct adoption lingo before they can talk with me. My own sweet mom once asked me about a friend who had recently adopted: "Does she have any children of her own?" 

I simply replied, "Yes, she has three biological kids and one newly adopted child." 

I didn't get bent out of shape about the fact that the adopted child was her own as well. My mom wasn't trying to offend me. She was actually showing an interest in my friend and her family, a point I would have totally missed had I decided to go to war over her choice of words. Hopefully after hearing my response, she has a better idea of how to ask next time. And even if she doesn't, is it really that big of a deal?

3.  Short and sweet answers are usually best. Just like I did with my mom, most days, it's easy enough to smile and respond briefly with grace.  And especially when the conversation is with a stranger, it's not necessary to explain all the details of how we became a family. In fact, I actually have a responsibility to protect Wenxin's privacy. He needs to own his own story and choose what he'd like to share with whom -- and when he'd like to share it. 

4.  Finally, just because I'm OK fielding questions that aren't always worded in the best way, doesn't mean that Wenxin is OK. Home for almost three years now, Wenxin's made it through the initial adjustment period.  He's fluent in spoken English.  He's secure in our family.  But he has a lifetime ahead of him navigating what it means to be a Chinese-American international adoptee. He and I view his adoption through different lenses and clueless comments may well affect us differently. Something to keep in mind.

Click here to read the whole series.

Shared at WFMW.


  1. I'm so glad I'm not the only one who feels this way! I see so many adoption bloggers (older adoptees mostly) just going on rants and raves about the terms people use when talking about adoption! But I'm sitting here going, "If they have zero connection to adoption, how are they supposed to know any different?" I mean, yes, educate them, nicely (like you did,) but they're just using the best vocabulary they can come up with right then on the spot. And I'm sure that 95% of them are being as careful and tip-toeing around the conversation as much as they can. For the rude strangers, it's none of your business anyway ;)

  2. Appreciate the points you make here, Dana! Great points and well communicated. Great post!

  3. The one comment I always correct on is the "real" ones. Do you know anything about his/her "real" parents? Yup, you are looking at one. I am his "real" mom. I am there for him/her 24/7.
    When my children were younger friends who met me would ask "Is she your 'real" mother? I would answer simply...yes, families don't always look alike!


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