Adoptive families have kind of a camraderie going in regards to the whacked out comments they get from strangers regarding the way their family was formed. Overall, our family has been pretty lucky. People have said things to us, of course, some of it lovely, some of it cringeworthy, and as I reflect on how I feel about this and the way I know other adoptive parents feel about this, I have come to the conclusion that we are all a little ignorant.
It’s true. Adoptive families know a lot about adoption. We’ve read books, taken classes, and we are living an experience that not everybody knows a lot about or has taken the time to think through extensively. And that’s actually okay. Until we adopted, I had never really given a lot of thought to what were appropriate questions to ask people about how their families were formed and what were inappropriate.
As a matter of fact, I will admit, in this public forum that I once made a huge faux pas with a friend. It wasn’t out of malice, or even nosiness, it was simply out of ignorance. I have a friend who was in the process of domestic adoption. We met and began growing close just around the time that a birthmother chose my friend and her husband to parent her son. One day we were talking on the phone about the adoption and all of the upcoming events. I asked if she was going to meet the birthmother. And then I asked if she knew why the birthmother was choosing not to parent.
I know–completely and totally none of my business. Under any circumstances. I am mortified TO THIS VERY DAY. But I just hadn’t thought it through at all. I was genuinely interested in her life and her excitement over the adoption, and as someone who wanted to adopt one day, I (selfishly) wanted an insider’s view. Okay, maybe I was being nosy.
My friend calmly, casually and graciously explained what I absolutely know now that this was HER SON’S history and information and that it wouldn’t be appropriate to share all of that with others. Duh. I understood immediately and was also humbled that she had been so graceful in the way she explained it to me.
That experience for me has always reminded me that when people ask things that are none of their business, probably 80-90% of the time it’s because they are genuinely interested. They aren’t trying to be inappropriate (even though sometimes they are), they are really trying to relate to your situation and get to know you better.
(The other 10% of the time, people are just rude and they want to push your buttons. Asking “How much did he cost?” or insulting a family’s decision to adopt internationally? Give me a break–anybody should know that is offensive.)
Does that make it any less uncomfortable? Probably not–especially when you have your kids with you. The fact is that we can answer with a smart comeback or with grace. And if you choose grace, that person will probably walk away a lot more informed and will remember that conversation (much like I remember the conversation with my friend).
The truth is, I still have to remember to keep my mouth shut about some things. I’m educated enough not to make too many blunders around adoptive families (I hope!), but this experience has made me more aware of the things I ask anyone. I really try to ask myself if it is any of my business and if it’s not, I stay quiet.
There is another mom that I sit with during Isaac’s swim lessons. I taught her water aerobics class when she was pregnant and I really like her. Her daughter is so cute and I always find myself wanting to ask if they will have more. But it’s none of my business. For all I know they are trying and not having any luck. For all I know she has lost 3 pregnancies since her daughter was born. For all I know, she is 7 weeks pregnant and keeping it under wraps for now. If she wants me to know, she will tell me. No matter how much I like her and want to be friendly with her, her reproductive life is simply not my business.
And I have to remind myself of this because I am a talkative person who likes to find common ground with others.
We all stick our feet in our mouths sometimes. Whether it’s speaking before we think or just ignorance about a certain situation, you have to admit, you have probably said the wrong thing at least once. Hopefully the person you said it to showed you grace and hopefully you will return the favor when, inevitably, somebody says something that makes steam come out of your ears.