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Adoption Blog: Familia Means Family

Explaining Adoption Where There’s No Culture of Adoption

Every two years my husband Matt, our two children, Isabel and Noah, and I take a trip back to my homeland, Ecuador, to visit my family. We have a great time, the kids play with their cousins, perfect their Spanish, and are reminded that they are part of a large, international family that loves them. My family watches my kids grow up through Facebook pictures and Skype calls, but they treasure these visits.

And yet coming home can be bittersweet. In my country, formal adoption is not the norm and transracial adoption is even rarer. Because our children were transracially adopted, we have to deal with being a conspicuous family in a culture where it's common to ask questions that would be considered the epitome of rudeness in the U.S. This can make for some painful and uncomfortable moments.

One weekend during this summer's trip we found ourselves surrounded by children during a puppet presentation in a park in Quito, my city of birth. As Isabel and Noah stood in line with the other children to receive candy and gifts, a woman approached them to ask their name. As I do any time I see a stranger approach my children, I quickly moved closer to show that we're together. The woman looked at me and said:

"Are they yours?"

"Yes!" I replied, forcing a smile, yet knowing what would come next.

"No, they are not!" she insisted, as I figured she would.

We went back and forth a few times before she realized that the tall, white man next to me was my husband. This caused her even more confusion, because I continued to insist the kids were ours without further explanation. I never rush to explain that Isabel and Noah were adopted. I simply say that, yes, they are mine, because they are and I feel I owe no explanations to strangers. Adoption does not define my children. It is part of what makes them who they are, but they are so much more than "adopted children." They are first and foremost our son and daughter. I kept my smile and my cool until she said:

"You are a liar!"

By that point Isabel and Noah had received their candy, and I was finished with this conversation, so I grabbed my children's hands and began to walk away. She called after me:

"The color does not match!"

Because Isabel is now six years old and Noah is five, I knew they could understand the conversation. I felt the need to reply rather than ignore, so I said:

"One's sons and daughters are not just biological, ma'am."

At this point the woman's face lit up in a huge smile of understanding and she replied:

"Well, that is true!"

During our two weeks in Ecuador, I found myself repeating this last statement about the nature of family many times over. I had at least three or four similar conversations and I always ended them with that phrase: a family doesn't have to be made biologically. Invariably there was a smile of comprehension in the face of my questioner as if, all of a sudden, a light came on. Loving a child not born to you seems to be a concept that can be universally understood; many people who have never experienced adoption nevertheless feel a deep love for a godchild, a close friend's child, a niece or a nephew.

As painfully frustrating as these conversations were, I gained a deeper understanding of how to discuss adoption with people who have never experienced it, and whose main concern is that they feel they could not love a child not born to them. After all, don't we love our spouses, our in-laws, our stepparents, and other family and non-family members who are not biologically related to us? Humans have a great capacity to love, and being reminded of this capacity brings those we meet one step closer to understanding adoption.

Related Posts on AdoptiveFamiliesCircle


Thank you for this blog! I have found myself having similar conversations lately. It’s funny. We live in a culturally diverse area but have been staying in different and very much NOT culturally diverse part of the US for the past few months. Before we moved, no one said anything about our family. And even while we are here, it seems that adults seem to understand (or perhaps ignore) our conspicuous family. Their children however tell me almost every day that the baby doesn’t look like me. They also tell me she is so pretty and that they want her to be their little sister. But I try not to take offense that my beautiful child looks nothing like me lol. It’s a funny thing - I find myself vacillating between explaining adoption and letting it go. I appreciate your thoughts on biology versus family, of the universal comprehension of love. Thank you again!

By yesimln on Monday, July 23, 2012 at 10:01 pm.

Yesimin, thank you for your comment. I know what you mean. I think our culture of politeness makes it hard for us to simply ignore a stranger’s questions. As my kids get older, though, I become more and more protective of their ears. They will set the pace for my response to strangers.

By Gaby on Tuesday, July 24, 2012 at 5:03 am.

“You are a liar!”—oh my, my coffee almost came out of my nose on that one! 

“One’s sons and daughters are not just biological, ma’am.”—if you don’t mind, I’m going to officially incorporate this into my “adoption lingo.” And I love the woman’s warm response after she “got it.”

Great post, Gaby!

By Barbara Herel on Thursday, July 26, 2012 at 5:11 pm.

I know, right? No problem saying what’s on their mind over there! smile

Please do incorporate away.

Thank you for your kind words, Barbara!

By Gaby on Thursday, July 26, 2012 at 6:20 pm.

Thanks for this post.  Korea still has a lot of changing to do regarding adoption attitudes, too.  The stigma there is keeping a lot of parents who would love to adopt from adopting!  It’s a sin that so many children have to leave the country to find a loving home!  Great job!

By Brad, co-author of Songs of My Families on Wednesday, August 15, 2012 at 12:04 am.

Great Post! Some people amaze me!

By MandyJoCampbell on Wednesday, September 12, 2012 at 7:36 pm.

Thanks, Mandy Jo. I think it has to do a lot with the amount of education available to people. This was a very poor community and my kids were probably the first transracially adopted children she ever saw. Still, it made for a good blog opportunity!

By Gaby on Friday, September 14, 2012 at 5:10 am.

Thanks for your blog, I am mexican and live in México city which is probably middle way from ecuador and United Estates concerning adoptive culture. Just the other day at my older kid´s school (she is mine biological and does not look so much like me , but the color sort of ´matches´) ask me about mi youngest (mine through adoption and very different from me and her) is he yours? with an eskeptical look in her eyes. I just said yes, and she didnt say anything else, my kid is only 2 and a half so I dont think he was even interested in the conversation but it made me think on what will come. your answer will be definitively on my book. thanks again

By drayn on Sunday, October 28, 2012 at 6:51 am.

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