My husband and I adopted our three children. They
were all born in China. One of the topics that is discussed when
couples or single people take pre-adoption classes is the questions
that adoptive families encounter in everyday life either in public
or sometimes even with extended family.
As much as these classes try to prepare you for
these situations, when someone finally asks these types of
questions you're often left surprised and tongue-tied or, at best,
prepared to respond with the rote answer you memorized from the
After adopting our first son we had a number of
people, mostly strangers, comment or ask questions about our
family. It wasn't so troubling to me when my children were little
and too young to understand, but now that they're older (9, 8 and
4) it is frustrating and hurtful to be encountered by such
questions and comments.
The worst encounter my family has experienced was
with an elderly woman afflicted with a bit of senility who cornered
us in a nursing home while we visited a family member. The woman
proceeded to relay every Asian stereotype I had ever heard,
including how Asians use chopsticks because if they had knives they
would kill each other, asking if my children were in gymnastics
because Asians are so good in the circus and then she proceeded to
speak Japanese phrases to us.
Fortunately, this was an isolated incident, but I
am aware that it could happen again at any moment.
Most people would never say things like that
elderly woman said to us, but there are still times when people say
things or ask questions that, on the surface, seem harmless, but
inflict damage on my children and our family.
Here's a list of things NOT to say to an adoptive
1. Avoid using the word "real." As in, "Are
those your real children? What happened to their real parents? Are
your sons real brothers?"
The implications of these kinds of questions are
that birth families are more worthy than adoptive families. A
better choice of words would be, "Did you adopt your children? Are
your children siblings by birth? But, ultimately, if you're a
stranger in Wal-mart, the answers to these questions are not your
business. People would never say to a single mother that they've
never met, "So, what happened to their father?"
2. "So you couldn't have your own
This is a very offensive question to both the
parent and the child. This implies that birth children are better
than children that were adopted. If you become close with a person,
then this information will eventually come out, otherwise, it's
none of your business.
3. "You are such a good person. They are so
lucky; so blessed. I could never do this."
This may sound good on the surface, but saying this
in front of the adopted child implies that the parent is a saint
for adopting a less than desirable child. "I could never do this,"
can imply that the child must be a terror when compared to birth
children. Often people think adoptive parents have done something
good by adopting their child, but often, that adoptive parent just
wanted to be a parent, it didn't necessarily mean that they did
anything exceptional. The day-to-day life of being an adoptive
parent isn't any different than that of a birth parent.
4. "How much did your child
This is an awful question, but people have asked
me. This implies that I purchased my child, as if I could walk into
a grocery store and buy a child like I'd buy a gallon of skim milk.
Yes, there are legal fees and processing fees and fees for the care
of your child prior to adoption, but the child was not
5. "Weren't there any Americans you could
As Americans we can be very Americentric. This
question implies that American-born people are better than anyone
else in the world. It implies to the child that being American-born
is better than being born in other countries.
6. "Do they speak
This question is irritating, particularly when the
child is five years old, or even nine. Children typically pick up
good English skills within six months of coming home to an
English-speaking family. There's no need to ask a question like
7. "You have such a beautiful
Another comment that doesn't seem so bad on the
surface and is, by far, the least offensive, but the problem is
that adoptive families hear this a lot, weekly for our family.
Hearing this often, adopted children learn that they are different
and stand out and it can make them feel uncomfortable. It's even
more obvious when the adopted child, in a family of birth children,
is picked out as the cute one all the time.
These are just a few questions that I've been asked
over the years. We are constantly guarding ourselves, and our
children, and preparing them for these types of situations, not
only from adults, but also from their peers, and the possible
responses they may or may not want to give. I'm currently at the
point, where I avoid eye contact with strangers when I'm in stores
with my children, in hopes that we can avoid the questions
So as not to come off as superior, I confess that
before we adopted our children I asked or thought many of these
same questions and comments. It wasn't until taking the classes or
being on the receiving end of these questions and comments did my
own stereotypes and false beliefs smack me in the face.
My hope is that people will consider their words
before asking questions of or making comments to an adoptive family
and seriously consider saying nothing beyond a smile when the
adopted child is present.
Kate Hall is a married homeschooling mom to her three kids, all of which were adopted from China, living in the lovely suburbs of Chicago.
See more of Kate's stories here.
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