Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Won't YOU Be My Neighbour...Cause I'd like to Trade One In

Sometimes I'm very surprised by the response I get when I let someone know that we're adopting.  Usually people respond really well, and it feels like they're genuinely happy for us.  I've also become somewhat accustomed to people's curiosity, and the occasional unintentionally-offensive comment.  Other times, though, I'm a bit horrified by how people handle our news, especially now that we have a referral.  One recent incident made me realize that I need to deliberate a little more on how I answer people's comments and questions.

On Saturday, while out and about doing a little shopping, Geoff and I ran into a neighbour.  We don't know her very well, but we've visited together a couple of times, and she and her husband knew that we were trying to adopt.  So, when we bumped into her, we told her our news and I proudly pulled the photos out of my purse to show her.  I believe it would be fair to say that I was beaming.  (It would also be fair to say that, at that point, about twenty-four hours after we went public with our news, I was telling anyone who would listen to me that we were adopting: the Sears sales clerk; the checkout person at Superstore; the woman at the children's furniture store who was helping us figure out bunk bed issues; of course the waitress/owner at the Ethiopian restaurant we went to for lunch; you name it!)

Anyway, back to our neighbour.  I asked her if she didn't think the children were beautiful?!!  Fully expecting her to answer in the affirmative, of course.  Instead her response, while staring at the pictures, was something like:  "huh. I have friends of friends who adopted two children years ago and they've had terrible issues from day one and they're now about nineteen and have learning disabilities and health issues..."  blah blah blah blah.  I could barely hear through the steam pouring out of my ears.  I snatched my pictures back, fearing that somehow I would taint them with this kind of talk.  I tried to be gracious, really I did; they're going to be our neighbours for the foreseeable future, after all (and I figured Geoff would be mad at me if I said something rude; and, well, Matthew was listening).  I said something about how children's health is, indeed, something to be thankful for, though there are risks with biological as well as adopted children.  She persisted, saying how she was glad she'd had her "own" children, given the risks of adopting...to which I responded (with a big, fat, fake smile on my face) that it was fortunate, then, that she'd been able to give birth to biological children without being fettered by those nagging infertility issues that other women struggle with.  My smile was frozen in place as I tried to soften my too-blunt words.  Something 'worked' because she stopped talking and looked confused; I think she was wondering if I'd just insulted her.  Whatever.  She stopped talking.  I quickly said that we needed to be on our way, and wished her a good day...and then fumed for the next half hour to my hubbie about our insensitive people.

I suspect that this is just the beginning of receiving those kinds of comments.  Ok, well, maybe not the beginning, given some of the questions and comments I've already fielded in the past.  Why do people do this?  I don't get it.  You mention the word adoption and everyone comes out of the woodwork with a friend of a cousin, twice removed, who adopted and had a disastrous time with their adopted offspring.  Would I look at their blond-haired child and think it in any way appropriate to say that I know too many dumb-blond jokes to be able to appreciate their child, or comment that I'm sure glad that I had only red-haired children?  Of course not.

I do think people are well intentioned...well, most of them.

I think what I need to do is start making a list of questions that we might receive (or already have received) and think about possible answers that I can give without having to think too hard about it...'cause we all know that the things we say in the heat of the moment may end up not being the best or wisest of things to say.  As Matthew said just today:  "our tongues are the most evil parts of our body cause we can hurt people with what we say."  Amen, my boy.  And how much more true this is of a mama who is offended by another person's insensitive remarks about or towards her children.

So, shall we start a list of questions that adoptive and prospective adoptive parents are often asked?  And come up with some ready answers?   Here goes:

1.  Who is their mother?
Suggested answer:  I am.

2.  Yes, but really, who is their real mother? (said with a wink and a nudge)
Suggested answer:  Really, I am (with a nudge and a wink) - at least, I'm pretty sure it's me wiping their noses and bums, and drying their tears and cooking their every meal.

3. How much did your kids cost?
Suggested answer #1: nothing...though the administrative and legal costs associated with adoption are significant. (possible snide additional comment:  oh, and how much did you pay for your house, by the way?)
Suggested answer #2: Oh, well, they cost a lot.  Between food and clothing and toys and lessons, they cost a lot; I guess that comes with being a parent.
Note: if someone were genuinely interested in adopting internationally, I would have no problem answering questions about process and costs.

4. Can I touch their hair?
Suggested answer #1: Only if we get to run our fingers through yours first.

5. Your children are so lucky to have you.
Suggested answer #1: We think we're the lucky ones (and boy, do we!)
Suggested answer #2: What makes you think they're lucky?
Suggested answer #3: Somehow it doesn't feel all that lucky to think about our children, by no choice of their own, having to leave their birth family, their culture, their language, their country, etc, just to come and live with us.  I'm sure they're not feeling so lucky.

6.  Why didn't you adopt domestically?
Suggested answer #1:  Because our children were in Ethiopia.
Suggested answer #2:  Oh, have you adopted domestically, because you sound very passionate about it?
Suggested answer #3:  Because, despite what you hear, it is actually very difficult to adopt domestically, and one might wait many years to be matched with a child domestically; also, some provinces (such as ours) no longer has a foster-to-adopt program.

7.  What happened to their real family?
Suggested answer #1:  We've decided to maintain the privacy of our children's stories for the time being, but common reasons in Ethiopia for birth families to choose adoption for their children include: poverty; illness; death of one or both parents; economic hardship.

8.  Do the children you were referred have other siblings?
Suggested answer #1:  We have decided to maintain the privacy of our children's stories for the time being, but either can be the case when adopting in Ethiopia.

9.  Are these your natural children?
Suggested answer #1: Well, I certainly don't think they're un-natural!

10.  Are the children you were referred brother and sister?
Suggested answer #1:  Yes. And now Matthew is their brother, too.

Please, add to this list of questions and answers; suggest alternatives for consideration; share what's worked for you if you've been in these kinds of situations.  Geoff and I need to practice these things now, because the time is coming when we may have little ears listening to how we respond; and I need to care about them way more than about the person I'm responding to.


  1. When we announced our decision to adopt, my mother-in-law proceeded to tell us that "...the child will murder us in our beds" (her words). This from a woman who herself was orphaned when she was 10 and was taken in by relatives. Now that we have received a referral for a little girl, she is relieved because "they aren't so bad."


  2. Hey Ruth. When we had switched our file from China to Ethiopia, one of my in-laws' best friends remarked that his (some relative ...) adopted two children of colour and that it's been a nightmare, etc. and that we should really give more thought to our plans. I kicked my husband under the table (we were stuck at dinner with this person and his wife) and then said to him, much to my MIL's dismay, "That doesn't make any sense." I think it came out that way because I just couldn't process what he was saying, but it did shut him up! I think it's a good idea to think of how you want to handle these questions, because you'll get them often. Because our guy is our only child, I often get, "Didn't you want your own?" or "Oh, you couldn't have your own?" The first few times I heard those, I was not ready. But now I'm comfortable responding, "He is my own" and people will generally leave it at that. It's an interesting world we navigate, but I know you're up to the challenge!

  3. I am sorry for you that you had to endure such an insensitive reaction to your wonderful news.

    I am however, pleased that it was you Ruth that received the comment. This is because your response to your neighbour was so appropriate. It contained the exact right amount of admonishment without being rude. I hope you gave her something to think about!

    I wish I could have handled my own experiences with insensitive comments as delicately as you did! And I love your sample responses to the inappropriate questions!!

  4. oh i LOVE these! honestly..."can i run my fingers thru your hair first?" and LOVE LOVE "oh have you adopted domestically..you sound so passionate about it." that is sweet!
    oh ruth, i'm sorry. people are so STUPID and bigoted and bigmouthed..it seems someone has something to say about everything...i get so angry adn i'm impressed with you that you A. didn't rip her head off but B. managed to at the same time shut her down.
    If it helps at all, I really don't think it is only adoption that gets this..we have three children, girls, and we have gotten MANY (after the second, IN FRONT OF MY PRECIOUS GIRLS!) "oh, you'll have to try again...oh, too bad it wasn't a boy this time...oh oh oh..." and as well, when i was pregnant with my third, the town librarian asked me with a disgusted look on her face "oh...was this PLANNED?" as if to say, THREE! that is crazy, gross, terrible....I felt like saying "planned as in how? do you mean do i know how it works?" sigh. A serious thanks for thinking of these great responses...i need to memorize them, because i so often think of the perfect response AFTER the fact. We have actually had a couple who we thought were DEAR lifelong friends completely drop us, and wheni finally pressed her on it, it came down to the fact that she just didn't "get it" that we were adopting? "why would you? etc". Anyway, sorry you had to endure this woman's idiocy. Hopefully they shortly transfer to Nunavit or some other far away place. :)
    love darci

  5. When we first started the adoption process my neighbour asked me why we would do something like that. Our country has enough kids with problems. We have since moved.Ha, Ha, but not because of that but now I don't have to worry about him saying anything to our child.

  6. I know exactly what you mean Ruth. My neighbour asked me if Tegegn's Dad sold him. I looked at her with a blank stare and she replied. "because they do that over there". I was so shocked that I didn't say anything else. Needless to say, I wish I could repeat that exchanging of words and my answer would have either been.
    1)Yes he did. We bartered back and forth and decided that $20.00 was a good amount for a child or
    2) You know this from your vast knowledge of international adoption.
    People can be so insensitive and ignorant.


  7. Should make that into a movie. Go to www.xtranormal.com

  8. The reactions of others is one of the most challenging parts of adopting. So sorry to hear that you had to experience it already. What a way to dampen your spirits!

    I find that by far the most common offensive comment is the question about why we didn't adopt from here. In my case, I could take the easy way out and say that I have adopted three kids from here and leave it at that, but it makes me so angry because the person asking has never adopted from here, so who are they to judge someone who adopts from elsewhere. Kids who need homes and kids who need homes, no matter where in the world they happen to be born. I usually reply that there are many children in Canada who are waiting for a forever family and if I happen to have a business card with me, I will give it to them (it is for the foster agency I used to work for) and suggest that they give them a call! I act as though I assume that they are willing to adopt a child themselves and they are usually too shocked to say much!!!

    I like some of your suggested answers. When asked is my kids are orphans, I usually answer that there are 5.3 million orphans in Ethiopia alone, and 147 million worldwide. It's kind of a non-answer, but it informs them of the real problem.

    P.S. I would love to be your neighbour. Any chance you want to move this way? The acreage two houses down from us is for sale!

  9. Hi Ruth! We are so happy for you and I really look forward to seeing pictures of your boy and girl. Next Christmas you'll have a family picture of the 5 of you! I too am amazed at the comments people make sometimes and yet realize that I am sometimes the one making the silly comment. When it happens I realize that sometimes it's just verbal diarrhea. We don't know what to say or how to respond and sometimes it just comes out the wrong way. Some people are plain rude-I won't deny that but some struggle to think before we speaking!!! I sure hope you don't have to experience too much rudeness such as experienced with your neighbor! I hope you are basking in the glow of your wonderful news. Lots of love, Theresa