Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Ask an Adoptee: When is it over-sharing?

"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 her’s 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?"

I have a little sister who like me is also adopted. She however is blessed with looking somewhat like my adoptive mother’s family. While my dad and I have similarly colored hair (mine’s still a lot darker) and we both tan, that’s about it in terms of myself with family resemblance. That means that when the four of us were together as a family when I was younger, people would make assumptions about me. I was mistaken as a friend of the family a number of times. If my dad wasn’t with us, people would say things like “She must resemble the father” when they learned I was my mother’s child. So I get where you’re coming from here. I lived it.

I like the way my parents handled it. They ignored it. People are rude. They aren’t owed an explanation. My mother used to wink at me around people that would go fishing. She would say to me later, “Jeeze, aren’t people nosy?” It was our private joke. She kept it lighthearted and made it seem like no big deal. So as a child, that’s how I took it. As I got older, we would laugh at those questions. I would clue people in who I felt comfortable with, and the rest of the world was left scratching their heads.

I think the trick isn’t what you say; it’s how you say it. No matter what you say, people are going to judge. They are going to react the way they are going to react and it’s up to you as the parent to let them know that they have to be respectful. If someone says something like “she must have been young” you can politely tell them “she had her reasons. For whatever reason, we’re very lucky to have [insert your child’s name here] in our lives!”

Another important part of this is to follow up about it later when you are back in the comfort of your own home. You never know what your adopted child got out of the conversation. I know there were times when I was uncomfortable but my mother didn’t know. I wish she would have asked me about it later when I felt more comfortable at home. It’s hard to deal with in public sometimes.

Family and friends may want to know the story. It’s different and interesting to them. But the nosy neighbor doesn’t need your child’s whole live story to judge. Leave it up to your child to share with them. That’s what I would have wanted anyway.

5 comments:

  1. In my opinion, it's always our stories... but it's rarely ever our narratives.

    ReplyDelete
  2. "If someone says something like “she must have been young” you can politely tell them “she had her reasons. For whatever reason, we’re very lucky to have [insert your child’s name here] in our lives!”"

    That doesn't really do anything to cease the misconceptions.

    I know it's not an adoptee's job to cease "anything" about adoption, particularly when it comes to one's own personal experience, but let's face it: adoption is all about judgment. Something went wrong to cause the adoption to have to occur.

    That's really where it starts: why the adoption exists in the first place. Because something went wrong. Not really a whole lot you can do about that, and subsequently, take away the stereotypes.

    Adoptees are never going to escape that fact, and the story told in the kindest, most gentlest way cannot erase that either.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I tend to find that in these situations, it doesn't matter what you say. People are still going to judge. People aren't going to change their opinion because of a five minute conversation that they have with someone they aren't particularly close to. And that's kind of how I read the question.

    IMO, how other's perceive an adopted child isn't really the issue. It's how the adoptee perceives themselves at that age (because I'm assuming that the adoptee is too young to speak for themselves here). And I know if that's really the important thing, then the kindest way is probably better than the cold hard truth.

    Then again I could be 100% wrong here. Anyone else want to weigh in?

    ReplyDelete
  4. Mei-Ling and Jenn- I think the question lies in the middle of the above comments. Yes, Jenn, first and foremost I want an adoptee's opinion on what is best to be saying "for" my daughter at this stage and as she grows (she is 3). But yes Mei-Ling, there are times when I feel people (not strangers, but people in our lives) need to understand the fact that adoption is not rainbows and unicorns. At this stage in my daughter's life, though, I try to have those conversations when she is not present. And even then, I think the details of her story are not needed to assuage the misconceptions. Trish

    ReplyDelete
  5. Trish, the thing is, I am an adult. Here is an example: I could be thirty years old, living outside of home, but the minute that adoption comes up, it's never my narrative.

    It's my *story*, but I am not allowed to tell the narrative.

    At 7 years old it's my story but my mom tells it for me, because people are going to judge if she says something and even if she says nothing, silence will be judged anyway.

    At 27 years old it's still my story and I can tell it, but unless it's from my adoptive parent's narrative people are going to judge regardless. People hear my narrative but the question is, will they really listen?

    People don't care if you don't talk about rainbows and unicorns. Because they can hear about about those non-rainbows and non-unicorns, but what they want to listen to ARE those rainbows and unicorns.7

    "IMO, how other's perceive an adopted child isn't really the issue. It's how the adoptee perceives themselves at that age (because I'm assuming that the adoptee is too young to speak for themselves here)."

    Right but even when the adotee is an adult, they are seen as a perpetual child.

    See my post "My Story, But Not My Narrative" for a further elaboration.

    ReplyDelete

Share your reaction, your thoughts, and your opinions. Be passionate, be unapologetic but do not be rude. Our authors and readers are people with feelings. Offensive remarks will not be published.