Why Don’t Your Kids Look Like You? (And Other Things Adoptive Parents Hear)

Kelley-Wagner Facebook Photo
Image via Kim Kelley-Wagner

In February, the adoption community was abuzz with discussion about this Yahoo! Shine article, which shared the experiences of adoptive mom Kim Kelley-Wagner and her daughters, currently ages 7 and 13. Kelley-Wagner created a Facebook photo series showing her daughters holding whiteboard signs displaying comments that strangers have made to Kelly and her children in public. (Yes. To her children!)

Many adoptive parents were nodding their heads in agreement because they, too, have been on the receiving end of strangers' intrusive questions and comments and so have their children. But at the same time, many parents cringed at the idea that Kelley-Wagner decided (with her daughters' permission) to feature images of the girls sharing some of the inappropriate questions and comments. Personally, I am caught between applauding the three of them for being so brave and for making the statement and cringing on the girls' behalf now that these images are on the internet and will always be a part of their online identity.

But the reality is, for many adoptive families, questions from strangers regarding the visible differences in their family's make-up are going to happen. And the real question is “how do you handle it?” because it is far more important that you model good responses and positive adoption language for your kids than it is for you to educate a total (nosy) stranger.

A while back, I created this animated video to share the absurdity of these conversations….

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Image via Flickr/ Steven Depolo

“I hope you know how lucky you are.”

Of course, this one is said most often directly to the kids: The person we don't know bends down, pats them on the head, and imparts to them the implied advice that my kids should be appreciative. You know–because I “saved” them.

What I Want to Say.

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“I know that you mean well, but if you really stop to think about it, were my kids lucky that they were unable to be raised by their birth families? Were they lucky that they spent time living in an orphanage? Were they lucky when they were pulled away from everything they knew and taken out of their own birth country to be raised in a culture that was not their own?

Whether or not my children feel “lucky” about all of these things is for them to decide and not for someone else to lecture them about in a tone that underscores how appreciative they “ought to be.”

{ MORE: Managing Your Child’s Feelings & Questions About Being Adopted }

What I Actually Say.

“Truly, I am the lucky one. I get to be the mom to such amazing kids.”

And usually at this point, I push my shopping cart forward and move along; this is not someone I am usually interested in having an ongoing discussion with.

“I see you took the easy way out to finally have a girl.”

This was often said to me after our first adoption when I would be out with my three boys (they look quite a lot like me) and my young daughter (who does not resemble me).

What I Want to Say.

“If you had any earthly idea of how HUGE the process is that potential adoptive parents have to go through to become approved to adopt, how the wait can seem endless and agonizing, and, quite frankly, how easy it was for me to conceive, you wouldn't make such an ignorant comment. And by the way, I couldn't care LESS if my kids were male or female!

What I Actually Say.

“I love my boys AND my girls.”

This stranger does not need for me explain anything further. Moving along.

Adoptive Family in soccer net
Image via Flickr/ Steven Depolo

“Your kids don't look anything like you. Are they adopted?”

This person obviously has a problem with their mouth just speaking whatever their heads are thinking. They have no filter.

What I Want to Say.

“Why is that any of your business?”

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What I Actually Say.

“I'm sorry. Do I know you?”

Usually that gets them to realize that they have crossed the line into asking personal questions to a stranger. And I feel that it teaches my kids that they have the right to share what they want with people.

{ MORE: What You - and Your Child - Really Need }

Or sometimes I just answer them, “Yes, we are an adoptive family” and then move along. I am certainly proud of our family, and I want my kids to know that adoption is just another way that families are formed, and it is not something to hide or be ashamed of. But more than anything, I want my kids to know that just because someone feels compelled to ask a question doesn't mean that they have to provide an answer to satisfy someone else's curiosity.

Adoptive Family in China
Image via Flickr/ Mark Lane

“How much did they cost?”

It sounds awful, doesn't it? But experience has taught me that the person who asks this is usually asking because they know someone who has adopted a child, and they have heard that the process is expensive. Or perhaps they have been considering adoption themselves but are worried about the cost.

What I Want to Say.

“How much money do you make? How much did your house cost? How much was that handbag you are carrying?”

Honestly, they just don't get what an obscene and rude question this is, and I do my best to refrain from kicking them in the shins.

What I Actually Say.

“Adoptions costs about what it costs to have a baby in the hospital if you didn't have insurance to pay for the birth. Why do you ask?” If I can see that this is going to lead to more questions and a further discussion in front of my kids (such as with a prospective adoptive family), I might give them my email address and ask them to reach out to me if they have other questions. But I tend not to conduct an adoption expense lecture right there in the aisle of Target.

I truly could go on and on about other questions and comments I hear about, whether or not my kids are “really siblings,” or about how I am “just a saint for adopting all of these kids,” but I won't. Instead, I'll just say that your kids hear how you respond to these questions, and it greatly influences their own feelings about adoption. Keep that in mind every time you feel the need to respond to a stranger's questions. (And it will help you to stop kicking them in the shins, too!)

{ MORE: A Spot at the Table: Truths About Foster Care Adoption }

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If you are an adoptive parent, how have you handled responses to intrusive questions and comments about your family?

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Why Don’t Your Kids Look Like You? (And Other Things Adoptive Parents Hear)

My name is Sharon and I am the busy Mom of six children ages 13, 12, 11, 10, 9, and 8. People often ask me "How do you do it?" I tell them that my key to success lies in planning ahead, with a whole lot of creativity and organization thrown in! ... More

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