Conspicuous Comments, Part 2

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To wrap up our previous post on conspicuous comments made in the public, we have solicited some specific scenarios that have played out in real life!

Executive Director, Brandy Lucas, PhD. reminds our families to be thoughtful of what they are comfortable sharing. With any of the comments below, “I think a person (or family) should know that they have the right not to engage in the conversation. Just because a stranger is curious about their family doesn’t mean that they are obligated to entertain that person’s curiosity.”

In the spirit of preparing our families for similar exchanges – our CHI staff consists of some fantastically trained Master’s level Social Workers, adoptive parents and an adoptive daughter.  Combined, we’ve shared insights about how to manage the following conspicuous exchanges:

What to say if a family is questioned:  “How much did you pay for him?”

Peggy (our Adoption Services Manager and Adoptive Mom of two grown children) relates:  “I was actually asked this by my son when he was 15 or 16.  At the time he asked, he was very angry.  I told him we paid fees for services provided to us so that we could adopt, but did not ‘pay’ for him.”

To address this question asked by anyone else in the community, Stacy Dinkel, MA (our Clinical Documentation Specialist) advises a good response might be sticking with informational statements:  “We paid the typical attorney and agency fees for our adoption.” You might also consider answering with an overt Privacy Guarding response such as:  “If you forgive me for not answering, I’ll forgive you for asking.”

CHI is unanimously a big fan of turning the question back to the originator so that they can answer it for themselves (or just take a breath and come up with a more respectable inquiry).  For example, Peggy suggests: “Are you interested in adopting?”

If asked “Where did you get her?” 

Peggy recommends: “Why do you ask?”  She explains sometimes people phrase things in an awkward way when they are really seeking something different than what you think they are.  Brandy suggests another deflection delivered in a kindly tone:  “How would it help you to know that?”  If the asker is genuinely interested, their response might welcome a conversation.  If the asker chooses to decline – the conversation has been easily squelched.  Stacy advises that an informational response using adoption appropriate language might also fit the bill.  For example:  “We are an Adoptive Family. We adopted from Guatemala.”

JulieAnn (Adoption Social Work Supervisor and Adoptive Mother of a gorgeous African American daughter) recalls “I had a woman ask me ‘Why did you decide to adopt a child ‘like that?’” 

Flabbergasted, she asked the speaker for clarification on what she meant.  She states, “I think when you reframe the question back to them, having to explain themselves makes them uncomfortable. It also gives them time to rethink their words. My inquirer immediately felt badly for wording it the way she had. She then re-stated “Why did you adopt a child who doesn’t look like you?” JulieAnn factually answered: “We were open to adopting any child that would be the youngest in our birth order from the foster care system.  We didn’t think what they looked like (& in this case, the race) should matter.”

If faced with the question:  “Is it difficult to love a child that’s not your own?” 

Peggy suggests stating “They are my own . . . “ said sweetly while maintaining direct eye contact.

When inquisitively asked:  “Where did she get her blonde hair and blue eyes?” 

Both Megan and her mother fondly recall Megan answering this question in line at the grocery store.   “Jesus gave ‘em to me,” said  3-year-old Megan Schulze (our Administrative Assistant, who was adopted at birth).  Wow.  Could there be a better or more profound answer??? Her mother just smiled and left it at that.  JulieAnn also recollects a similar situation:  “At our first day back to church one of the little girls in my daughter’s kindergarten class kept asking her ‘Why is your sister was ‘brown’?  For a long time she didn’t answer.  Then she simply delivered:  “Uhhh…because God MADE her that way!”

When the curious might ask:  “Have you ever met her real mother?” 

Peggy advises frankly reframing the inquiry:  “You mean her birth mother?  Yes, I have (or No I haven’t).”

Similarly, imagine you are in the post office and a stranger asks…”What a cute little girl.  Is she your real daughter?”  Although, Stacy’s sarcastic instincts would drive her to want to reply with a humor filled: “No, she’s my fake daughter,” we believe offering a privacy guarding or informational response would be healthiest for your child to witness and process.  Stacy therefore recommends: “Yes, she’s really mine! I’m so lucky.”  (privacy guarding) or “Yes, we are an adoptive family!”  (informational).

Occasionally a frank inquiry might occur on the topic of: “Were you unable to have another of your own children?”

Again, Peggy would respond: ‘why do you ask?’  She furthers, maybe the person is struggling with infertility and is actually reaching out – or maybe they are just expressing curiosity. Let the person discuss why they are curious—if they seem genuinely interested, then maybe that’s a conversation worth approaching (and if its not, then the client can come up with the “out” at that point). A follow-up question might be appropriate if the former seems to be the case:  “You sound like you’re curious about adoption?”

Imagine you are having a small family get-together to celebrate the adoption of your 3-year-old son.  Your sister-in-law enthusiastically announces… “Well, now that you’ve adopted, you’re sure to get pregnant!”  Stacy acknowledges there is a myriad of responses for this:  “Actually, that is just a myth.  It’s no more likely now than before we adopted” (which is an informational delivery).  Or, “Maybe…. we’ll see.” (which is a privacy guarding response).  Or, if you favor the application of humor and sarcasm:  “After the stories you’ve told me about childbirth, why would I want to?”

Consider playing at a park, where there is visibly one African American child who happens to be yours.  A stranger making small talk, asks – “Which one is yours?” Do you point out skin color, which is a pretty simple identifier – or perhaps as Stacy advises – make it less about skin color by stating: “She’s the princess wearing a tutu on the swings over there!”

JulieAnn also shares: “A teacher asked (while my 4-year-old daughter was with me):  “So, what’s the story with her?”

Her adoption was finalized & she’d been with us quite awhile.  I was so shocked that I just looked at my child and then looked at the teacher while informing her it was “an inappropriate time for her to ask me such a question.”  JulieAnn advises, there is a lot of public and support system education that happens when an adoption occurs.  Sometimes you can choose to educate the person.  But when they are completely rude or aggressive, “I think you can chose to walk away…as you truly owe them nothing.”

JulieAnn also recalls that “It used to really bother me when my daughter was little — that she received so much attention from strangers.  People would come up to us and remark about “How cute & beautiful” she was.  The compliments were made while ignoring my other young & cute children!!”  To this, JulieAnn’s standard reply became: “Yes, we’ve been blessed with THREE really cute kids!”

In closing, know that it’s very important to check-in with your child after someone has said something you consider offensive.  Ask how are they feeling after that comment – and allow them to express feelings of anger, sadness, confusion, etc.   If you find yourself in the position of an awkward or socially uncomfortable inquiry — giving the power to the child to decide or relinquish power to the parent is absolutely appropriate in some circumstances.   You might choose to ask your child & say: “Do you want to handle this one, or do you want me to?”   If you face an inquiry that feels too aggressive, JulieAnn also suggests that parents place their physical body between their child & the inquirer.  This will imply and instill that you are the child’s protector.

If you’re considering adoption, please don’t let this post sway your choices.  It’s important to remember that the majority of the public will support your adoption story in a conversationally appropriate way.  The spirit of this post is simply to offer ideas and to encourage preparedness for those who may need it.

Have you experienced adoption related banter in the community that left you uncomfortable, mad or maybe even… extremely pleased?  We’d love to hear about it!

 

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