Following up on a previous blog post, “Words Can Hurt,” we’re furthering the discussion a bit on the topic of specifically being a Conspicuous Adoptive Family. This can be more obvious from the standpoint of adopting a child of another culture. Or it can be less obvious – with physical characteristics such as hair and eye color differing greatly from those of the adoptive parents. Whichever the case, surprisingly, sometimes any difference at all… can seem to open the family to comment from the community.
We can all expect to meet people who oppose multiracial adoption for political reasons – some will be the same race as the child, and some not. A family built of multiple heritages will be especially visible and that will influence the reactions of other people. Some of these families may feel like they are on display every time they go out! They might come to expect questions and comments about their conspicuous families, from strangers and people they know. These comments may challenge their family identity and privacy boundaries.
Any responses to the curiosities about your family, needs to reflect pride and confidence and above all, serve the child. As a family you can decide what info you are prepared to share (“Yes she joined our family by adoption, she was born in ______”) and what needs to remain private (“I’m sorry, we don’t share our child’s story with anyone but family. I hope you understand.”) We advise that families develop a few “scripts,” short and sweet …and practice until you feel comfortable. Role-play with kids works well and can be fun too, especially if you employ the dress-up clothes stash!
Adopted children may need to be prepared to handle attention, comments and questions that they will receive when they are with their families – and on their own. As parents, you need to model for them how to respond while honoring their story and their dignity. Give your child some control over sharing his story – “Would you like to answer the strangers question?” A parent can answer if they or you wish – and you CAN choose to not answer at all.
It’s natural to feel and respond differently to people who share your child’s heritage. You shouldn’t feel obliged or pressured to share private family information simply because those posing the questions are the same race/culture as your children. Share what you’re comfortable sharing. Getting involved in the community is a great opportunity to build bridges. Similarly, if your children see you treating people who share their heritage with respect and openness, they may feel more comfortable interacting in their own racial communities. This can have a positive effect on our children’s self esteem and make them more comfortable with their identities as they see us building relationships with people of all different racial and cultural backgrounds. You may be particularly aware of this when travelling to your children’s countries of origin. You may also feel defensive, protective and even inadequate in responding.
You can absolutely provide information on a need-to-know basis. Remember that your children’s life details belong to them, and parents are the caretakers of those details. Understandably, most adoptive parents have had a lot of experience working with professionals before the adoption even takes place – and as result, boundaries around confidentiality have been stretched. Now is the time to tighten these boundaries and take back control of them.
There are as many ways to respond to difficult situations as there are people, but the types of responses tend to fall into three different categories:
…gives the questioner some kind of information about the child’s adoption or the adoptive family. This is usually more effective with people you see frequently.
…defuses difficult situations with comedy or sarcasm. This is usually more effective in public situations with strangers. Be cautious when using sarcasm, however, as children of certain ages may not be mature enough to “get it.”
…are responses designed to protect your child and your family. They quickly cut off further discussion. Often these responses are posed as questions.
W.I.S.E. UP! is a program created by Marilyn Schoettle, at C.A.S.E (Center for Adoption Support and Education) that teaches effective techniques for helping kids with the painful and often disturbing encounters with others who are uneducated about adoption. The kids are taught that they have 4 choices:
W: Walk away or choose not to pay attention
I: It’s private: I can choose not to share information
S: Share some information about adoption or my story
E: Educate others about adoption in general, by telling them correct information and helping them to understand it
Here are two sources discussing/offering the W.I.S.E. UP! Powerbook:
To Read Review: http://adoption.about.com/od/guidereviews/fr/wiseuprev.htm
Another great resource is the PACT Family Camp, which is open for registration. A Gathering for Adoptive Families With Children of Color will occur on:
July 3-7, 2013 at the Granlibakken Conference Center and Lodge, in Tahoe City, CA
For more information: https://www.pactadopt.org/adoptive/services/education/pact_camp.html
Because this post is a lengthy and important one, we are splitting the content into two posts. The next blog post will address specific examples and conversations and how they have played out in real life. Our social workers and parents have shared insights about how to manage each of the situations.
Stay tuned for that post later this week!