Attention! Anything you say can and will be used to help further fuel the trauma that our kids from hard places* have had to endure.
I honestly believe people as a whole do not mean to be hurtful or mean when they ask questions or comment. They just don’t realize the significance of saying them TO or in FRONT of adopted children. However, these innocent remarks can cause major flare-ups and pain for our kids. As you know, when your child is threatened, your Mama Bear heart goes into overdrive!
Recently I took my younger two to the ophthalmologist. I was shocked at three cringe-worthy comments he said to my kids. If I knew what was about to transpire, I would have grabbed them and shielded them from the onslaught of friendly fire that was about to burst forth.
- While explaining something to me about my (adopted) son’s eyes, the doctor asked: “So, Mom…are you his mom?” (Minor infraction, he a different race than myself, so I guess there might be some stretch that I would bring in another child, with my same last name, to an eye appointment.)
- When the visit was coming to a close, the doctor asked his sister, my biological daughter who is 5, “So, ____, do you want to send him back?” Mind you, he was teasing, but she was distraught at this question and gasped “NO!” This caused his assistant to quickly erupt an “Awww,” but did not deter question number three from rapidly rearing its ignorant head.
- “Where did you get him?” “Wal-Mart?” To which my daughter responded with an exacerbated, “No, we got him in China!”
To say I was flabbergasted was the understatement of the year. I couldn’t even say anything at the moment because I literally had NO WORDS. Suggesting to a child, who has lived in an orphanage for the first two-plus years of his life, that there is a possibility he might be sent back is no Bueno. Seriously, not something you want to do.
Trauma runs deep friends. Triggers to said trauma are not a joke, and these little comments can send children reeling for many a night. He might be young, but I GUARANTEE he understands so much more than one might think. He is already afraid of returning to China, he knows what that word means, and has even told me he doesn’t want to go back. That is a heavy thought for a four-year-old. As the doors closed behind us at the office, his behavior began to spiral on the way to the van. I can’t say I was surprised, and my heart was with him.
These comments go beyond being superficially politically incorrect. They cause us to want to get our armor on before we leave the house and have to confront the good ole grocery store parenting we participate in. We feel this violent urge to protect these babies of ours from hurtful, thoughtless words. If you notice a family and it looks like they have adopted, and you want to say something positive, there are options! One friend of mine loves giving and receiving the compliment, “your children are beautiful!” She explains that if she gives that compliment to someone, they can easily correct her and say, “Oh, I’m babysitting these two,” or something along those lines.
As with my previous doctor situation, I was able to talk to him on the phone, later, after processing. I explained what went down, and why it was a real issue. I knew the doctor was not trying to be facetious. He was genuinely sorry and his eyes were opened. He is now aware of how thoughtless comments, even meant in fun, can cause harm. Raising awareness is not easy, and it doesn’t come naturally! But, I am learning to be brave, so that my son can understand that it is okay to not answer questions he feels uncomfortable answering. It is his story after all, and I want to respect that.
Adoptive moms don’t mind questions! I don’t want to scare you! We had to ask questions to get to where we are today. However, timing is very important. Please be aware if our children are within earshot, they can hear you, and they aren’t too young to understand. If you have questions, come ask us in private, phone us, email, or set up a coffee date to talk. We would love to help, and we really do LOVE talking about our kids and adoption!
Here are some actual comments and questions experienced firsthand from adoptive moms. Thanks, friends – you know who you are!
For your educational pleasure:
Adoption in General
- “Are these your real kids?“
- “Are you the real mom? “
- “Which ones are your real kids?”
- “Who’s their real mom?”
- “They are so lucky to have you!” (One mom says this is probably the most annoying comment she gets most often. It is like telling a victim they need to be thankful. It’s hard stuff.)
- “You could never be a good mother for them because you are not their same race.”
- “Do you love them the same?”
- “How many baby daddies did you have?” (said to a young adoptive mom of a sibling group)
- “Are you the nanny? Are taking care of them? Are you running a daycare?”
- “Aren’t you afraid no one will want to marry you with all these kids?” (said to a single foster mom)
- “They’re so lucky to have you.”
- “Are ALL of your children adopted?” Or after being introduced, singling out the child of a different race and stating, “Oh! Is he adopted?”
- “What’s wrong?” And “Is it you or him?”
- “Don’t you want kids of your OWN?” Or commenting as a fact: “So, you didn’t want kids of your own.”
- “But it’s not the same as having real kids.”
- “You’re only in it for the money right?”
- “How much do you get for them?”
- “Was his mom a drug addict?”
- “I couldn’t be a foster parent because I’d get attached”. Or, “I have too big of a heart.” Or any other comment you make because that inadvertently tells the foster mom that she doesn’t! As one friend said, “And I don’t?! The trick is getting up, dusting off and doing it again.” It’s for the kids.
- “Children in the US need to be adopted why didn’t you help them?” (Kids everywhere need love, a home, and a family.)
- “Where is your child from?”
- “Are they biological siblings?”
- “Did their parents die?”
- “What did they cost?” (Humans don’t cost processes do.)
As I was about to publish this post, I have to give mad props to Al Trautwig for the wonderfully horrible, public example to Simone Biles; “They may be mom and dad but they are NOT her parents.” To which she responded, “My parents are my parents and that’s it.” And honestly, that really is it.
*Total credit for the term kids from hard places is given to the late Karyn Purvis, Ph.D. She loved kids so well and made such a difference in this world for them! Look her up!