that adoption video going around on facebook

So there’s a PSA-style video that’s been going around on facebook talking about the intrusive questions that adoptive families get about their families out in public.   The video suggested that those types of questions are akin to asking a female if she’s had surgery to augment a part of her body– totally inappropriate and invasive of a family’s privacy.

I saw the video all over my news feed last week. My very first reaction, to be honest, was an uncomfiness with the word used to describe female anatomy.  (I grew up with a daddy who had a Puritanical streak– he wouldn’t even say the word underwear in public, lol.  And right or wrong, his sensibilities still live on in my first gut reactions to things at times.)

I know the video creator’s intent was simply to educate people– to help them think about why these types of questions feel intrusive to adoptive families.  And he’s right– we do get tired of explaining our families over and over in the midst of buying eggs and milk and jeans in Wal-Mart. (My personal most-hated question is: ‘are they real siblings?’  Ugh. Yes, they’re real.  Yes, they’re siblings.  But is their particular DNA a Wal-Mart Stranger’s business?  Didn’t think so.) A lot of my discomfort with such questions is how those questions feel to my kids– like we’re constantly needing to say what they have is real– a real mom, a real dad, real siblings. No, not the first, but real nonetheless. Does that question always have to be there, needing addressed over and over?

I’m guessing the video creator was hoping that making people think about this might inform the public in a way that could spare all our kids pain and discomfort.  But there are two things that the video overlooks.  Comparing a child to a part of the female anatomy doesn’t feel so comfy to adoptees.  Here’s an article on Lost Daughters that makes that point much better than I can.   Particularly searing is the comment from Samantha about the way the video objectifies adopted people, comparing them to objects to be purchased. Though I can’t ever fully understand the adoptee experience, I do NOT want to be a clueless momma who never imagines life through my child’s eyes. It’s vitally important that we seek out the viewpoint of adult adoptees.  Adoption has a much greater (and often more painful) impact on people’s lives than I ever understood when I was a brand new adoptive momma. Oh, I pray that I can always be a listener, even when (or especially when) someone’s thoughts feel uncomfortable to me.

The second thing that the video doesn’t quite address is the amazing opportunity we adoptive families have to engage the public in a child-honoring, God-honoring way in those exact moments of questioning.  We don’t have to go into depth about our kids’ DNA or past story, nor should we.  And the occasional person approaches questions so ham-handedly we may at times just need to shut ‘em down and walk away.  But the majority of the time folks are honestly curious.

My first responsibility, always, is to my children– to answer in a way that protects their privacy while also affirming their priceless worth and their legitimate place in our family. Sometimes I do a little debrief after a nosy stranger walks away, to talk about how I answered, why a person might ask such questions, and how the child might respond when he gets a similar question.

But as a redeemed child of God, I want to extend grace to the people around me too.  Some folks may be considering adoption themselves.  Others might be trying to better understand the adoptees in their own lives. If we can be grace-filled and God-honoring in our responses to those questions, while also affirming the precious value of our children to those people — right in front of our children– we might just be planting a seed, or watering a sprout, or helping to advocate for another child who needs a family.

So often in life our attitude powerfully influences our effectiveness in a situation. Though I still inwardly wince when I get a silly question, these days I also try to see those questions as opportunities to speak for my children, and to advocate for children elsewhere who are voiceless and in need.

{ 15 Comments }

  1. Jennie C. says:

    My first thought was ALSO being uncomfortable with his term for the body parts and that a guy was talking about it in the first place!

    My experience has been that some people are just rude and hurtful, but the majority are just curious and don’t know how to ask in a way that is more appropriate.

    Good thoughts!

  2. Catherine says:

    May I humbly submit that I don’t think he is comparing children to breasts – he is comparing the inappropriate nature of comments, and pointing out how similar the inappropriateness is.
    Some friends have thought the video crass – but I was actually relieved that it achieves the goal of pointing out that these comments about our precious children are crass – just as crass as the other type of inappropriate comments. In other words, it’s a satirical look at the foolishness that already exists when people speak before they think. Given the comments I’ve been reading, it’s achieving that goal of making people pause before they speak.

  3. I thought it was odd that he never submitted that NONE of those questions, no matter how well-worded, are appropriate for someone you don’t know or just met. It even would have fit with his analogy: unless the person brings it up or asks for your input, consider it none of your business. When I meet families whose children don’t look like them I say the same things I normally would: “Is this your daughter or son? Your baby is beautiful. How old is he/she?” I think you are very gracious to think about how you can reach out and educate. When my four kids were little and I got so many questions, it bugged me to hear that “people are just curious.” Curiosity is no excuse for rudeness.

  4. I try to be gracious with questions. I think it can be an opportunity to educate people who are genuinely curious. I remember many years ago I asked an acquaintance is her daughters (adopted form China) were “real sisters” and she kind of snapped at me that “of course they were real sisters, just not biological” . I didn’t ask in front of the girls and I felt bad, but I really had no idea of the correct language. Once I learned, I was more careful- but I felt embarrassed and wouldn’t want to do that to someone else.
    Just this weekend, I had someone say to me again, “What is he?” (usually said in a fumbling awkward way) I just try to supply the words, “oh you mean his racial background?” and hope the next time they will know how to ask more politely. These have been people with true interest in adoption and our family with no intention of being rude. I don’t know for sure if I would say anything different if my son was hearing it.
    I appreciate people trying to educate the public in a humorous way, but this wasn’t my kind of humor and not a video I’d pass along.

  5. I haven’t seen the video, so I have no opinion on that. I did want to thank you, though, for the gracious way you approach this topic. You did a guest post, probably a good 8 years ago now (no way has it been that long!), on Jenni’s One Thing blog. You talked about having a blended family and the rude questions people would ask. I remember you commenting [paraphrased] “there were two light-skinned blond parents, so gee, which might be the adopted kids? Do you really have to ask such a stupid question?” That really stuck with me. I’ve since encountered several families with children that most definitely do not look a thing like the parents that they are with. They are people I see occasionally but we are not actually acquainted. I’ve been curious (adopted? fostering? are any of them biological sibs or did they gain a whole new family?) but that post flashes through my mind and I just keep my mouth shut. Your polite graciousness has kept me from being the annoying person asking questions. :)

  6. I don’t think I’ve seen it. Saturday I was out at Walmart (yep) with 4 of my 6, and got asked twice if they were related. The second one however was the cashier and she did it in a most clever way. She asked if I adopted them at the same time. I said no. She replied “ok, so they aren’t related.” I could only just look at her for a few seconds before replying that “no, they in fact are very much related.” My hats off to you….I’m just now feeling full of grace these days. :(

  7. I personally think the video is a cute way to approach the issues with questions adoptive parents get. I agree that handling the questions with grace while keeping in mind that people usually don’t mean any harm and just need to be educated on appropriate language is the best way to do this. That said, I rarely get the rude questions and almost never in front of the kids. The statement that people most often make that I would really like to see stopped is, “so and so has six kids, four of their own and two adopted.” That one irks me every single time I hear it, and I cringe to think of my kids hearing it. Our kids are all our own regardless of how they entered the family. Usually, it is friends, rather than strangers or acquaintances who make this mistake. I am looking for a way to politely educate them.

    • When you figure out how to politely educate people from this phrase will you please share it with me??? It is my number one pet peeve. We do not get alot of questions, mainly because our children All look like me. But friends still say, “they have three of their own and one adopted.” I hate it.

  8. Beautifully written, thought-provoking, adoptee-honoring.

  9. I agree especially with your second point. Two of my adjacent children are a super-fair redhead and a lovely, dark Hispanic daughter. Of course when my blonde self takes them on errands, it raises questions. People will look at them and say, “so…” I can see them trying to formulate a tactful question, and I don’t blame them at all. These are two beautiful children who do not “match” at all, and I’m happy to explain that one is adopted. It’s an opportunity for me to be positive. By NOT becoming annoyed or distressed, I show that adoption is nothing to shy away from.

    I also remember when I was considering becoming an adoptive momma, I once asked a blonde woman about her black daughter and got a very chilly response. I was hoping for some insight and mentoring, and I was taken aback that she perceived my warm (I thought) comments as offensive. Really, I was just hoping that one day I might be like her.

  10. You said this so well, thank you! As an adoptive mother, I feel the same way you do, I want to be first honoring to my children but also full of grace and not missing an opportunity to share God or adoption with another person. It can be hard to find the right balance but I think sharing our experiences is so helpful!

  11. I thought that this was a satirical way to point out that people can, in fact, *think* before they ask an insensitive question — kind of like Jonathan Swift’s satirical Modest Proposal (though about a different topic). I thought the comparison was so purposely ridiculous that it would make the point that we are capable of thinking before we speak, so please do that for adoptive families. But that is me, as an adoptive parent (who had a choice in my children’s adoptions — they had no choice) . . . I think it’s really important to listen to adult adoptees, especially since my children are young. I will defer to their opinions every time — if they say it’s offensive, it probably doesn’t matter what I think. They are the experts on being adopted.

  12. Beth in the City says:

    I’m really glad you are addressing this Mary. As a sister to an adopted child who looks nothing like me, I really have no idea what to think of all the fervor. We adopted about 30 years ago. It was not really that much of a hot topic then, although we weren’t alone. In my teeny tiny church there were a number of adopted children. My mom is very outgoing and friendly. Not in an over the top way, but in a friendly way. She never seemed particularly offended about anything anyone said to her and we all thought it was incredibly hilarious if a stranger said that my Indian sister must take after her father since our red haired pale skinned mother was holding her. It was truly hysterical to us. The biggest problem I had was that my outgoing mother wanted to go talk to every possibly Indian person she saw when we were out and about. A trip to the Air and Space Museum might include her walking up to a stranger and asking what country they were from in hopes that they, too, hailed from India. It was just as likely to be Pakistan or some other country, but to her, it was worth asking just in case. So, all that to say, it isn’t a piece of my history and I don’t know what to feel about adoptive parents feelings on this. I often want to engage a mom on the subject but I don’t. I come from a place of loving adoption but I am afraid that whatever I say will be taken the wrong way and be hurtful. I feel like I can trust you. You are a veteran, you are calm and levelheaded, and you are telling me it can get very hurtful for your kids. I really respect that.

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