Thursday, January 09, 2014

What I Hear

I believe most people are well-intentioned. However, I also believe people tend to be under-informed about things they do not consider normal. For my family, this generally results in awkward or unintentionally rude comments from others. Because our family situation is different from the majority in many ways, I know that people ask questions to understand (and sometimes just to be nosy); but sometimes the language that people use actually ends up being a little insensitive and therefore communicates something other than what they mean.

Here are some questions I hear often that generally tend to communicate more than just a desire for understanding.

You say: "Why are they in foster care?" or "Why were they taken from their birth parents?"
I hear: "Tell me your family's darkest secrets."
I would encourage anyone thinking of asking this question of any foster parent to ask themselves why they want to know this information. Unless you will be directly interacting with foster children in a way that would make it necessary for you to know some of that information in order to anticipate any special needs (consistently providing child care, etc), there is no reason to ask this question. Bonus, foster parents actually can't share details of their children's case. Personally, even if I was, it's not my story to tell, so I will respect my children's privacy.
Try instead: Not asking a question like this. Case information is shared on a need-to-know basis, and chances are, most people don't need to know.

You say: "Are you going to have your own children?"
I hear: "The family you have now is not legitimate."
These children are my children. A comment like this undermines all that we have built together as a family in the time we have had each other. This is a highly offensive comment. However we choose to bring children into our family in the future will not change the legitimacy of any of my other children. They will all be mine. Because I chose them to be.
Try instead: One of those annoying "normal" questions people ask parents, like: Are you going to have any more children?

You say: "Are they REAL brothers?"
I hear: "Biology makes REAL family, adoption does not."
This question is tricky. I guess I can understand why people want to know if kids are siblings in foster care, but I know that this is also a common question for post-adoptive families. If considering asking this question to an adoptive family, again, ask yourself why you want to know. What is the purpose of having this information? My answer is this, for us now and post-adoption: The boys are biological brothers, but regardless, these children are real children, they have real fights over real toys, they experience real love in our real home. We are their real parents. So yeah, they are real brothers.
Try instead: Asking questions about the family's adoption stories. Chances are, they will be more than happy to share.

You say: "When will they be yours?"
I hear: "When will you stop pretending to be a family and really become one?"
Again, I understand the sentiment behind this question; however, we live every day as a family and view these children as ours. Their adoption day will be a joyful one, but it will not change anything about the day-to-day of our family life, or how I love my children.
Try instead: "When will the adoptions be finalized?" or "Where are you at in the adoption process?"

If you have said one of these things to me, please know that I am not offended. As I said, I know that most people are well-intentioned. But I do want people to become more aware of the language they use and what that communicates to others. The underlying theme of many of these statements is that our family is not "normal," which may be true in some ways. But just because we did not become a family in the "normal" way does not mean we aren't a family.

Finally, please do not ask these types of questions in front of any children you may be asking about. Again, these types of questions make a point of highlighting the "unusual" things about foster and adoptive families, and most of the time it feels negative. In some situations (I'm thinking of my own children), this may serve to undermine the security these children have in their families. This is not because an adoptive family is less of a family, but because when someone makes a big deal out of something about you that is different, it tends to make you insecure.

My family is beautiful. And I love to talk about my children. I don't even mind answering questions about the foster care system. But I do prefer those questions to be asked in a way that reinforces the fact that we are a real family, because that's what we are.


  1. Such a good post! We just graduated from our foster care/adoption training classes, had our last home study and are awaiting our license (in about 6 weeks). It already amazes me the questions people ask or the assumptions they make. Wow! Looking forward to reading more of your posts.