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Adoption Blog: My Paperwork Pregnancies

An Awkward Adoption Conversation
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As an adoptive mother with children who look nothing like me, I should always be prepared for comments about my family.  I think a majority of comments are from curious people who don’t know the proper adoption lingo.  So I can’t be too annoyed by them.  But not long ago, I had a talk with a sweet looking grandmother who was in her early 50s.  The comments and questions from her definitely surprised and annoyed me.

I was at a mall’s playground with my one-year-old son, Brent, and my 4-year-old daughter, Irena. Brent ran over to a little girl in a stroller in order to see what she was eating. The girl’s grandmother, who had a large friendly smile for my son and me, sat next to the stroller.

Woman (W): Oh, he is so cute! Is he from South America?
Me (M): No, he is from here. He is Hispanic though.
W: Oh, I know that. Is his Dad Mexican?
M: No. I am an adoptive parent.
W: Oh! So you do not have any children of your own?
M: No, I do. I have three children through adoption.
W: You and your husband didn’t want any children of your own, so you adopted? Did you even try to have any of your own?
M: We were unable to have any biological children so—
W: (Interrupting) You adopted three children who needed a home. How wonderful. How were you able to pay for them? What does your husband do for a living?
M: He is a computer geek for a large local company.
W: That makes sense. Your children are so very lucky that you adopted them. They are so blessed. Are your other children here?
M: Yes, my daughter is in the pink shirt running over here.
W: She is beautiful. Look at her black hair! (Then talks to Irena) Se habla espanol?

Irena just stares at her.
W: Se habla espanol?
Irena buries her face into my side.
M: She does not speak Spanish.
W: Oh, you need to teach her. Just look at her!
M: I adopted my children as babies so—
W: (Interrupting) You really should teach her.

Irena runs off.
W: Your son looks cross-eyed. You should get him checked out.
M: Actually it is because he has a wide nose bridge. It is common with Asian and Hispanic children. They look slightly cross-eyed but it is just an optical illusion because of the bridge.
W: Hmm. I don’t know about that. My grandson was cross-eyed and needed surgery. You should have him checked out.
M: He recently saw his optometrist who is the head of the Pediatrics department at the University Hospital and was just fine.
W: He looks cross-eyed. Does not matter where your boy is from. You should have him checked-out again.

I look over to see that Irena has dumped my diaper bag out on the floor looking for a snack to eat.
M: Well, I have to go as my daughter appears to be hungry.

I quickly ran away from this woman with Brent in my arms.

So why did I have such a lengthy conversation with this woman? Part of me was in shock. Part of me was utterly amazed how many adoption faux pas she made while talking to me. Part of me was thinking this was a learning moment for me.  You never can predict what will come out of someone’s mouth.

In case you did not catch the parts of this conversation which annoyed me, here are some highlights:

1. She assumed I adopted internationally because my children are not white.
2. She referred to my children as not my “own.”
3. She thought I adopted only because I couldn’t have any biological children.
4. She said my children were “lucky” to have been adopted.
5. She only spoke Spanish to my daughter because of her race.
6. When I tried to educate her about the eyes of different races she did not believe me.

All the way to my car from the playground I was replaying the conversation in my head. Did I respond to that woman’s questions in a way that would make her think differently about adoption in the future? It is difficult when you are in the moment to remember what you should say. I do not regret any of my responses, but afterward I thought of better words I could have used.

I do not know when these situations will arise. I take my children to playgrounds often and usually strike up conversations with the other adults. I assume people will say the right things all the time. Silly, I know. It’s also silly because I constantly tell people just starting out in the adoption process that they will constantly have to have their guard up and be adoption advocates for their future children. Whenever I become laxe in my own life on this issue, a conversation like the one I had with the grandmother at the playground occurs.

Since people cannot know when these awkward moments will happen, I think that if you are adopting then you should discuss conversations like the one I described with your partner.  Consider giving responses to one another as practice.  I know I did that with my husband after I met this particular grandmother at the playground and it’s helped us both brush up on adoptive families advocacy.  Odds are no matter how much your child through adoption looks like you, you will find yourself in a situation like mine at some point.

I will still continue to strike up conversations with strangers. I will also continue to be open to discussing adoption with them. There is no way I would stop two of my favorite things (talking about my children and talking about adoption) out of fear of being in an awkward situation again.

Related Posts on AdoptiveFamiliesCircle

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Wow, thanks for this.  It’s wonderful that you are such an outgoing & open advocate for adoption!  We are a family of six. My husband and I are caucasian and we have two guatemalan and two Rwandan born children.  We get stopped everywhere and anywhere and people feel free to ask whatever pops into their head in front of eight pairs of little attentive ears:  “are they related?” “are they yours?”  “Do you run a daycare?”  “Is adoption really hard?”  “Where are they from?”

Unlike you, I am a very private person. I cherish my time alone with my family and do not always enjoy being interrupted. Although I suppose I am an adoption advocate of sorts simply be being the proud mother of four children through adoption, I see myself more as a positive role model of adoption. 

As my daughter, almost six, is now at an age where she is aware of these conversations, I am much more interested in how these conversations shape her worldview than I am in educating strangers. 

After several years of trying out various responses when people start making the typical adoption faux pas, none of which felt good, I have finally come up with a way of talking with people that really feels good & authentic and empowering.  I simply say, “Thank you so much for your interest.  Adoption is a really important subject for our family, very special and very near and dear to our hearts.  And we like to choose when and where we discuss it.  And we don’t discuss it in (fill in the blank) supermarkets, public places, etc…

Then, I volunteer my blog address and tell them they can go and read about it there to their heart’s content. On my blog, I do A LOT of educating about adoption.

Every adoptive parent has to find what works for them.  There are no right or wrong answers.  But just because we chose to grow our family through adoption, doesn’t mean we have to converse with every stranger who chooses to approach us.  We can decide when and where we will discuss this important subject.

This works beautifully.  And best of all, my family is not the victim of other people’s ignorance anymore.  I never have to guard myself against random comments.  It puts you back in control of your life and family.

These types of discussions are so important for adoptive parents to have!  Keep your thoughts coming…

Elizabeth Hunter

By adoptiongoddess on Thursday, November 18, 2010 at 1:00 am.

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Danielle Pennel

Danielle Pennel


I have recently adopted or am adopting from...
U.S. Newborn, U.S. Newborn

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