Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Ask an Adoptee: Discussing Adoption in Front of Your Adopted Child


Can you speak to APs discussing adoption in front of their child? We are often told by strangers, new neighbors, or friends of friends "OMG, she looks just like you" to my husband. While this is true, our daughter seriously resembles my husband's family, she is adopted.

While we don't want her to feel her adopted status is shameful or something to hide, we also do not feel we should tell every Tom, Dick and Harry her story. It is hers to tell. And, "she's adopted" rarely ends the conversation, it only begins the barrage of inappropriate questions. It's hard to know where to draw the line between educating people ("was the mother very young" "was she on drugs", um no, and no) and respecting our child's privacy. I suspect as she grows she will signal us to STFU, but aren't we setting the tone right now?

Julie's Response:

As a BSE adoptee, I find the issues raised here rather interesting. If only because my adoptive parents would never (and I mean never) have even considered how to field inquiries about my adoption. Heck, my adoptive parents pretty much told me I was adopted and then never brought it up again. So, I am admittedly a bit shell shocked that this adoptive parent actually cares enough to ask us the question. Way to go!

That said, people often commented to my adoptive parents and me that I resembled my father. This makes sense seeing as Catholic Charities purposely matched the physical appearances of my natural parents to prospective adoptive parents and went with the ones who most closely resembled them. It was a very in-depth selection process apparently. Both of my dads are 6'4" with fine, light hair and blue eyes. I'm on the tall side with fine blonde hair and blue eyes--just like my natural dad.

Anyway, when such a comment was made, my parents usually nodded and redirected the conversation. Being the spitfire that I was, however, I would announce "It's just a coincidence. I'm adopted." This then resulted in my mother shooting me the "we don't talk about that" look.

As far as I know, nobody ever asked about my natural parents. At least they never did in front of me. This is where the BSE probably comes in again. I'm sure the assumption was that my natural mother was one of those loose, sinning girls who got herself "into trouble" and did the right thing by giving me up. As such, the question probably never needed to be asked because people clearly knew everything about everything. Facts, schmacts.

So, how would I suggest that adoptive parents handle such inquiries today? It is my feeling that the adoptee's background is nobody's business but the adoptee's. As such, I'd say that when the adoptee is old enough to speak for himself or herself, a supportive adoptive parent would listen and help the adoptee develop a personal narrative based on whatever information is available at the time, and at an age-appropriate level. They key here is to empower the adoptee instead of answering for the adoptee. 

If the adoptee is too young to field such inquiries, an honest response would most likely be the best option. Explain to the questioning party that you intend to help your son or daughter learn about and develop their personal narrative in an age-appropriate manner and that at the current time, he or she is too young to speak for themselves. So you are keeping that subject a family matter for now.  

As far as the physical appearance question goes, an honest, simple answer would probably suffice in most cases. "Why yes, we both have blonde hair" or something similar would work just fine because it neither ignores nor highlights adoption. Instead, it is a simple statement of fact.

Look, the adoptee is always going to know that they are adopted. And comments about how they look like so-and-so in the adoptive family are most likely going to sting a little because it's yet another reminder that there are a bunch of other people out there who they really do look like. The best thing for an adoptive parent to do is be aware that such issues are completely normal within an adoptive family structure--and then focus on doing whatever it takes to support and empower their adopted child when such situations arise.