A debate popped up on a message board I frequent recently about whether or not it is appropriate to inquire about an adopted child's heritage. As is custom on this particular message board, the thread reached two pages overnight. It's still going.
However, with my response on the topic and the responses of others, I figured I would blog about what may or may not be appropriate to ask. I don't seriously believe that most people ask out of maliciousness, or to be hurtful or mean. I also believe that there are those who do ask, mostly to be nosy, under the guise of 'idle curiousity'.
The level of inquiry appropriateness also belies in what your relationship with the family is. If you are close enough to say, have dinner at their house, then I would say (in MY opinion) that I would be willing to answer most questions. Notice I said 'most'. If you are family, I'll pretty much answer anything.
However, if you only see me in the pickup line at school everyday, please don't purport to think that you can sidle up to me and ask me what happened to our (future) child(ren)'s 'real' parents. For all intents and purposes, once the child(ren) are placed in our home, WE are their 'real' parents. We are parenting them. We are providing for them. We are loving them. That's what REAL parents do.
I've done a lot of reading on the subject of attachment and bonding. It's very important to understand that when you adopt children from foster care or even internationally from an orphanage, that the attachment issues will be there. They need to learn to look to you as more than just their 'caregiver', and it can sometimes be a long and arduous road. With these issues come identity issues. Even the simplest and most innocent of questions can hurt or upset a child. They grapple with trying to belong and fit in. And they worry that if they don't look like mommy and daddy, that someone is going to notice and make a big deal out of it. And as we know, most children do not like to be labeled as different or strange.
But back to the question at hand. Questions.
What's appropriate, what's not?
Q: How much did you pay/How much does it cost?
**We've actually gotten this question a lot. A lot, a LOT. I don't know when it became appropriate in our society to ask people how much they paid for ANYTHING, let alone a child. And for the record, we aren't buying our child, we're paying a fee to an agency to perform a service. A service that in my mind, is priceless. We pay them to help us navigate through the inordinate amount of paperwork that we have to fill out/notarize/obtain. We pay them to perform our Home Study, which is a requirement of any adoptive parent. How much we are paying, unless you are asking to help donate towards the cause, isn't really your business. On the flip side, most of the people that HAVE asked us, we are okay with sharing. Mostly family and VERY close friends.
Q: So you weren't able to have any of your own?
**To be fair, I haven't gotten this question. But I feel sorry for the person with the stones to ask me this. Really? I'm pretty sure that the birth certificate we receive when our adoption is final will show that we 'had' one of our own. Of course, the snarky girl in me would like to answer with this: "Yeah, the eight rounds of failed fertility treatment were so much fun, we’ll probably be heading back to the clinic as soon as this child, who isn’t our own, hits preschool."
But I don't think Chris would let me.
Q: Aren't you afraid her mother will want her back?
**I would answer that question with this: "Newsflash. Lifetime TV movies are NOT documentaries, coach." To answer YOUR question (cause you know you're wondering), in the State of Oregon, once the parent signs on the dotted line, or the judge brings down his gavel, it's a done deal. There's no cooling off period, nada.
So there's a little piece of what's not appropriate. What IS appropriate? Well, let's just play it safe and assume that if we've had you over for dinner, you can ask just about anything, and I'll most likely answer. With what amount of snark attached, well, let's just spin the wheel, shall we?
And if you've birthed me, or are related to me, or if I've married your relative - I'll probably answer.