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Adoption Blog: Familia Means Family

“They Aren’t Really Your Children”



My husband, Matt, our kids, and I were sitting at the counter of an ice cream shop licking away, trying to keep the sweet cream from running down our arms, and enjoying watching people hurrying up and down the busy avenue. A woman walked into the shop and without stopping to buy anything said to me, "Those are not your children, are they?"

I turned to face her slowly, appalled at the rudeness of that question. So appalled was I and so busy thinking of a response that it took me a second to process two important things about my situation. First, the question was asked in Spanish, which meant I was probably not in South Carolina, where we live. Second, the street was too busy with pedestrians to be the Small Town, USA, I had left just a few hours ago. Once I remembered that we had just arrived to my hometown of Quito, Ecuador, the night before, I was able to understand this question better and be more compassionate toward the intruder.

You see, in Ecuador, adoption is simply not the norm. The economic situation and the cultural understanding that families take care of their own make formal adoption a rare occurrence. Transracial adoption is even more of an oddity. Add that to the fact that, in Ecuadorian culture, people are much more inclined to ask questions and make comments to strangers that would appall people from other cultures, and it is understandable how this conversation started.

I replied that yes, my children are my children, hoping the woman would let the issue drop. 

"OK, maybe they are yours, but they are not his!" she insisted, nodding toward my pale-skinned, green-eyed husband.

"Yes, they are ours," I insisted over and over again for the next few minutes, stubbornly refusing to give more explanation than what the question was requiring.

"Come on, they are not really yours. You are lying!" she insisted.

"These are my children. All mine," I refuted.

"But they must be adopted then," she pursued.

"Yes, they were adopted, but they are still mine," I said. I had gone from being frustrated to being amused at the unbelievable conversation I was having in the middle of an ice cream shop with a total stranger.

"Ah, well, then they are not really yours."

"Yes, they are really mine. When you adopt a child they are yours, completely yours."

"You love them like yours, but they are not really yours."

By this point, I was getting tired of the discussion and my ice cream was melting, so I turned my back slightly, hoping she would get the hint and move on. And finally, she did. 

Later, I wondered why I had allowed myself to get so caught up in that conversation. I wish I had just ignored her after the first few back-and-forth exchanges. I think it was because, while I get strange questions and comments in the USA, never had anybody so openly stated what I think many people think about adoption, no matter where you are: that your children are not really yours if they did not come from your body. It is not politically correct to say so in the United States, but I hear it when people ask questions like: "Do you have contact with their real mother?” or "Why could you not have children of your own?"

The woman in the ice cream shop was honest, albeit rude, and I felt a deep desire to defend my family’s ties. We belong to each other. We are each other’s, even if we don’t look alike, even if we don’t share DNA, and even if it took a paper, a court date, a judge, and a whole slew of people to make it so.

Has anyone ever tried to debate or disparage your family's relationship? How did you respond?


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21 Comments

Gaby,  You did a great job on this post!  Nothing annoys me more than to have someone comment on the “real” mom or comment that they think I am “brave” for fostering then adopting.  Like I am providing a public service or something.  At any rate, ignorance is bliss and we know the REAL story behind our Angels - WE ARE their Moms, just ask them!!  Often, when in a discussion with others who simply don’t get it, I just look them in the eye and tell them my fight was harder and longer than theirs - they usually smile and shut-up when I tell them it took me 3 years of labor to get my family

By Traci Huggins on Saturday, August 27, 2011 at 1:29 am.

Thanks for this post.  In my husband’s native Greece, there is also very limited adoption for similar reasons. 

Those questions are tought to avoid answered and inevitably lead to some soul searching and contemplation for me.  My eldest was asked a similar question and had a passionate reaction . . .

http://www.adoptivefamiliescircle.com/blogs/post/where_is_her_mother/

By Ellenore Angelidis on Saturday, August 27, 2011 at 6:18 am.

Your post is amazing. Thank you!

By yesimln on Sunday, August 28, 2011 at 3:55 am.

Thank you for your post. Our family is somewhat unique in that my husband and I are a biracial couple. He is African American and I am Caucasian. He has 3 children from a previous marriage. We adopted a beautiful son, who is caucasian. I think that people are used to seeing white couples with black children, but they have a harder time with a black man with a white child. It seems that people don’t hesitate to stare or ask questions even here in the states. My stepsons, who are 12, adore their baby brother and he adores them. However, they notice how people look at us when we are out and about. One of them commented the other day that it would be so much easier if our baby was biracial. It made me sad.

By cjenks on Sunday, August 28, 2011 at 4:11 am.

Thank you, all for you comments. Traci, I like your response: 3 years of labor, Ha! I bet people don’t say much after that smile

Ellenore, I’m headed over to read your post. It’s nice to know we are not alone in dealing with these types of questions, isn’t it?

Thank you, Yesimin, for your kind encouragement.

Cienks, it must be difficult for the kids to notice the looks specially at an age when they probably want to blend in and not be seen as different. Maybe it could turn into a great teaching moment about being different and not caring what others think!

By Gaby on Sunday, August 28, 2011 at 7:27 pm.

It is a very good time to teach about that. One of the events that lead up to him saying that still has me a little concerned. I think that we have handled it as well as we can with the 12 year-old, but it didn’t leave him unaffected. I went to the park with all of the kids. My stepsons (twins, both 12) went off and were playing by themselves. I was watching the baby play. One of my stepsons ran over to the baby and picked him up. I was thinking about how lucky we were that they love their little brother so much and how sweet they are with him. My reverie was interrupted by another mother from the park running over to my sons with a panicked look on her face ready to grab my baby from my son. She looked at me and asked if I knew him. I told her they were both my sons and she just walked away. My stepsons are a young 12 and they still look like little boys. I let it roll of my back, knowing that this mother was well intentioned, but it really has affected my stepson. Just a hard life lesson.

By cjenks on Sunday, August 28, 2011 at 8:17 pm.

Oh, wow, Cjenks. I’m sure that was hard for your stepson. Unfortunately, that may not be the last time something like that happens. I have watched my husband pick up my screaming daughter and carry her out of a store. Since I am a few steps behind and I don’t “look” like her mother, I have seen strangers pause and by the look on their faces I can tell they are debating if they should stop this man who looks as if he is taking that child against her will. Thankfully it has not yet happened, but it could…
This conversation is making me think of a potential post on the things you must teach children in transracial families about how other would react to them…Hmmm…

By Gaby on Monday, August 29, 2011 at 3:13 am.

Thanks to everyone for the thoughtful comments so far! This discussion also reminds me of a piece from The Daily Beast/Newsweek a few years ago about a Caucasian family’s struggle to deal with strangers’ assumptions about their African-American daughter:

http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2009/04/22/raising-katie.html

By AFCWebEditor on Monday, August 29, 2011 at 3:44 pm.

Thank you for the link, Brittay. I read the article and it is very interesting. We saw an older African American lady at Walmart a few weeks ago with a Caucasian baby about six months old in her cart. We stared at each other and smiled because we could see the irony of our situation. I bet, though, she gets a lot more grief than we do, in our small Southern town.

By Gaby on Monday, August 29, 2011 at 4:56 pm.

This blog entry got a lot of responses over on our Adoptive Families Facebook page…

April Nourse Well, according to my 6 yo daughter whom I gave birth to, we are just babysitting our children for God. That would apply to our adoptive children too.

Jessica Carter Peaden More than once ! The worse time being at the ER telling my husband he wasn’t our daughters father bc he was white, then proceeded to ask how long had we been married and if 5yrs then did I step out on our marriage! Yep from a nurse

Marah Mason My own parents don’t think we are their “real” parents. It’s like we are the babysitters or something to them. And yet, bios somehow ARE “mine”

Elaine Centeno Yes I did am adoptive to.my moms family tell me am not family all the time, there will never accept me in the family but what can u do about that as long as she loves me that’s all that matters to me.

Nik-kia Thomas This is so hurtful to think. I have had hurtful things said and done. My daught is our same race but still get the weird vibes from some. I can be ultra sensitive at times regarding my adopted daughter ( I don’t even refere to her as ” my adopted daughter”. She is my daughter.

Shawn Cain I say I am pretty certain my name is on their birth certificate just like yours is on your children’s. I live for them I love them, I pray for them , I cry over them I would die for them. How much more REAL can you get!?

Vera DiMartino Whittler I was told that my husband and I are not considered parents to be (we are waiting for an approval) because it is not the same as people who are legitimately trying. This was someone who I thought wad a friend

Linda Clifton Karchner Even my sister who is generally very supportive has recently said that I “took the easy way out” by adopting…I try not to get defensive & just casually say, “yeah…in SOME ways…at least after the physical pain was over, you knew you could keep your kids…” [we’ve had several disrupted adoptions - 1 after a year & the most recent when our foster daughter ran away…]. Many times I also say, “It’s love that makes you real” [The Velveteen Rabbit].

Jennifer L. Gebhart people can be very hurtful sometimes. I also had someone tell me that our daughter wasn’t ours who had been trying for birth children for a while. this person said that there was no way they were giving up on trying for bio children, she just wasn’t interested in ‘raising someone elses child’. I asked her ‘what if you do get pregant and in a few years your marriage don’t work and you divorce then in a few years you meet someone new and that person loves you but won’t accept your child because he don’t want to raise someone elses child’ she said that she never once thought of it that way. i don’t think that unless you have experienced the amazing feeling of adopting a child, you can totally appreciate that you can fall in love with a child you didn’t give birth to.

Leah Ann O’Shieles These stories shared are sad and eye-opening….that we live in a world with some peeps that still have this negative vibe about our blessings! It was more than the “intimate” that got OUR babes….it’s classes and mtgs and inspections….yada yada…a world of “in your face tests” asking “Are you good parents?”! If there was a test like that for EVERY parent (bio or adoptive)...well, then us adoptive parents would be less blessed? Right?


Pia Biondo When I called our naval hospital on base (one month before our birth mom delivered our son) to register for the “baby bootcamp class”, the nurse who answered the phone asked me how far along I was, I explained I was adopting. She proceeded to tell me she needed to “check” with our supervisor if I could attend, since I wasn’t pregnant. Before she fished, she asked me why I couldn’t have a baby, and when I explained it was due to a hysterectomy, she asked why I had such procedure.

Ellenore Angelidis My son was asked whether I was his sister’s mother . . he did not like that at all http://www.adoptivefamiliescircle.com/blogs/post/where_is_her_mother/

By Danielle Pennel on Tuesday, August 30, 2011 at 5:30 pm.
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Gaby

Gaby

South Carolina

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

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