When I wrote this post: When Is That Okay?, I got a LOT of feedback between the comments on the blog and the comments once the post hit my Facebook page. Wow! Overwhelmingly the comments spanned lots of moms sharing comments they had gotten in general – both adoptive and non-adoptive. Several of you enjoyed the story in and of itself and laughed. But then I had a few other reactions… ones I didn’t even anticipate.
One friend I found out was not necessarily laughing when she read that post. She saw the humor in it for sure, but in reading all of the follow-up comments, there was not as much laughing as there was a healthy dose of paranoia! Immediately she began to wonder if she had offended ME in anything she had said, any other adoptive family, or good grief – what can you say to anyone??
I was struck by the different perspective on what I intended as a humorous post. I intended to show that I am NOT easily offended, and I even really do laugh about even the most personal questions! (If you didn’t read it, you really should – it was a doozy!) And I DO realize that the girls COULD be biologically mine – it’s just not as likely.
But my friend said something that struck me in the gut, “I’ve wondered a lot of the questions that people listed as being offensive. I have probably asked several of them aloud simply because I was curious and really did want to know. And now it seems there is a whole different world of rules and guidelines that I’ve never been introduced to, and yet I’m expected to follow them. I feel like there’s an invisible script I’m supposed to follow that I haven’t ever even seen!”
Wow. Good point. I know EXACTLY how she feels.
You see, when we started this adoption process, we did TONS and TONS of research. There are blogs to read, websites to search, and thankfully message boards to join. I remember finding all of the yahoo groups that covered adoption in Ethiopia. After we got our referral, I even found a yahoo group of people that had adopted twins! Pretty cool!
I remember sighing in deep gulps of relief – my people! I could finally ask questions that I’d wondered and figured nobody else really understand! If anyone could answer my burning questions, it would be my fellow adoptive moms of course!!!
I started reading through the biggest Ethiopian adoption yahoo group just to kind of see what types of things were being discussed. Oh. My. Instead of helpful, mentoring banter, there was this atmosphere of biting, sass, iknowmorethanyou egos, and flat out cursing insults. As I followed the threads to find the original questions, sometimes they were questions that I would have asked as well. But they came from moms just new to the adoptive process that HADN’T done all the research or lived in the adoption world for years on end. So their questions weren’t phrased in the most politically correct ways – innocent as they were.
For example, a question like this: “We are just starting to research agencies to adopt from Ethiopia. We are requesting a baby girl 0-12 months, and we at this time do not feel we can handle any special needs. In looking around at agencies, we’ve noticed that some agencies have waiting times of a couple of months while other agencies say it will take ten or more months! We would love to have our daughter home as soon as possible! Does anyone have any advice?”
Seems innocent enough, right? Someone just starting, needing advice. Oh no my little naive friends, she is gonna GET IT.
She will likely get replies that go something like this:
“Just another family wanting a healthy baby girl as fast and as young as possible. If your only primary concern is to get a baby as fast as possible, then you are not ready for adoption nor do you understand the issues that surround Ethiopia. You shouldn’t be adopting at all.”
OR “People like you are the exact reason there is corruption in Ethiopia right now. You want a baby as fast as possible, and you have no concern for all the older children that are true orphans.”
Now those responses come from some truth. Any poverty-stricken country that has “rich” westerners demanding babies is going to cause problems. If someone is willing to fork over a bunch of money for a healthy baby girl, then some of the in-country people are going to go to whatever measures they have to in order to get that money. Even if it means kidnapping. Or coercing a mother into giving up her child when other services could help her more. It’s horrible. And thankfully things in Ethiopia are changing so that an insane amount of scrutiny is being put on each case. I could write a thousand posts about this issue alone. But that’s not the point.
The point is the mom that’s just starting, that hasn’t researched all the answers, that really DOESN’T know. She’s asking for help from fellow adoptive parents, and she gets a reply that’s hateful, rude, and impatient instead of gentle, educating, and helpful.
You think I asked many questions on that board? NO. WAY.
Other boards, even those that had a better and more supportive atmosphere blasted people for not using the correct “pc” language. Some replies even implied that the question-asker was racist!! Really, I’m adopting a child of that race and yet I’m racist? Really?
There’s a lot of “I believe this way, it’s the right way, and if you say anything against that I’m gonna shoot you down with an arsenal of words and I got lots of friends on here who will back me up”. Where does that come from? People who have too much time on their hands? People with some obvious hurts in their past and the inability to look at someone else’s point of view? Definitely.
I found myself, as an adoptive parent, wondering what I was able to say. I STILL find myself suppressing an opinion I have about a topic because I don’t think it will be received well. And if you know me, you know I’m not often shy about expressing my opinion.
There’s almost this need for some adoptive parents to “one-up” each other. To compete in order to find out who the most open-minded, non-racist, best person is on the board. It’s really sick.
I recently read the book The Help and saw the movie. I saw discussions from adoptive moms BLASTING the story because it didn’t portray race relations in the South correctly, because the accents were wrong, because blah blah blah blah. Like most of those mothers weren’t even alive during that time period (nor was I). How do THEY know exactly how the relations were and how they talked? And even if you were familiar with relations in one part of the country, relations in a different part of the country were completely different. Each town certainly had its own personality and dynamics. Yet these expert adoptive moms couldn’t miss out on a chance to show how racist-free and superior they were. It was sickening to see. I stopped reading any reviews of it because I just didn’t want to hear it.
I enjoyed the movie. Were there things that bothered me? Were there things that I wondered about the accuracy of the movie? Did I want a maid like Aibileen for myself? Oh yes to all of the above! But I took the movie for what it was meant to be – at least in my opinion. I thought it was a celebration of the people that DID work together to eradicate slavery and to put in place civil rights. I enjoyed seeing the topic of racism confronted in a world were we still see the effects.
But it wasn’t enough for some to just enjoy the movie. They had to look for the negative. And those people would probably say I’m wearing rose-colored glasses and sticking my head in the sand. I’ve read comments as such.
So all of you who are wondering about this climate of adoption that seems to have all of these unwritten rules of what you can and can’t say, welcome. Yes, we get as many of those feelings as you do. (except for those of us adoptive parents that are the superior, always right ones)
What CAN you say? Mainly I pointed out to my friend was that she didn’t get to HEAR any of the comments and questions that people listed as being offensive. SO MUCH of ANY question is the WAY it is asked – body language, tone of voice, and intent. It’s usually pretty obvious whether someone is genuinely curious or nosy, critical or supportive, and judgemental or kind-hearted. Two people could use the exact same words, asking the exact same question, and it can have two VASTLY different meanings.
I will say that as an adoptive mom that does NOT get easily offended, you could ask me ANYTHING and I would really be okay. A-NY-THING!!!! Most moms I know are like that too. Now if you’re asking in the hallway at church when I have five kids to drop off or while I’m wrangling my crew with coupons at the grocery store, you might not get the best answer from me. But if you really want to know, I would LOVE to help answer questions. This is especially true for those that are interested in adoption. But my friend is not one that is going to adopt herself, but she’s VERY active in supporting other people’s adoptions. She’s invested! She really does care and really does want to know!
I can honestly say that the only things that would bother or offend me are comments that are obviously racist or critical of our family like, “You shouldn’t be adopting kids like that.” or “You’re a family of freaks.” or much worse… I don’t want to even try to dream something like that up and just can’t even put it in writing. That would obviously offend me. But even still, I would recognize that person as being ignorant and uneducated.
Some questions most adoptive families will probably choose not to answer:
Questions about the child’s history, their biological family’s story, etc. are inappropriate to answer in front of them – even if I was going to answer them. Most adoptive families keep the details of their child’s history private. I’ve shared some general facts, but there are parts of their story that Jason and I won’t share with anyone but the girls. Then it will be their choice to share their own story. They will choose who gets to know what about them. And those decisions are based on interviews with adult adoptees who shared that it was hurtful for everyone, even people they didn’t know, to know every single private detail about them.
If there is a question about the cost of adoption, most adoptive parents don’t mind answering if you are genuinely wanting to know because you’re interested in adopting yourself or supporting someone who is adopting or have a good reason for asking. I’d phrase my question like this, “I’m thinking about starting the adoption process, and I hate to be nosy. But, if you don’t mind telling me, what were the average fees you found when researching the adoption process?” It’s not a script, it’s just manners. Just like if you wanted to know how much someone makes or how much a car cost or how much therapy for someone’s child costs. You wouldn’t just come out and ask – that’d be considered rude. Most of the time in our culture, if you have a question about money, you explain why you are asking.
There’s so much else to explain, and again, the basic “rules” just come down to being respectful. That’s all. Again, I think most adoptive parents would be okay with anybody asking ANYTHING if it’s done in a respectful way.
Now, here’s the flip side that I really DON’T get. I cannot wrap my brain around why some adoptive parents are so easily offended by questions that aren’t phrased perfectly. Whether the question is coming from a fellow adoptive parent or a stranger at the grocery store, think about the intent of the person. Think about their heart. Do you honestly think they are INTENDING to cause you harm? I’ve seen SO MANY people get SO SNAPPY about questions that they have been asked that it shocks me!
I really do want to be open to talk about adoption and our family my whole life! We walk into a store, people notice, we’re different! If I bite everyone’s head off that asks a question, what is their opinion of adoption going to be? What is their opinion of our family going to be? What is their opinion of OTHER adoptive families going to be? And bottom line, it’s just not Christ-like to bite anyone’s head off for ANY reason! NOR is it Christ-like to badmouth them the rest of your life to re-tell the story of how you were offended! (I didn’t feel like I was badmouthing the paint guy; I really was relaying a funny story! And I did NOT respond to him ugly but respectfully chuckled and then answered questions about the adoption! It would have been REALLY easy to give him a big smack-down answer!)
On facebook, one fellow adoptive momma (so very helpful to me too) named Heather said when she gets asked, “How much did your adoption cost?” that she answers by saying, “Not as much as you would think. Are you considering adopting a child?” That’s a good, kind response!
I read a quote last night in a book called Toddler Adoption: The Weaver’s Craft that I thought was VERY pertinent to this topic. Check it out:
Try to be tolerant of friends and family’s misconceptions, stereotypes, or lack of knowledge. Sometimes adoptive parents forget that other people use insensitive adoption language out of habit, not to intentionally hurt. Perhaps we even used insensitive adoption language sometime in our past. When Grandpa says, “Why would Juan’s real mom give him up?,” gently respond, “I am going to be his real mom. His birthmother was unable to parent and, out of love, made an adoption plan that we have become part of.” Lois Melina wisely reminds us that, adoptive parents forget that there was a time when they, too, may have had doubts about adoption, told racist jokes, or thought there was no choice but to conceive a child. Two excellent books for family and friends who are supporting an adoption are When Friends Ask About Adoption: Question and Answer Guide for Non-Adoptive Parents and Other Caring Adults by Linda Bothun, and Supporting An Adoption by Pat Holmes.
Mary Hopkins-Best. Toddler Adoption: The Weaver’s Craft (Kindle Location 987). Kindle Edition.
I think the responsibility lies with us adoptive parents! Take the time to respond kindly – which doesn’t mean you have to spill all! We spend time demanding that people be considerate and respectful of our families. Yet we must in turn be considerate and respectful of people around us as well.
Thoughts? For adoptive parents, what are some good, respectful answers you’ve prepared in advance? Opinions from non-adoptive folks? What about the adoption process makes you nervous to ask or feel like you’re offending someone??? Ask away!!!