Adoptive Parents: 3 Responses When You Feel ‘On Display!’

If you’re an adoptive parent, you might identify with this scenario:

You’re walking into a restaurant with your spouse and children behind you, excited to enjoy some delicious fast-food pasta or deathly, oops, I mean deep fried french fries, when suddenly you realize the environment around you has changed. From the corner of your eye you can see them-

Other restaurant patrons who have relaxed the grip on their frosty shakes and have now taken up the job of staring at you and your children.

Photo courtesy of Alex Holt Photography @2011

If their stares could speak audibly they would say something like, “Wow, two white people with black children, what’s up with that?” Or, “Guess they couldn’t have their own children so they adopted.” More appropriately, in reference to our choice to adopt from foster care, “What did their parents do they had to take those children in?” [you could insert any ridiculous comment here and it would fit, I promise!].

Most likely, if you’re a multi-race adoptive family like mine, you’ve seen this play out or experienced it in someway before. I cannot even begin to count the many times we’ve had stares or even racist comments made to us in a a public place. Our knee-jerk reaction: grab all of our kids and make a run for it, get to our house, turn off the lights, shut the doors, and hide out!

What I’ve found, however, is there are healthier ways to handle this unwanted publicity. We’ve been adoptive parents for over a decade now and have walked through the fire of people’s cold stares and awkward comments hundreds of times. Here’s are 3 responses we’ve put into practice in our family…

  • Embrace our Freakiness.
    We’ve embraced the fact that our family structure is weird, different, and far from ordinary. Out of 300 million Americans, hundreds of thousands are adoptive families, and many are multi-race adoptive families. We must celebrate how interesting our family really is.
  • Give info, but not too much info.
    A long, long time ago (in a galaxy far, far away…sorry, just felt it was necessary to say that), we had a very good friend, who was also an adoptive parent, give us some great advice when we adopted our first child. She told us, “You’re daughter’s story is her story, don’t share too much info so that you give other people information that is not their’s to share.” Great advice. We live in a ‘gawker’ generation. Everyone wants to be in everyone else’s business all the time. We slow down and stare at car accidents, jerk our heads around when we see a fight about to break out, crave the gossip magazines, or pour over reality TV shows. The same is true when it comes to our family and yours. People want information that isn’t theirs and frankly is none of their business. Be careful what info you give out.
  • Be courteous- 
    The last thing we want to do is give people the wrong impression of our family, or adoption. In the midst of fielding ridiculous comments or questions, we come out on top when we are courteous and kind in response. We can still politely refuse to give intimate details on our family structure. In fact, we would strongly recommend this to any adoptive parent reading this. Remember that your business is your business. You owe no one an explanation for the reason you’re an adoptive family or the reason your children came to live with you (if you fostered to adopt).

While there will be times when you feel like you’re an exhibit at a museum (or perhaps the zoo), most people are just curious. The healthiest response (for you and your family) may be to give them the benefit of the doubt. We have decided that if another person’s sole interaction with adoption is their interaction with our family, then we want them to walk away having the best experience possible.

Question: Adoptive (or pre-adoptive) parents: have you had similar experiences? How did you navigate through the stares, awkward moments, or innapropriate questions? Comment now!

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