This is Part 2 in a series about how to deal with the intrusive questions strangers ask about our transracial families. Many thanks to Jane Brown, MSW, for allowing me to share the insights she gained growing up in a family that fostered children, as an adoptive parent, and as a social worker who works with adoptees.
In my last post, I introduced Jane's idea about INTENT vs. IMPACT. No matter how well-intentioned someone's questions are, we must always consider their impact on our children. Equally, we must carefully consider what our answers teach our children about our honesty and trustworthiness.
Most adoptive parents at some point will choose the "educational" route -- your comments about the last post made me decide to address this specifically. On some level, this seems natural -- we know about the many children waiting in foster care or orphanages, and we want to help others consider adoption.
So why not go the educational route? Because from our children's perspective -- especially older children -- sometimes this can feel like a betrayal. Often we have other reasons for adopting, and our kids will know if we tell them one story at home, but put a different, less accurate spin on it for strangers.
In Jane Brown's words: "If we 'educate the audience,' which means putting the focus on the fact that the children need permanent families, then we take the focus off of our other real motivation for adopting -- the one that was usually why we began to explore adoption in the first place." [Such as infertility, being unmarried, genetic considerations, etc.]
She goes on to explain that for some parents, this is self-protective: it helps us avoid painful topics and the possibility that strangers will focus on us. From Jane: "We are, in effect, throwing them [our children] under the bus -- aiming the spotlight on them as THE PROJECT -- so as to keep it off of ourselves and our other motivation to adopt, whatever that was. It is not honest to give the impression that we did something noble by adopting, when instead, adoption rescued US from childlessness in the majority of cases."
Jane acknowledges that this may be difficult to hear, or feel like an unflattering way to think of ourselves, but in the interest of raising our children well, it's important to be honest.
Like some who read this blog, we did not adopt because of infertility. But Jane's words did make me realize I haven't told Anya Rashi the whole story, and I have not mentioned it to many people who ask why we adopted. One reason we pursued adoption was that I have some significant back problems. I have scoliosis, I injured my back in my early 20s, and my pelvic bones began to separate during my second pregnancy.
Last week, one wrong move put me in agony again. It's been five years since I experienced this kind of severe pain, because I've learned to keep my back healthy through relentless core strength exercises and chiropractic visits. If I miss exercising for even a few weeks, I pay a high price.
Our path to adoption was jump-started because of my bad back. Although I had always thought adoption was something I might want to pursue, Peter hadn't really thought about it much aside from one conversation during our first year of marriage. After living with pain for months after our second son was born, my doctor told me, "Well, I can't forbid you to get pregnant again, but there's just no way to tell how bad your back could get with further pregnancies." There were many times I couldn't lay my small sons in their cribs, or help wash their hair in the bath, or even carry a basket of laundry or roll over in bed. Peter and I never thought we'd have only two children, and hoped somehow to have a larger family.
As my kids and husband helped out while I was incapacitated last week, I realized I've neglected to include this part of our story when I talk with Anya Rashi about how she came into our family. So Friday night, while I was tucking Anya Rashi into bed, I told her that I was grateful for my sore back this week. She was surprised and asked why -- she had seen my gray, exhausted face and watched me hobble around all week, and wondered how I could possibly be thankful for that!
For the first time, I shared that part of our adoption story with her. I told her how we had always hoped to have more children after her brothers were born -- but my bad back meant I couldn't have any more babies grow in my body. I explained that we were sad for a few years, because we thought we might not have any more children. Then I told her I'm actually glad for my back problems, even when it hurts -- because that's one of the reasons we decided to adopt, and now I get to have her for my daughter. When we said bedtime prayers, I thanked God for the great blessing that came out of my back problems: my daughter Anya Rashi.
I hope that knowing this part of the story helps "balance the scales" a little bit in Anya Rashi's view, especially when she hears people comment about what a good thing we did by adopting her. I always want her to know that she isn't a project or statement, but an answer to one of our deepest prayers to build our family. I love how Jane Brown said it . . . adoption rescued us.
So . . . I didn't really list any answers to those intrusive questions -- but I promise that Part 3 will provide some guidance and ideas about what to say. And in Part 4, I will take a look at how to talk about God and adoption, for those of us influenced to adopt by our religious beliefs. Thanks for reading.