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Admit it, We’re All a Little Ignorant March 22, 2011

Filed under: adoption thoughts,and that's how I feel about that — Elizabeth @ 4:07 PM

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.


16 Responses to “Admit it, We’re All a Little Ignorant”

  1. Grace Says:

    what a good reminder for all of us on both ends!

  2. Christy Says:

    I always relive those moments where I stick my foot in my mouth. Probably (hopefully) the other person has moved on and I still feel bad. I haven’t had too many rude comments but I’m occasionally uncomfortable and don’t know how to respond (even with people I love) because the answer to their questions (why are you adopting? why didn’t you choose to adopt domestically? why not foster care? why south korea?) aren’t questions you can answer in one sentence. It took us 2 years to make all of those decisions (and more) so I can’t tell you in a brief exchange why we made the decisions we made.

    I realize that I probably make people uncomfortable sometimes and I generally (with 1 or 2 exceptions) don’t take offense because (usually) they’re not trying to be rude but are truly interested in our lives. Great post!

  3. Very well thought out post. I’ve unquestionably put my foot in mouth many times. MANY times. I hope the people on the receiving end of my idiotic comments have as much grace as your friend did.

  4. claudia Says:

    Can’t tell you how much I loved this post! SO SO SO SO true. We are super educated. Ridiculously educated. And I think we can be really unreasonable about how educated we expect other people to be. I’ve been wanting to write something along similar lines for a long time, but haven’t found the words. I’m thinking I should probably just link to you instead 🙂

  5. Kristen Says:

    I’m both nosy and impulsive, so I shudder to think of all the times I’ve said stupid/inconsiderate/rude things to people and offended them. Seriously, sometimes as the words are leaving my mouth I’m trying to shove them back in 🙂

    I knew going into int’l adoption that we’d be opening ourselves up to stares & comments. Like you, I take the approach that nearly everyone is well-meaning and curious and so it takes a lot to really make me offended and angry. As the boys get older, I do wish people would stop asking me so many questions in front of them. I hate that they feel “on display” or different, but I also know that people aren’t intentionally trying to make them feel that way.

  6. Jenny Says:

    assuming this is in response to the latest “what I want you to know” over at Rage against the mini, such a great perspective.

    I actually wrote something almost saying the exact same thing once: http://achosenchild.blogspot.com/2010/05/bond-of-peace.html

    so I totally agree 🙂

  7. Aunt JoAnn Says:

    Thanks so much for this thoughtful post, I am truely grateful for this kind of reminder. Your ability to be so understanding and forgiving is appreciated. I do agree that being as educated as adoptive parents are puts you in a position to lead the way for others, because having been away from the community of adoption workers now for 8 years makes me less tuned in to all the nuances you deal with daily. Its not easy to come up with patience and compassion for the public who will need just that to hear you as you set boundaries and explain why certain inquiries are violations of privacy. Thanks, many thanks..Aunt JoAnn

  8. Joanna Says:

    Amen! Sometimes our fellow AP’s get a little too fired up a little too quickly. I like to give people the benefit of the doubt and assume they are just ‘ignorant’ and curious. I hope I handle it with grace and understanding.

  9. christine m tomberlin Says:

    I am glad you wrote this. As a relative of AP (your aunt!!), I know I have had to be educated and continue in that process–making mistakes along the way. But, think of us! I get the same questions and don’t know how to answer as I have not been “as schooled” as to the whole picture. Sometimes I feel taken off guard, I get irritated, I don’t know how to answer and wake up in the night thinking of “what I should have said.” But I agree that we have to be WILLING to become educated and sensitive ourselves and then reach out and bring our friends into that circle–and hope they pay it forward as well. But you APs are the start of that educational process–so think of it as trying to make the world more accepting and understanding for your kids.

  10. Jen Says:

    It is so hard knowing how to respond, especially when our kids are around. To me, well meaning or not, please try to respect that my kids are just that- kids. They don’t deserve to be the object of your curiosity. They didn’t choose this life- we chose them.

    Many times, in response to the question as to why their birthparents chose to place them for adoption, I have told people: “for the same reasons people do here in the US- they were too young, too old, financial reasons, family issues”. No one has ever come back to ask which reason it was for my kids.

    It is our jobs to repeat their “story” to our children until they are old enough to remember and understand. I agree 100% with your friend- it is THEIR story. W need to save these intimate details for them to share if and when they decide, with the people they love and trust most.

    The important thing for us APs to remember, although it is so tempting to give a smart ass answer, if our kids are there, we shouldn’t. We don’t want to give our little ones the impression that we are embarrassed of them or their backgrounds. Rather, we need to instill in them that this is something private for them to share when they like. Like intimacy, if shared with too many, it loses it’s specialness 🙂

  11. Sue Says:

    you could not have said this any better…and i so appreciate every word. thanks for the reminder – kindness and grace in all we do and say really does go a long way.

  12. euefrufru Says:

    Ugh! I could have written this post. Well, not really because my writing will never be as eloquent and clever and witty and as expressive as yours, but you know what I mean. Oh my… I cringe sometimes remembering some of the things that have come out of my mouth. Hopefully people know me well enough to know that I am not a malicious person and am genuinely interested in whatever is going on at the moment. Adoption especially. Now that I’m more educated on it, I realize how people can get offended at some things that I would probably want to know (genuinely for research or to immerse myself in the story). I also think, though that some people, sometimes, overreact. I would be totally comfortable in answering people’s questions in the hopes of educating them on the subject – as graceful as possible.

  13. Kelly Says:

    Right on! You are so right. I do think some APs are a bit too quick to jump down people’s throats for asking what may *seem* like an inappropriate question. Granted, there are some questions I’ve heard people say they’ve gotten that floor me but luckily I’ve never gotten one of those ugly ones myself. Like you, I try to give the other person the benefit of the doubt because I agree with you that it’s usually just pure, genuine, well-meaning interest on their part and sometimes it’s just hard to know the right words to use without sounding a bit offensive. I try to think back to before I was immersed in the adoption world and I ask myself “is that a question I might have asked someone before I knew better?” The answer is almost always yes, which is humbling.

  14. Kim Says:

    Thanks for this perspective. We just announced that we’ve received a referral, and we’ve been met with our fair share of ignorant questions, especially regarding the stories of our boys. I try to remind myself that MOST of the time the curiosity of human nature takes over, and I’ve definitely asked my fair share of ignorant questions in the past. This week I encountered a new one, though: “If you meet them and don’t like them, can you change your mind?” I said the first thing that came to mind (not always a good idea): “If they came out of my womb, I probably wouldn’t try to shove them back in.”

  15. I know this is a really old blog post, but I was so glad to read it. (I came over here from My Fascinating Life’s “adoption 101 links.)

    I was wondering, if you can help me find the line of what is okay to ask, and what isn’t? I have a really sweet friend, and I’d love to know about her adoptions, but it felt like everything I asked was answered with “That’s HIS/HER story.” She says it so kindly, and so gracefully, but I came away thinking that I just can’t ever ask anything about her adopted children. And yet… we’re moms. We chatted nonstop about my children and her non-adopted ones. Is there anything safe that I could ask to get conversation going about the others? Or is it best just to not go there?

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