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.