Families come in all forms. We’re just trying to live our lives and the question you might have considered innocent can sting us and our children.
My two youngest kids are adopted from China, which makes them…well, Chinese. My husband and I are Caucasian, so you get a little more at-a-glance insight into our family makeup than you do with the average family you might catch a glimpse of at the park or walking down the street. Just by a quick look, you’ll be able to tell that my boys didn’t come from my gene pool or my husband’s.
And that’s fine. We know we stand out, even when we’d much rather blend in. And no, we’re not trying to hide the fact that we’re a multi-racial family built through adoption, and no, we’re not in the least ashamed of how our family came to be a family. Quite the opposite, in fact. But sometimes, you just want to be the family in the park going about your day minus the second glances, the double takes, the stares, and sometimes, the intrusive questions.
I really try not to be hyper-sensitive about adoption questions. People who don’t have a connection to multi-racial adoption or personally know someone who has been adopted are naturally curious and I get that. And, as much as the tacky questions make me clench — my favorite is “What happened to their real parents?” — I try to handle these questions with grace while simultaneously conveying “Maybe not so personal, m’kay?” with my nonverbals. If you’ve ever gotten the stink face from me after asking too many adoption questions while I’m trying to buy underwear at Target, you know what I’m talking about.
But there’s one question that really grinds my gears, fires me up, and brings out a side of me that no one really wants to see. That question is “Where did you get your kids?”
Ask me where I got my planner, my shoes, my vacuum cleaner, or my super cool water bottle. I’m happy to share where I shop, and I’ll even throw in how much I paid for something without you having to ask. I have no idea why I do that, but I love bragging about a good bargain.
But my kids are not that. They’re not a good bargain. They’re not an organic avocado I found at the farmer’s market or a fun pair of shoes. They are not something I “got.”
They are my children. I didn’t “get” them.
I always wonder what answer people are looking for when they ask, “Where did you get your kids?” I haven’t ventured into acerbic (yet witty) comebacks, such as “Amazon” or “They were in my house when I woke up this morning, so…” but somehow, that seems wrong and too flip. I think my kids deserve better, whether or not they happen to be standing right there listening. Newsflash: They usually are.
I guess people who ask me where I got my kids are looking for an answer like “China” or “Korea,” but I don’t see why it’s so difficult to ask something like “Where are they from?” or “Are they Chinese?” I try not to get tangled up in semantics or react to what I think the motive behind the question is, because there probably is no motive. Just simple curiosity and maybe not enough of a “Hmm, I maybe shouldn’t ask that because it might be received as rude” filter.
I get it.
But don’t ask me where I got my kids.
My kids are not inanimate objects. They’re not stuff. They’re not some cool, unique flea market find we can ooh and ahh over. I didn’t “get” them anywhere. To reduce the heartbreakingly complex adoption process it took to bring these children into our family to the word “get” just seems wrong.
I’ve heard the same sentiment voiced by same-sex parents, except in their case, it’s probably worse. I’ve had same-sex parents tell me the questions don’t stop at “where did you get them” and that people seem to have zero qualms about asking questions about sperm donors, artificial insemination, and “from whose vagina did the baby actually come?” I can’t even. Maybe I ought to consider us lucky because we’re a heterosexual couple and the questions aren’t as bad.
But no. It’s still not cool.
It’s almost 2019. Families come in all forms. We’re just trying to live our lives and the question you might have considered innocent can sting us and our children.
If any of my words have put you on the defensive, or if phrases like “too sensitive” or “lighten up, lady” are flashing through your mind, then I ask you to just for a minute consider the ripple effects of a question like “Where did you get them?” can have. More often than not, our kids who can hear and understand your question are present. It’s another reinforcement that their family is different, which may or may not be welcome. As much as I tout the Dr. Seuss line of “Why fit in when you were born to stand out,” that doesn’t always fly with my kids who are just trying to fit in and don’t like it when someone shines a light on the fact that our family is different.
I’m not trying to be the word police. I’m not trying to tell you that you can’t be curious about a family that doesn’t look like yours because I think that curiosity leads to learning and that learning leads to a wider acceptance. I’m asking you to briefly put yourself in the shoes of the 8-year-old child standing next to me who hears yet another person asking his mom where she “got” him and go from there.
Jill Robbins is the self-proclaimed oldest mom with the youngest kids everywhere she goes. She has a 26-year-old-daughter and two 8-year-old sons. Jill writes about parenting, adoption, and travel and is a big believer in showing her kids as much of the world as possible. She’s been published in a variety of parenting and travel sites, to include The Washington Post, Babble, Scary Mommy, Traveling Mom and more. Jill lives in a small town outside of San Antonio with her husband and sons. You can learn more about Jill on her blog, Ripped Jeans and Bifocals, and by following her on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
This piece is co-published with Family Story, a think tank founded to recognize, validate, and protect the many ways individuals form and re-form families.