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Adoption Blog: Be Bold or Go Home

The Enthusiastic Adoption Ambush

My children’s day-long basketball clinic is over, but the three of them: Didi, Gobez, and Lemlem are still dribbling all over the gym, scattering so I can’t catch them and force them to turn in their balls and jerseys to the coach. They’d keep dribbling and shooting all night if I let them. Finally, Didi decides to behave like the oldest child and stops playing. She collects her sweatshirt and lunch box, and joins me by the door. One down, two to go.

Suddenly, a woman’s voice rises above the sound of balls smacking polished floor, and I realize the voice is directed at me.

“Didi’s mother? Are you Didi’s mother?” A blonde woman is crossing the gym towards me, her face spilling over with an energetic friendliness that triggers warning bells in my mind. I’m an introvert, and I’m in the mood to go home.

The woman has reached me now, her hand outstretched. “Hi, are you Didi’s mother? I’m Mrs. L. I was Didi’s substitute teacher one day.”

The woman smiles at me expectantly. Now I’m really feeling anxious, and I’m not sure why. You’d think that after four years as an adoptive parent, I would realize what’s happening: It’s an enthusiastic adoption ambush.

“I live in your neighborhood too,” Mrs. L continues cheerfully. “I met your husband and son one day when they were out jogging. I just wanted to tell you, I think you are truly one of God’s angels for adopting these children and giving them a better life.”

Ugh. Lemlem has appeared just in time to hear what’s been said. “Oh!” the lady goes on. “Is this little one yours too?”

Lemlem nods, clearly uncomfortable. Meanwhile, Didi is grinning (any kind of attention is a good kind for her).

“Well, I just had to tell you, I think you and your husband are truly amazing. The children are so lucky to have you.”

Every adoptive parent knows what she is supposed to say to that: “You’re wrong—my husband and I the lucky ones! My kids are amazing!” That really is how I feel, but that doesn’t mean I’m in the mood to discuss my feelings with a stranger. I’m also not up for pointing out the assumptions about race, class, culture, and religion concealed inside the woman’s compliment. I have made peace with the fact that I don’t have to serve as an adoption educator to everyone I meet, and yet, getting keeping silent about those assumptions takes its own toll on me. The ambush is always a no-win scenario.

Conscious that Didi and Lemlem are listening, I manage to choke out my lines. “The kids are great. We’re truly blessed to have them.”

The bubbly woman nods and continues to beam admiration my way. She is clearly a nice person, yet I can’t wait to get away from her.

In the car on the way home, I try to start a conversation. “You know, guys,” I say, “when that lady told me I was a nice person for adopting you, I felt really embarrassed, and I was wondering how you all felt about it.”

Silence. “I wasn’t really listening,” Lemlem says finally.

Nobody else speaks up, and I decide to let it go. I don’t always feel like talking about adoption, and neither do they.

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I’m so glad someone else feels like this. I HATE being told that I’m such a “good person” for adopting. It implies that my child is damaged goods and raising her is outside the realm of normal parenting. My kid’s not a burden, at least no more than anyone else’s child. So unless you go up to everyone with a newborn baby and say “Wow, you’re such a good person for having a baby!” then don’t tell me how good I am for adopting.

By wasingerl on Friday, May 27, 2011 at 9:16 pm.

I could not agree more with this post and above comment!

By April-Davidson's Mom on Thursday, July 21, 2011 at 6:58 am.

I really relate to this post. I also think “they are so lucky” statements completely disreguard the loss every adopted child experiences. I’m still trying to figure out a way of educating people on this one without making them feel badly for sharing what they thought was a complement.

By lakedragonfly on Thursday, April 25, 2013 at 3:45 am.

Yeah, I think that the lucky comment is tough because it’s true that you kids were “lucky” to get you, and maybe to be adopted at all, but that’s why it’s sad.  Because we shouldn’t have to be lucky to have a wonderful family who can raise us, we should be entitled to it.  That’s what people miss when they say that.  They’re thinking about the joy and we’re thinking about the pain.

By Katiejae on Thursday, April 25, 2013 at 5:31 pm.

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Meet the Author

Sharon Van Epps

Sharon Van Epps


I have recently adopted or am adopting from...
Ethiopia, India

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