Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Questions about parenting across racial lines

I've gotten comments about where Kamu is from and how long he's been home, but I would estimate that 90+% of the people who've asked me questions haven't really been nosy. Sometimes they are. The other day, a woman sitting next to me was watching Kamu play and asked if Patrick was also adopted. I said "No." Her response was "Oh, so he's natural?"

My response was, with a slight laugh, "Well, they're both natural--neither one is made of plastic or anything!"

She responded "Oh, you know what I mean."

No ma'am, I don't, and I'm trying to make a point that your terminology is not acceptable without blatantly telling you so. I've never referred to a child as "natural" before. Doesn't that really ask questions about his conception, especially since I've already said he's not adopted, and why would that be anyone else's business but ours? I've heard people refer to children as "natural" when compared to those conceived by artificial reproductive technology (though I still don't get that; does ART make them fake kids somehow?). When I refer to how our kids joined our family, I usually say that Patrick is ours biologically or by birth and Kamu is ours by adoption from Ethiopia.

I've asked parents if a child was biologically theirs if they're a "conspicuous family", as our prospective adoptive parent training person put it. It's still tough to open up that conversation even as the parent of a transracial family (though I find it's easier if I have the kids with me). It's always enjoyable when I manage it without awkwardness, and I've made several friends that way.

Many of you are parents of children of other races and other countries. How do you open up conversations with other people about race? What types of comments have you gotten about your children and how do you deal with them?


Anonymous said...

I have gotten mostly the "oh, so you couldn't have your own kids." (uh, yeah, I do have my own kid... he's the one who always says "MOM!") -- I've gotten the "you guys are such special people to do this." (do what? parent a child? all parents have to... he's not a charity case) -- oh, and, my personal (non)fave: "Now you'll get pregnant and have your own child since you've adopted." (He is NOT Plan B!).

I could go on... and on... and on...

erin said...

We've been really, really lucky for whatever reason. I haven't felt uncomfortable yet with any questions I've received. One AA woman at the grocery asked when I was with my younger son "Is that your baby?" She said it in a sweet, affectionate voice, so I know she was curious and I didn't mind.

I try to be straightforward and open when talking about race with people. I've found that AA people are open to talking about it much more than white people, who I can tell don't feel as comfortable about it. Maybe they're afraid of offending, don't talk as much about race because they haven't had to. I know I talk about it WAY more since having the boys with us. I think all of us in this crazy country need to get comfortable talking about race -- look at what's going on with this current campaign! Supposedly educated people can't even talk about it appropriately!

Emily said...

You know our story- we don't have a multi-racial family, but I get the "are they natural" question a lot. (When you read that question, I'd like you to do so with a strong Arkansas accent). I know it's snarky, but if I feel like someone is asking just to be nosy (and not to feel me out about IF treatment) I try and act really embarrassed and stammer "Are you asking me how they were conceived?" in such a way as to embarrass them into remembering that you don't ask about people's sex lives...I'd add that to your list of possible responses when people start to get nosy about P- especially as Kamu gets older and starts to realize what people are talking about. (I've been dying to call you since
he got home, but I was waiting for a low stress time so you wouldn't try to get me off the phone! I'm so excited about meeting him when we're in town this fall...)

Jess said...

Well, we're not a mixed race family, but with the babies so close in age, I'd call us conspicuous, at least for NOW. And I just nodded and nodded at everyone's comments.

The other day I had a old classmate asking about Ava and she said how she didn't know I was pregnant again at all (meaning with Ethan) and I said, well, I wasn't pg with Ava, she was adopted.

And she says, "Oh, so she's not yours?"


She sure SEEMS LIKE SHE"S MINE, thanks!

It's complicated to people, though, and esp in our open situation. They can't understand that Ava could be both OURS and ALSO "belong" to her birthfamily. But it's natural and easy to US.

I get the other crap, too. How does it feel now that we have our own baby? Can we tell the difference between the kids as far as bio and adopted (well, yeah, but not in the way you mean, jerk!)...that sort of thing.

Or even, "Don't you wish you'd waited and not adopted since you ended up getting pg?"

In the words of Flavor Flav, "Wooooooooooooooow."

Anonymous said...

Our son from ET is not home yet. I do however get equally rude comments about our son with Down Syndrome or our daughter from Taiwan. Like you said, most are not meant to be rude and I try to cut those folks some slack. I've started saying things like, One came vaginally, one by c-section and 1 via adoption. That usually stops folks in their tracks. I have had some folks say "what's wrong with him". "Nothing is wrong with my son, he's perfect in every way" I've had, "do you run a day care" I usually say something to the effect, "Nope, I've got too much to do taking care of my own kids" and then I walk away. OR I get, 'Are all of these your grandkids?' I just usually say "nope" and walk away. In other words, I walk away A LOT. I don't mind answering good natured questions and educating folks. What I don't like doing is indulging nosy people. So it's a judgment call, if I think they are just nosy, I'm abrupt and leave quickly.

It's also made me think twice before I start up a conversation with a stranger because I don't want to come across as nosy.

Heather & Adam said...

Oh, we have gotten alot of, "Oh, God is blessing you with a pregnancy because of your adoption", which made me SICK. Also, a lot of, "Oh, that's what always happens!" Most people though, just stop us and comment on how dang cute Charlie is. Several times people have said that he has my hair (if Adam is not with me) and I just smile and say thank you. It's not a reason for me to launch into "Oh, that's not possible, he's adopted". I never say it that way. If I have to explain, I say "Charlie is Ethiopian", or "Charlie is our son through adoption". Most of the time, I don't even bother. I don't see the need to single him out and talk about him to extent when he is standing right there. Unless they want to talk about HIM, and not try to dissect our family. I'm sure after Mallory is here, I will get more questions. Bring it on! I get tougher every time. ;)Love you guys!

familyinflux said...

We got stopped a lot with our foster daughter. People just came out and asked if she was adopted or shared tips for styling her hair. I guess my preference for big hair was not appreciated by a few folks! I was pretty up front about our connection, but kept the conversations brief. For some reason, we have not had too many questions/comments about Saida. Though, at this point, Kayla was with us longer than we’ve had our daughter. We did recently get an odd question from an Ethiopian man here on vacation. He asked us how much did she cost. We also had some close friends of ours laugh about the fact that their seven year old daughter asked if we had “bought” our baby yet! In regards to the man, I explained that we did not pay for her but for the services of people who helped us through the process. I never got to respond to our friends, as they shared this not so funny anecdote with my husband. I am prepared to better educate them if it comes up, since it really bothered me that they may have let their daughter think that Saida was purchased. I just don’t want my daughter to feel like she was up for sale.

Rachel said...

I was out shopping with Liam the other day and one of the salespeople looked at Liam and then said in a very stern voice "your son has very tan legs." Her tone suggested that she thought I had been taking Liam to the local tanning saloon. She kept looking at Wade and I's legs to try to determine if we were that 'tan" (we're not). I didn't want to have to explain that Liam is adopted and Native American, but I had to say something so the crazy lady didn't think I was taking my 14-month old tanning. I went with "it's just his natural complexion." People are crazy! Patrick and Melkamu are adorable. I can't wait to see them when I'm in Atlanta this fall.