Thursday, April 23, 2009

More Conversation About Conversations

"Your child has the most lovely dark hair. Who did he get that from?"

This was the catalyst for an anecdote an adoptive parent shared recently on an online forum I enjoy. She and her husband are European-Americans who adopted their five-year-old as a toddler from Guatemala. They were with her parents and the boy at a family concert where he attracted the compliment and inquiry from another member of the audience.

The grandma's reply - which was something like, "I know, isn't his hair gorgeous?!" - marked a real milestone in the family, one that was secretly celebrated on the internet by the story's contributor and her supporters.

Why? Because it demonstrated that the grandma, who had sometimes struggled with PAL, was learning to be a great adoption advocate for her grandson. She recognized that:

  1. Adoption is the child's story to tell. While we might want to seize on opportunities to explain the unusual way our family came together as a means of "normalizing" adoption, we should be aware that we are sharing our child's personal information. By the time a child reaches a certain age, part of ensuring s/he is comfortable with her background is letting her/him tell her own story whenever s/he feels like it...or not.
  2. Not every question about family origin deserves a detailed response. Many children have complex biological and family histories, and often there are pieces of it that are unknown. Depending on the questioner's motivation, it may or may not be appropriate to provide details.
The grandma's response was great because in front of her grandson, she affirmed the compliment but didn't allow a stranger to take the conversation somewhere it didn't need to go.

"Oh, is your daughter adopted?" was a question another internet friend fielded when an acquaintance saw her with her husband for the first time and realized their dark baby didn't "match" either of them.

Her response? "Yes, our family was built through adoption. Why do you ask?" I love this response because:
  1. It focuses on the family, rather than simply on the child.
  2. It uses the past tense. Just as a child was born, a child was adopted.
  3. The question part of the response, said kindly, could either stimulate positive conversation about adoption (people often ask about adoption because they want to share their personal connections with it), or stub out inappropriate nosiness.
In bringing these examples up and sharing my last post on PAL, I don't want the people in our lives to worry too much about stumbling for the right words. And I know that it's taken M. and me a bit of rethinking to find language that truly articulates our beliefs and values associated with adoption, and we still eat shoe from time to time. Being aware and practicing has helped, which is why I bring it up now.

By the time our son or daughter arrives, I know you will all be so well versed, you will be able to tell anyone who inquires who the kid's real family is.

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