After two weeks in quarantine in a Bangkok hotel, two more weeks in Thailand to complete various adoption requirements to bring our 7-year-old home, a seven-hour flight to Doha, a 14-hour flight to Chicago and a 3 1/2 hour flight to El Paso, we returned home a family of six Tuesday night.
Or at least half of me returned as the little jet-lagged cells that make up my internal clock wander around confused, looking for the time but unable to find it.
Our arrival marks the culmination of a years-long international adoption process, our fourth. My wife and I love to talk about adoption, and, when we can, we pass along what we have learned to those considering adoption.
When you have children who are Thai and Korean, and you look like me, you’re going to attract double takes and occasional awkward questions.
We haven’t had anybody ask us any truly rude questions or been the subject of racist remarks. Even so, enough adoptive families have stories of bad encounters (usually with strangers in grocery stores for some reason) that the online adoption training provided by our adoption agency included a lesson on handling awkward questions.
Mostly, the questions I have encountered are of the well-meaning sort from folks truly interested in our family and adoption, but who hesitate because they’re not sure how to talk about adoption.
So I thought I’d share a few quick tips and thoughts. Of course, I am only speaking for our family and from personal experience. Every family has their own set of values and boundaries.
I have younger adopted siblings, and on a recent trip to the doctor the receptionist asked my parents, “Are they yours or did you adopt them?” My mom answered, “Both.” Not getting it, the receptionist responded, “Both?” And my mom answered, “Yes. We adopted them and they are ours.”
There are variations on that question. Sometimes people want to know if they are your “real” children. Or they might ask, awkwardly, “Can you have kids of your own?” Our kids are not figments of our imagination. And not only are they permanent members of our family but so are their children and their children’s children (and so on).
It’s better just to ask, “Were they adopted?” Or, perhaps, “Are they your biological children?”
As with the process of making babies, some things about adoption are more personal then others and what we share depends on the circumstances and how well we know somebody.
For example, the two things all people seem to know about the international adoption process is its long and costly. And people are sometimes oddly quick to ask about how much it costs.
Asking a friend who just had a baby how much it cost when you are pregnant and considering where to give birth may not be too intrusive. But asking an acquaintance or stranger with a 10-year-old how much their birth cost would be odd. The same goes for adoption. Asking a friend who has adopted about the process because you are considering adopting may not be too intrusive. But asking an acquaintance or stranger in the checkout line at the grocery store how much it costs is odd.
It’s an especially insensitive question to ask in front of adopted children who may get the impression they were “purchased.” When you have a baby at a hospital and receive the bill, you are paying for the various services provided, not for the child. Similarly, when you adopt a child, you are paying the U.S. government, the government of the country you are adopting from and the nonprofit that facilitates the adoption for various services. Parents don’t buy children. That’s illegal.
Another awkward question is, “Where did you get them?” Instead, ask about their birth countries.
Other questions are intrusive, like what we might know about their birth parents. We have always discussed adoption openly with our children (at an age-appropriate level), but it’s important to us that they own their adoption story. How much they want to share is up to them.
And also keep in mind that adopted children are “lucky” only so far as any children are lucky to have families that love them, and their parents are “heroes” only so far as all parents who love and care for their children are. Every child has a right to a safe, loving home.