Being adopted as an infant, I never knew anything else. My childhood was as good as it gets, and I was loved and cared for from the moment I came home. Everyone I knew was aware that I was adopted, but as I got older, new people would make comments, and acquaintances would ask questions. I’ve had several hilarious conversations, and also some awkward ones, because people simply don’t know what to say or how to approach the conversation if they have questions. Here’s a sample of what I hear, and some help in navigating a conversation with a family choosing adoption or foster care.
1. Do your parents have any “real” children? (or actual, legitimate, normal…)
If they’re real, does that make me fake? Ooh wait! Am I imaginary??… I get it. If you aren’t familiar with the adoption world, you don’t always have the correct terminology. Generally speaking, the terms biological or natural are used to refer to babies born from a mother’s womb, while adopted is for babies born in a mother’s heart. While I am personally never offended by comical attempts to classify me, some people are sensitive to the implications of incorrect terminology.
2. Who do you consider your mom/dad?
I can’t speak for everyone, but I know that the people who love me, raised me, and nurture me are my parents. They did not have a hand in my birthing, but they did everything else. Most people are born into families. I was lucky enough to have one choose me!
3. How much did the adoption cost?
Unless you are legitimately considering adoption and have built a relationship with someone as a mentor through this process, this question is simply none of your business! Adoption can be expensive, but it can also be free (foster care!). Adoption is an outpouring of love to a child who may otherwise not get any, so does it really matter to you anyway?
4. You don’t look anything like your family now.
Well, no joke! I’m not related to them, and it is very obvious. (Although my mom prayed that my baby wouldn’t look like her! You can read that story over here on my blog!) For some people, though, this can be a sore point. Because I look so different from my family, there were times when I struggled with the fact that I knew no one who in any way resembled me.
5. Have you met/ do you want to meet the other family?
While this may seem like an innocent question, it can stir up a LOT of emotions. Wherever the person is in this process, it’s never cut and dry. My adoption was closed, so there has been no contact since I was adopted. I would venture to say that most adoptees in my situation have at least considered it at some point in time. But there is so much heart wrapped into every nuance of a potential meeting (fear of the unknown, inability to locate them, rejection, disappointment, balancing others’ emotions), that this is not a question that could truly be answered in casual conversation.
For families dealing with foster care, this can also be a slippery slope. Family visits are often very emotionally draining, and talking about them might be the last thing anyone wants to do.
6. Was the mom on drugs?
Personal questions about biological families including drug history, abuse, reasons for the custody transfer, etc. are private. In the case of foster care, the families are legally bound to NOT tell you anything. Protecting the confidentiality of the family and the child is of high importance. At the end of the day, you aren’t going to walk up to anyone else and ask about family history (Could you imagine: “Hi, Sally! Who’s the drunk in your family?”), so please don’t put us in the awkward situation of having to deflect the question. In the case of my adoption, I honestly don’t know any of the details, but if I did, I can’t imagine sharing potentially humiliating details of my life with all of the random people who ask.
It’s natural to be curious, as long as your curiosity respects the boundaries of the other person. Your best bet is to let the person you are talking to guide the conversation. Just be aware of body language and their responses. Allow them the space to open up and discuss as much as they are willing to, and the freedom to end the discussion if desired. Understand that these questions are all related to a situation that is both joyous and heartbreaking, as adoption unites a new family only after an initial family has in some way fallen apart. Also realize that everyone’s adoption experience is different. Many people are open and willing to talk about their experiences, and I hope that this helps you enter conversations about adoption without some of the awkwardness.