“How old is his real mom?”
“What country are your kids from?”
“Why didn’t her birth parents keep her?”
“Are they your foster children?”
I’m often asked these questions, and many more, by those who see our family in a store, at a restaurant, or out playing at the park. In fact, I can’t recall the last time we went longer than a week without someone approaching our family to ask us a personal question about adoption.
To some degree, I understand. Our family stands out. My husband and I are white, and our three children are black. The fact that we didn’t have biological children is quite apparent. This creates a lot of questions, but also a lot of assumptions.
When we adopted our first child almost eight years ago, I was much more inclined to answer the questions poured upon us by acquaintances as well as strangers. I was a new mom, trying to figure out all the typical new mom things, while also learning to navigate the conspicuous nature of being a white mom to a black child. I wanted to be perceived as confident, educated, and polite, so sometimes I gave too much information to the occasional stranger who stopped me to ask a question in the rug aisle at Target.
But eight years later, things have changed.
I now have three children and a lot more experience in responding to what’s demanded of us: our children’s personal adoption stories. Of course, there’s nothing to be ashamed of or to conceal when it comes to telling our children their stories. But it’s not up to us, as parents, to interpret or slant those stories, or to share them with hundreds or even thousands of strangers for personal glory or out of some sense of obligation. Not even in the name of “adoption education” is it okay to dish out our children’s stories like a grandma hands out chocolate chip cookies.
It’s certainly counter-cultural to keep our children’s adoption stories within our close circle of family and friends. After all, our society thrives on oversharing pretty much everything.
I’ve seen countless memoirs on bookstore shelves that have been written from the perspective of the parent who adopted the child, and they’re basically all doing the same thing: telling the adoptee’s story. I see parents posting photos of their children on Instagram with hashtags like #HIVCANNOTSTOPME. I’ve learned of young adoptees’ birth names, read all about their medical history and current mental health issues. I’ve been privy to photos of children on their adoption finalization days, some holding chalkboard signs saying how long they’ve been in the foster care system. Some hopeful parents post ultrasound photos (yes, still in utero) of the child they are “matched” with to adopt before the child is even in their arms.
And while all of this ultimately serves to celebrate adoption, my honest feeling is this: My children may be mine, but their stories aren’t mine. Yes, their stories are interwoven with mine, but if I choose to hand out that precious story for the world’s consumption — as so many parents-by-adoption do — well, isn’t that a kind of theft? It’s taking something that wasn’t mine, and exposing it to the world.
And we’re talking about something very, very precious. Something sacred. Something personal.
So to the next stranger in Target who happens upon our little family, and has a few more questions than I’m comfortable with, here’s what you can know: You can know facts. Our adoptions were domestic, transracial, and open. Our children were adopted a few days after birth. Our adoptions were ethical, and we have ongoing relationships with their birth family members. I will be happy to point you to some books (I wrote two of them myself) and websites on adoption. I can even give you the names of adoption agencies and organizations.
But the rest of the story, it’s not for you.
Because my children have a right to privacy. Because my utmost obligation is to the well-being and safety of my children. Because the trusting, healthy relationships I have with my children are more important than your desire to learn (and judge) their stories. Because I don’t want any glory for adopting my children. Because my children shouldn’t be prodded to feel grateful or “lucky” for being adopted. Because my children didn’t sign up to be adoption’s poster children.
They’re just kids. And I’m just a mom.
So yes, we came together by adoption. And yes, our story is beautiful, bittersweet, and intricate. But it’s a story reserved for a precious few. It’s a story that’s ours, and ours alone.