I am at the grocery check out line with my four-year-old son, and the cashier says:
“Your son is so beautiful.”
“Thank you, we think so too,” I reply as I note her observing my blonde hair, blue eyes, and fair skin.
She inquires, “Is your husband dark-skinned?”
“No, he isn’t.”
“Oh, well is he from Latin America?”
“No, he isn’t.”
“Oh,” the cashier replies beginning to look puzzled but now wants to solve this mystery. “Well, your son has such beautiful dark features.”
“Thank you, we think he is so handsome too.”
She probes some more.
“That is so interesting, you and your husband are fair-skinned, but your son has dark features.”
The running commentary in my head says, “Thank you, Sherlock, for pointing out the obvious to me. I had never noticed that before.”
But the words that come from my mouth say instead, “I know, it is because our son is adopted.”
“Oh, he is adopted. That is so interesting . . .”
Now, the next few comments in the conversation I know are well-meaning, but please hear me out because they can really cause my heart rate to increase, breath to shorten and blood pressure to rise.
However, let’s first talk about adoption. Adoption is beautiful and not that rare of an occurrence. Chances are likely that you know someone adopted, have met adoptive parents or perhaps have even mulled over the idea of adopting. Regardless of adoption or through biological birth, like any regular parent I love my four-year-old son. He means the world to me. Yes, our son is adopted, and just like your story, our family story is incredibly special, vulnerable, and personal.
But that is just the point; our family story is our special story about how we have a family, just like yours is yours. However, in my experience, when people hear the word adoption it seems to give them this idea that they can, tact aside, ask many personal questions about life, our son, and the context that he was adopted from.
Before I get ahead of myself, let me save you the grief or embarrassment of saying the following three comments that inevitably always arise in a conversation.
1. "You are so amazing for adopting — I couldn’t do what you did."
This comment gets me every time! First, would you ever say that to a new mother who just gave birth to a child? “You are so amazing for giving birth.” No, never! In fact, that would sound absolutely ridiculous if such comments were made.
Secondly, and more importantly, these comments are utterly false because every child deserves a home. Life is not about me, and I am not a saint; it is my son’s and every child’s right that is born on this earth to have parent(s) that deeply love and value them.
The “I couldn’t do what you did” part just makes you sound like you haven’t fully thought that sentence through because, yes, you could adopt. Regardless, every child deserves a home. Adoptive parents are parents just by a different means. But that is all. They are parents, not saints.
2. "Are you going to have any of your own real children?"
Really?! You have got to be joking. I did not know that having a child come from my uterus was the only criteria for some relationship to be considered real! Think about this: Is the love to your spouse or partner real? Do you question that bond of love and ask others if their bond is real? My son is my own real child! It does not matter to me as to whether my son comes from my own actual body because I can 100 percent confidently tell you he feels like he is a part of me.
On a different note, when you find out my son is adopted and ask me this question, coupled with the fact that you don’t even know me, this can be highly offensive. Rather, it would be much more appreciated if you asked, "How many more children will you have?"
3. "Do they know who their real family is?"
It is 3:30 a.m. and our son has just woken up to crawl into our bed because he is scared. Sleepily I say to him, “Hold on sweetie, let’s let Daddy sleep. I will come lay beside you.”
(Having three in a queen-size bed inevitably means one of us isn’t going to sleep that night.)
He slumps down back to his bed, which happens to be right beside our bed, but on the way he hits his head on the night-time dresser. Startled by his cry of pain, I jump out of bed as fast as lightning, pick him up and start consoling and rocking him. My husband is awakened by the commotion and jumps out of bed to get a cloth for the tiny cut on his face.
In light of the story, let’s get back to the question of knowing who our son’s "real" family is. I think it is safe to say that teaching our son the difference between right and wrong, teaching him how to communicate and respect others, showing him how to ride a bike, hold a spoon, wipe his bum, and, most importantly, giving him unconditional love and support are the requirements for being a real family. So to answer your question, yes our son knows exactly who his real family is.
Now, I do not want to leave you feeling shamed or like I will harp on you should you ask me any questions about my family. I know what you mean when you ask me these questions of “realness,” but language is powerful and has serious connotations that can leave adopted children not feeling like they are truly a part of a family. How tragic! The take home message is: Please be tactful of what you ask, especially if you do not know me.
Adoptive parents have real love, with their real children, and are real families. End of discussion.