My husband and I adopted two boys when we were in our late 40s. Deciding to add them to our family was the absolute best decision we ever made. Our boys make us laugh and want to tear our hair out all at once. They make us want to be better parents and better people. They’re also the reason we get very little sleep and consume a crap-ton of caffeine. If you’re a parent, those things probably sound all-too familiar.
Adoption is hard, though. No matter how you get there, parenting is hard but adoption piles on an extra layer of hard: birth parent drama. Holes in birth stories. The complicated, often painful questions our children ask about their adoptions. Other people’s lack of acceptance about the way you’ve chosen to form your family. And, of course, the ridiculous adoption questions.
We’ve been asked a lot of crazy shit about our adoptions. I’m pretty confident in saying no one ever intends to come across as thoughtless or hurtful. There are a lot of ugly things in this world but I cling to the belief that when given the choice, most people don’t choose to be assholes.
I don’t think someone gets an eyeful of my family at the park or the supermarket and says to themselves, “Hey, I bet that kid is adopted. I think I’m going to ask the mom a series of embarrassingly inappropriate questions!” No.
Although some of the things that have been said to us make my butt clench, I’ve found the best reaction is to show some grace. But sometimes, that’s really hard …
1. “How much did they cost?”
Yes, I know everyone who has ever asked this question really means, “How much did it cost to adopt?” Maybe they’re trying to decide if adoption is doable for their family. Maybe they’re just stinkin’ nosy. Maybe they’re awkward and trying to make conversation and that’s the first thing that spewed out of their mouth.
I can say with reasonable certainty that no adoptive parents appreciate being asked this question, but I am also reasonably certain that no one means to compare your child to something you pop in your Amazon cart. At least I hope not.
2. “Do they know they’re adopted?”
My kids were born in China so they look Asian, as one would expect. My husband and I are about as un-Asian looking as it is possible to be so the fact that we are ever asked this question in the first place is a real head-scratcher.
Even if the ethnicity or hair color would make it plausible that a parent would conceal an adoption from their child, in this day and age of open and semi-open adoptions, keeping an adoption secret is very uncommon. And yes, I’ve been asked this question by strangers. In public. In front of my kids. I don’t understand it, either.
3. “What happened to their real parents?”
Ouch. Seriously, I don’t get why people ask this. Last week, my real 6-year-old came into my real bedroom at 4 AM complaining about a nightmare that was very real to him. This resulted in him being real cranky when it came time to get ready for school. Lack of sleep churned out a very real tantrum at soccer practice later that day and I was that embarrassed parent whose kid was sitting in the middle of the field crying because no one would pass him the ball. Real fun times.
I get that people mean birth or biological parent when they ask this question and that real seems like an okay word choice to them, even when it isn’t. Maybe they’re just trying to make chit chat in the frozen food aisle because we’ve made eye contact and they feel like there ought to be conversation (hint: there does not).
As much as I hate this question, I understand curiosity and the need to connect are probably behind why it’s so often asked. What I wish I could tell people is that adoption is rooted in loss — always. The adoptive parents’ joy in building their family can’t happen without a birth mother making what is probably a very painful decision. This is a difficult thing to explain to someone I don’t know in what’s almost always at least a semi-public setting and honestly, I don’t think most people really understand just what it is they are asking when they spit out this question.
That strained look on my face as I make a lame excuse and try to get as far away from you as possible? That’s me clenching my butt and trying not to rip you a new one (see what I did there?).
4. “Can you give them back?”
Um … no.
This isn’t a stray puppy that I decide isn’t a fit because it peed on my rug or chewed on my coffee table. If you ever think this is a good question to ask (and yes, I have been asked this very question) ask yourself why you’re asking. See? You can’t really come up with a good reason. You’re welcome.
5. “Do you know [insert name of famous person who has adopted]?”
Yes, I’m aware that Jillian Michaels and Brangelina have also adopted. An estimated 135,000 kids are adopted in the United States each year, so it’s not exactly an exclusive club. And come on. You’re asking this question of a woman who drives a dirty 3-year-old minivan who thinks a fun night out is eating at Red Lobster. The odds that I rub elbows with celebs is low. Very low.
6. “Can you have any of your own?”
First, let’s go back to the whole “real kid/real parent” question. Real kid equals my own kid. Just because I don’t share DNA with my sons doesn’t mean I don’t see them as 1,001 percent my own. The older my kids get, the more damaging this question is. For my children, the knowledge that they are mine and I am theirs is one of their most basic beliefs. A question you think is innocent might rock them to their core.
And second, this question opens up all kinds of fun discussion about my lady bits. I can regale you with the woes of endometriosis, doodle a diagram of what a tilted uterus looks like, or give you a play-by-play of the events that led up to my hysterectomy. For fun, I’ll throw in the gory stories of my post-op infection, too. Isn’t oversharing fun?
I’m not saying adoption questions are never okay but sometimes, when, where, how, and who you ask should be something you consider before you open your mouth.