Before our kids came home to us, the wait was hard, and in a few years, we’ll have hard race and identity issues to deal with, but right now, in my day-to-day parenting, the hardest adoption-related part is the questions. Ever since we brought Teddy home five years ago, I’ve fielded queries from strangers. Mostly the same two — is he yours and where is he from — and then a third — are they siblings — when Lydia came home, and at times other random ones. I’m quite comfortable responding to anything Teddy is curious about, but somehow I stumble frequently when confronted with queries from people on the bus, at the playground, and in passing. I’ll have an answer prepared for an anticipated question, and then someone frames it slightly differently…and suddenly I’m at a loss. Or I get a brand new question, and on the spot, I have to decide how I want to answer while respecting Teddy’s and Lydia’s stories, portraying adoption openly and honestly and without shame, and being gracious. It’s a lot to think about in the moment.
I experienced a new dimension of this struggle at the playground a couple weeks ago. Most questions come from adults, but kids are curious, too, and now that Teddy is elementary school age, his peers are asking questions. (Teddy is asking new questions, too, for that matter.) I was sitting with Lydia on the merry-go-round (the things parents do for love of child :/), and a girl of about 8 or 9 years asked if Lydia was my daughter. Not uncommon, but the conversation continued and eventually she asked a question I declined to answer. We learned in adoption training that the details of our kids’ stories are theirs to know and share as they choose. And I’d already decided that the piece of Lydia’s story this girl was asking about was for Lydia to share if she wanted to.
No matter who asks a question, I’m always uncomfortable opting not to answer. I fear coming across as rude, and the conversation usually takes an awkward turn. (In this case, it just sort of stopped, and the girl eventually went away.) I especially don’t like keeping an answer from a child. I don’t want to quash their curiosity! And I really don’t want to create a negative memory around adoption for them. But I think it’s important for other children to glean from our experience that they, too, are allowed to decline to answer a personal question. Our stories are our own, and we are the best stewards of them.
I’ve thought a lot about why I bristle so much whenever I’m asked questions in general, and I think part of my reticence comes simply from being an introvert. (Mike has no issue with questions.) Small talk is not my forte. I’m happy to exchange pleasantries about the weather with people I don’t know, but not share about my kids’ personal stories. And when people express curiosity about only their connection to me, birthplace or relationship, I feel like our family is a specimen under dissection, and once the research has been completed, we’re no longer of interest.
The best approach I’ve ever experienced was by another adoptive mom. We were watching our littlest ones on the playground, and she commented, “I don’t know if you’re a family through adoption, but…” and proceeded to share her own story. First of all, I appreciated “family through adoption” because it doesn’t single out the kids and make them seem part of a transaction. We’re all in this together. Second, the conversation did not hinge on whether I shared our story. She was sharing her own connection to adoption first, and if I wanted to reciprocate, great. If not, it wouldn’t be awkward.
But not everyone will interact in a way I’m comfortable with. I know I’m supposed to be an ambassador for adoption, but it’s frustrating sometimes, and I think I just have to accept that and pray for grace.