The kids you’re talking about? The ones standing right next to me, paying attention to the question? They are my own. Why shouldn’t I speak up and politely make the distinction?
I really, really try not to get wrapped around semantics when people make thoughtless remarks about our adoptions or when they ask a question that maybe they shouldn’t ask…or ask it in a way that’s offensive.
I try to keep in mind that every person my family comes in contact with is not going to be familiar with adoption lingo and that sometimes, people will make unfortunate word choices that make me mad.
“It’s so great that you adopted…we’re going to adopt one day, too, but we want one of our own first.”
“He’s really adorable…do you have any of your own?”
“I’d like to introduce you to Jill and her adopted sons.”
All of these things have been said more than once, usually by people who mean no harm whatsoever. Correcting them is awkward, no matter how much diplomacy I practice and no matter how carefully I choose my words.
Every time someone says something like this, I wrestle with whether or not it’s appropriate to say something or whether I should just smile, nod and let it go. Sometimes it’s easier just to hold my tongue and understand that someone only meant to compliment my family or show interest.
But, the kids you’re talking about? The ones standing right next to me, paying attention to the question? They are my own. Why shouldn’t I speak up and politely make the distinction?
I have three children. Two are adopted and one came…well, you know…the old-fashioned way. They are all my own.
I feel like I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t on this one. If I smile and say something like “All of my kids are my own,” that puts whoever made the comment or asked the question on the defensive. It forces an apology or more often than not, a huffy “well, you know what I meant.” And yes…of course I know what people mean.
But, they are my own.
If I keep my mouth shut, then it perpetuates the notion that it’s OK to say these things when it’s really not OK, and it has nothing to do with me.
If I am out and about with my two youngest kids and strike up a conversation with a random stranger, there’s at least a 50 percent chance that someone will ask if they’re adopted. Most people are smart enough to figure out that the boys and I don’t share DNA, although some people need to make extra sure and inquire about my husband’s ethnicity.
My answer to the “are they adopted” question is always a cautious yes. Adoption isn’t a bad word and certainly not a secret in our house, but I’m always leery of having casual adoption conversations, especially when my kids—my kids who hear perfectly well—are around. There is a line between casual conversation and too personal, and while that line is in a different place for everyone, I have found that most people don’t err on the side of caution when asking adoption questions.
If I nod my head yes in answer to “are they adopted,” the door opens. The next question might be about where the boys are from or even a more unfortunate word choice like “where did you get them,” in which case I’m always tempted to say Amazon (but of course I don’t). I’d never let my kids hear me give a snarky response like that to explain their beginnings. This is why I hate it when they hear someone ask “but do you have any of your own?” This sends the message that I’m not fully their mom or that maybe I love them less because they’re adopted, neither of which is true.
Think about it.
The average person might not think “do you have any of your own” is a bad question. The average person is probably going to be embarrassed and apologetic or defensive and snippy when I answer “they ARE my own.”
But here’s the thing: Although I dislike being an asshole to people who probably meant no harm in the first place, I care much less about their feelings than I do about how my own kids feel when they hear someone question my authenticity as a parent. It’s the same as people asking if they’re my “real kids” or if my boys are “real brothers.”
Think for a minute about the conversations I have to have when we get in the car or when we get home. Every time someone asks whether they are “my own” kids or “real brothers” they want to know why people ask. So we talk. And yes, we talk often about adoptions, but I prefer it when those conversations are on our terms instead of being prompted by the question of a random stranger.
As easy response is to point your finger back at me and call me sensitive. Maybe that’s true, but maybe my sensitivity isn’t such a bad thing if it prompts people to think about the words that come out of their mouths.
My kids are my own. It’s not OK if you say something that makes them question that. Ever.
And yes, someone really did introduce me as “Jill and her two adopted sons” at a birthday party. It took every ounce of self-restraint I possess not to say “it’s nice to meet everyone and their vaginally and cesarean delivered spawn.”
But I’d sure love to see the look on their faces if I did.
Jill Robbins is a wannabe wine snob and sometime runner from San Antonio, Texas. She has a degree in social psychology which has so far been unhelpful in understanding the behavior of her husband and three children. She writes about adoption, motherhood and midlife on her blog, Ripped Jeans and Bifocals. Jill is a regular contributor to The Huffington Post, Blunt Moms Babble, and Mamalode. She’s also been published in The Washington Post’s On Parenting and is a proud member of the 2015 cast of Listen to Your Mother, Austin. Her work has also been featured on Scary Mommy, Mamapedia Voices, In the Powder Room, SheKnows Parenting, Midlife Boulevard, Beyond Your Blog and other places around the internet. Her print publications include the December 2014 issue of Mamalode and three upcoming anthologies about motherhood. She someday hopes to write the books that are living in her head. You can follow Jill on Facebook and Twitter.
This originally appeared on Ripped Jeans & Bifocals. Republished here with permission.