Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Who's That Child?

We are used to stares, comments, and questions regarding our family. At first we were uncertain how to respond as strangers would approach us and nosily interrogate us. My daughter is eleven months old, and though I don't think these times of questioning have necessarily become less frequent, we are better prepared on how to handle them.

This past weekend we met friends for dinner to celebrate my husband's birthday. They arrived first and got us a table. We came a few minutes later and settled in. Soon the waitress appeared, a young woman, perhaps twenty-five. She set my friends' appetizer on the table and then looked at us and asked what we would like to drink. We both ordered water and started to return to the conversation with our friends when the waitress asked us, "Are you babysitting?"

I replied, "No."

She asked who the baby was. I said, "She's our daughter."

She then asked, "Did you adopt her?"

I said yes, thinking duh.

The waitress paused and then burst out at us like grand-prize-sweepstakes-winning confetti, "OH THAT'S SOOOOO COOL. THAT'S AWESOME! SHE'S SOOOOOO PRETTY!!!"


Listen. We are just a family. I don't wake up every morning, go to my daughter's crib, swoop her up and say, "You are black and adopted! That's soooooooo cool! That's awesome! You are soooo pretty!"

No. I'm like every other mom in America. I go to her crib. I wonder if she has a dirty or just a wet diaper. I greet her with smiles and kisses and a "good morning, baby!" I change her diaper. I get her some breakfast.

Adoption isn't necessarily "cool." I think God's hand can be clearly seen in our adoption situation. We are blessed to have our daughter. We love her, find so much joy in her, and love the family we have together. Oh, and we do think she's beautiful----but not because she is black or because she's adopted. She's just beautiful. Period.

Some people don't know what to say so they just stare. Some people don't think and rattle off personal questions that are never appropriate...but somehow because our family adopted, we should be open to answering anything. Some people just want to touch her hair. (She's not an animal at the petting zoo!). Some people tell us that she's soooooooooo cute (multiple times until it's uncomfortable) because they don't know what else to say. The babysitting question? That's a new one.

I want to respond with confidence while asserting our privacy. As my daughter gets older, I fear the questions that will hurt or embarrass her. As her mother, I'm fiercely protective of my daughter and her adoption story. It's my job.

No one prepared us for the questions, comments, and stares. However, we're holding our own , happy to just be us, to be a family.


  1. When asked if you adopted her after already telling her that she was your daughter...ummm....I'd would have been compelled to pull out the sarcasm card. DUH is right. But of course that would not have been productive, I know. You handled it very well. And yes, I agree, she is beautiful! Can't wait to see her again.

  2. I think people just struggle with how to react to something "different." I used to want to be sarcastic about it, but that's unkind, and is it not at all Christ-like. I want to always allow my conversations to be "seasoned with salt," if you will, and biting someone's head off simply because they respond poorly is not an appropriate response in my book.
    I've just accepted that for right now, our family will look radically different to some people, and I need to answer graciously if they ask a personal question. I don't have to be specific, but I don't have to be rude. Sometimes a gentle answer can diffuse someone's probing while simultaneously educating them about adoption.

    Do we want people who don't know about/understand interracial adoption to think we are all a bunch of sarcastic, rude, defensive people? That's not the picture I want to give of my family.

    I realize this may not be the popular response, but it is the response my husband and I have agreed is best.

  3. Of course, especially as our children get older, I think it's more important to respect our children and their rights and feelings than a nosy stranger.

  4. But I also think it's important to TEACH our children how to respond graciously to the "nosy strangers". They will have more opportunities than us, probably, to respond...so I think we should teach them to do it well and with grace. Otherwise, it smacks of bitterness which is just not what I want to convey. I'm very thankful for my interracial family, but first and foremost, we are followers of Christ (and hopefully so will our son one day), and that's what I want to influence my response to rudeness or nosiness.

  5. I am not suggesting that one should be rude in any way; however, it is not my job or my son's job to educate the nosy. We've had people come up and ask completely inappropriate questions...it would be like me going up to a complete stranger and asking them (in front of their child) how many times they had sex before they conceived. My son's adoption story is HIS story and the story of OUR family and it does not have to be shared with the nosy...because really, in the end, it is none of their business.

  6. Perhaps that's true, and I reserve the right not to answer someone's question. I might simply say, "That's a personal question." Or, "when my son is old enough to answer that question, I'll let him tell his story if he so chooses." But always with grace. Sure, some people will be unconscionably rude or personal. In those cases, though, I don't want to answer a fool according to his folly but rather, as his folly deserves. ;)

    I guess I harp on this because I see rudeness as a problem because I've seen it occur too many times to count with adoptive families. I feel it misrepresents what has been a great blessing to me.

  7. I may be wrong about this, but I think you (Glenna) and I are coming from slightly different points in parenting. My son is 8 and very conscious of what is said or asked about his ethnicity and/or adoption...it sounds like your son may still be young enough to not be so conscious. Again, in general, I try not to be rude to people; however, there are some people out there who can be so persistent with their nosiness that my first instinct is not to be polite but to defend my child's right to privacy...and I do reserve that right to be rude when those people are encounted (or if the question asked is totally inappropriate). And, in those instances, when my husband and I talk with our son about the things strangers ask or say, my son knows that his life story belongs to him and is not fodder for the masses. (And, just to clarify, I think it's important not to wait for the encounters with rude people to discuss issues of ethnicity/adoption with our children.)

    It's getting late so hopefully that all makes sense.... :)

  8. Linda,
    Yes, that does makes sense. And I think you're right in pointing out that we should be proactive and talk about these things with our children at times OTHER than when we're accosted by a nosy stranger. I don't want the only time we talk with our son about this to be after someone's asked too many personal questions. We will talk about it as often as we need to.
    I agree, too, that as my son grows older, he can share his story if he wants to. If he feels attacked in any way, I'll teach him to speak firmly..even to gently cut people off if necessary. But, I will NEVER NEVER teach him to be rude. In my opinion, even in defense of my precious son, I do not own the right to be rude. Quite honestly, it goes against the grain of my belief system. Perhaps you and I can just agree to disagree here. It's not part of what I want to teach my son.
    Yes, he's quite a bit younger than yours. I know we have tons to learn. But at the same time, we probably have very different views on interracial adoption than many interracial families out there; we prefer to emphasize and affirm Christian heritage rather than racial heritage....which might be a little "politically incorrect" in the adoption world. And that's probably why we don't see eye to eye on how to handle comments from strangers. We can agree to disagree, right?

    For the record...I'm going to let this be my last comment on this discussion. ;) Thanks for hashing it out back and forth with me...it has challenged me to think more deeply about what is a very important subject. :)

  9. Sorry, one last food for thought....

    I can respect that you want to "emphasize and affirm [your son's] Christian heritage rather than racial heritage"; however, I also know that out in the world, there are many people out there who will not look at our children and say/think "Ahhhh, he/she is a man/woman/child of Christian/Jewish/Buddhist/Hindi/Muslim/[insert your belief system here] faith"...often one can not tell in the every day world what someone's belief system is...but I do know that there are many people out there who will look at our children and say/think "That man/woman/child is of African/Asian/Latino/[insert any ethnicity here] descent" and potentially judge on what they instantly see because they haven't taken the time to know what our children are outside of the color of their skin.

    That is why my husband and I have made sure that our son learns not only about our Christian beliefs but also about his cultural identity...either through a wonderful Culture Camp he's attended since he was 3-years-old (run by people who share his ethnicity and can share with him--in the kids groups with many other kids whose families look just like ours--or with the parents--in groups set aside specificially for the adults--what it's like to be a person of color out in the world). As a white woman, I will never know what it's really like to be a person of color; however, I feel it is very important to empower my son with the knowledge of his cultural identity...he will need out in the world.

  10. And, sorry, p.s. That doesn't mean that my son should walk around like a victim (or waiting to be a victim); however, it does mean that I want him to be empowered in case he needs it.

  11. Good thoughts, Linda. We're pretty hard core on our view of lessening the importance of our different races and increasing importance on there being no difference between us before God. That's just our stance, though, and while I know the rest of the world will view us/my son/our family unit with different lenses, we're okay with that. But, I do agree with you that we should empower (to use your word) so that he's prepared for what others might say or throw his way. Like it or not, I have to realize it's an ugly world we live in, unfortunately.

  12. Look at that--I totally forgot that I had said I was done commenting! :)

  13. I actually laughed out loud. What nerve that waitress has asking such a train of personal questions. I belong to the bethany forum, too. I'm an adult adoptee and I am Hispanic, my parents are White. I really can relate to what you're talking about. We've dealt with dumb questions like these since forever. The crib part was hysterical.

    (No Parking)


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