Friday, June 4, 2010

"Are They Sisters?"

As every parent in a transracial family knows, there are questions from people everywhere you go. From complete strangers, to family and friends, I am still occasionally caught by surprise at the boldness of some as well as the complete ignorance of others.  Most of the time, the questions I am asked are genuine, innocent questions from someone who truly wants to know more about our unique family.  I believe that most people do not ask a question to cause hurt or offense. (although sometimes, I admit, I am a little hurt and even sometimes offended at the way the question is asked, or the complete lack of regard for what my children may feel as a question is asked as if they didn't exist - when they are sitting right there!)

While sometimes my initial reaction is to scream, "ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!" and storm off in a huff, I have learned slowly but surely, that the best response to any question is to answer the best way I can, in the kindest way possible. Here are a few of the exchanges I have had in the 9 1/2 years since my first adoption...
Maybe these examples will give you ideas of how to respond - or not respond - if you're ever in a similar situation:
  • "Are they real sisters?"  Yep. This is one I still don't understand. For some reason, when a stranger asks, I'm annoyed to be sure, but not quite as annoyed as when someone who knows us asks.  A new neighbor, acquaintance at the elementary school, the familiar checker at the grocery store.  My children - especially my adopted daughters - have a deep and sweet bond.  Why do some people feel it is their business, or even crucial infomation, to know whether they are biologically related?  I have offered many responses over the years, ranging from "Why do you ask?" (which is code for "Why do you care"), to "What do you mean?" (code for "I understand your question, but I am so not in the mood to answer"), and occasionally I want to say, with a very caustic tone, "Seriously? Is that your real hair*?" (*can be easily used with any of these words: nose, choice of dress, diamond, or even...a-hem...'chest')  I've even answered with a curt "Yes".
If I feel my heart race, my face flush, or my jaw clench, I am getting pretty good at the deep breath, somewhat fake pleasant smile, and a soft tone as I answer, "Hmmm...what do you think?" and walk away.  If the cool escape is not feasible, I usually say, "They are now."  And leave it at that!

  • "How much did she cost?"  Not kidding.  I've been asked this more than once, too.  A good response for that is: "All adoption agencies charge different fees." (I have to admit here, I have an arsenal of very sarcastic, sharp responses, which I try to keep under my lid.  I am usually successful...)
  • "Why did her mom give her up?"  I dislike this one - a lot - but a few responses I've been able to muster (once the shock and awe diminishes) are: "Every birth parent has different reasons when they make an adoption plan." (A good response as it introduces 2 key vocabulary words -- "birth parent" vs. "real mom" and "adoption plan" vs. "give her up")
  • "Where's she from? Africa?"  Wow.  Honestly? It's 2010.  Yes, I'm white. She's black.  But last time I checked, there were many races being born every day in the good ole US of A.  This one I do not even dignify with a witty or clever answer.  I usually say something along the lines of "She was born at Cottonwood Hospital, just like all my children were." or "She's from right here - Holladay!" If it's someone with a genuine question who doesn't mean to sound like an idiot, I will say, "She's from here. Her birthmother lives in Georgia."  This is one question, however, where the sarcastic responses are almost too much for me to restrain.  I am waiting and wondering who the lucky person will be that is the recipient of my unrestrained string of verbal barbs loosely cloaked as an answer to the question.
  • "How long have you had her?" or "When did you get her?" Do they want me to say something like "Oh, it's been about 2 hours now." or  "We got her while on vacation last year."  Really?!  But again, that deep cleansing breath works wonders in calming my natural tendency toward sarcasm, and I say simply, "At birth".  The end.  Not a lot more to say after that, huh?
These are just a few of the amazing questions I've encountered.  Although the manner in which they are delivered could be another entire posting. (Do you love when people yell or talk very slowly to your child, as if they are deaf or speak a different language? It's still amusing to me.)  I still maintain that the best response is a soft one.  Educate those who ask, don't be defensive.  And remember: Do not take offense where none is intended.  Yes, some questions are downright offensive. But the offense is because of ignorance.  So educate others in your response.

Write in and tell me some of your experiences with awkward questions - and especially your positive answers.  We gain understanding and strength by sharing. And sometimes, it's just nice to know you're not alone.


  1. I loved this post!! I get questions like those all of the time. Once when I was asked how much our little girl cost us. I responded with, "How much did your little girl cost you?" The reaction was hillarious. I have posted a few posts like this on my blog and thought that I would share one of those moments with you. So here it is.

    Ever since we brought our daughter home from the hospital, five years ago, we have got A TON of questions and comments about her. People used to stop me all the time to ask about her, touch her hair, talk to her, comment on their "brown" kids, etc, etc, etc... I just have gotten so used to it. In fact I have been kinda worried lately how she would be able to answer the questions when they stated coming and I wasn't there to answer them for her. What would she say? Would she know what to say? Would they be mean to her? Needless to say, I thought that I had heard about everything.


    In the grocery store the other day, a little boy about our daughters age and his mother walked past us. The boy stopped and looked at her and then at me and then back to her again. (I kinda knew what was coming).

    Boy to Her-"Why are you so brown and your mom isn't?"

    She responded-(in the most "Southern" voice she has ever had and before I could even begin to explain). "Because, I wasn't in her belly! I was in Candice's belly and she is brown like me!!"

    She even had the whole "black" girl head shake thing going on! It was so funny. The boys mom just laughed and said. "Well, I guess she answered that question didn't she." I just said "Yep" and then started to laugh. It was the funniest thing ever. I really don't think that I need to worry too much about what she will do when she starts getting asked questions. I think she will be just fine. For now!

  2. Wonderful post. Thanks

  3. Loved your post. My daughter is almost treated like a curiosity, and I have received the same questions. People are almost disappointed to find out she is from America, I need to make up some really crazy story, about a government coup, my daughter is really an "African princess" who was rescued by my secret agent husband. Maybe it would satisfy them a little better!!!!

  4. I love this post! We have a one year old son and a three year old son. One day a lady asked us if it was hard to teach them english. we wanted to respond with "was it hard for you to learn how to speak english?" but we didn't.

  5. This is a little different but still kind of funny. We have three biological children and just recently adopted a little girl! When we had our three other children a few people would come and visit when we got home but most would just wait to see us out and about! Within the first two days of being home with our new little girl we have about 30 visitors, I would like to think they were just so excited but I really think they just wanted to see how dark she really was, people are just so funny and curious! Also another funny... everytime anyone asks us when we are out as a family if our daughter is adopted my husband just says "What makes you ask that?" This is such an awesome post! THANKS!!!

  6. I think you have the right attitude about all the crazy comments - what else can you do but laugh, right? The two most popular ones that I get are, "Is she yours?" or "Are you babysitting?" I'm not that great at clever responses, so I just answer, "Yes" to the first one and "No" to the second. I try to be open and honest about the more intrusive comments, even though some of them make me want to scream. Great post!

  7. When our family was out with our twin girls (who were about 1), a woman asked us in all sincerity "What language do they speak?" I honestly had to pick my jaw off the floor. I also had to refrain from the smarta** comment that immediately came to mind (we're not sure yet, but we are crossing our fingers for french or german...). I did refrain and with a straight face said, they're one - so not really any language at this point and turned and walked off. Honestly! The comment that left me the most speechless, though, happened when the girls were maybe 6 months old. We were at Costco when a complete stranger walked up to me, gently put her hand on my arm, and said "remember, they have beautiful souls"... HUH?!?!?! I looked her square in the eyes and said we know they are beautiful! Wow! I also once had a woman ask me how I would explain to them that they couldn't date until I could get them off to a college with black boys. Seriously, you have got to be kidding me!!!

  8. You know, you try to be patient, but I have been asked many of these things you said above including:

    "SHE'S not your daughter" (yes, in front of my 4 year old)
    "She didn't cost that much, did she?"
    "She looks Asian" (ummm, yeah, she is).

    I have even had someone scoop up my crying daughter at our community pool (while she was tantruming and I was ignoring) and they rushed her over to an asian mom sitting at a table across the pool (they thought she was hurt). I had to chase them down, explain she was my daughter, and retrieve her.

    But most recently, while my son was in the hospital we shared with the nurse we were adopting a 9 year old from China. She started shaking her head and spewing a whole lot of uneducated opinions about China sells baby and how they are making $30-$40K off of parents adopting from their country and what a crock it was. I really tried patiently to explain that wasn't true and how the fees work, but she was already convinced of her opinion.

    So, we recently started a fundraiser and we outlined the fees you have to pay, explaining that the majority of the fees are paid right here in the USA!!! You would be surprised how many people didn't know that...we've had a lot of comments about it. So, I felt somewhat redeemed that at least I'm helping some people understand the process a little better.

    Questions are a daily challenge. I do have to say I love your answer that you got her on vacation...I may have to use that one day when I can't take it anymore. LOL!

  9. PS. The how much did she cost question, I *always* rephrase their questions first. (I've been asked this many times)...I always say, "I'm not sure what you mean...If you mean how much are the agency fees to adopt a child, well, that depends on various things...for example what international country it is, if they are a special needs child, the placement fees, etc.). They usually get the idea pretty quick that I didn't like the way they started the conversation.

  10. sorry I can't stop, but how about this one - are you going to tell them they are adopted? Umm hello? Have you looked at her? Have you looked at me?

  11. I love, love, love this post. I get too many questions to even pay attention to them. I have tried very hard to educate people, but sometimes there is no hope. The one I have the hardest time with is something to the effect, "did you do black because they are cheaper?" I just want to hit them right then. yes my adoptions are less expensive then others, but really??? Why would you adopt based off of that. I know my babies are in my family for a reason. They are supposed to be a part of my family, thats why I adopted them.

    I love to hear others stories and wish you all the best!!

  12. One time we were in the grocery store and someone asked us the "where are they from question" and to my astonishment my daughter said "Japan". It was quite funny and we left it at that. The person asked no more questions.

  13. I appreciate the ideas of different responses given. Sometimes I want to just scream at the stupidity of people and their questions. I do realize that most are innocent and ignorant but I am dumbfounded that total strangers would be so bold to ask such personal questions especially in front of my daughter! I sometimes am caught off guard and don't know quite how to respond. But have found that by educating them a little helps. I will try turning the question back to them next time though. Especially on the , "How much did she cost?" question.

    A good friend of mine was asked the question, "Why Black?" Their perfect response was, "Why not." Love it!!

  14. I loved this post and I enjoyed reading especially because I related to many of the experiences. I wanted to share a quick experience I had. My little one is about 12 months old. He was born here in the USA, but his birth father is from Jamaica. Someone responded, "I hope he speaks with a Jamaican accent!" I laughed a little thinking she wasn't serious, but the next time I saw her, she again replied, "I just really hope he ends up having that Jamaican accent when he starts talking." I couldn't help but laugh!! Really!? Don't I need the Jamaican accent to help out with that??? :)

  15. I appreciate the posts. I am guilty of asking some of the dumb questions. Please understand often some people ask the dumb questions becuase they're perhaps starting to go through or thinking about the adoption process themselves and are wanting to inquire more about it but are a bit shy. But they know you have gone through the process. Yes the wording of some questions is DUMB and out of line. But like I said I unfortunately am guilty of asking a friend about cost and probably not in an appropriate way. :( Sorry for the offense.

  16. So, I read your blog tonight.. I love it:) Because we all get questions. But, just today I went to Olive Garden with a really good friend of mine. The Waiter came to help us and he spoke wonderful italian so, I said, You look like you could be italian. He said, that he is part italian and told us that he was adopted when he was 3 years old.. When my friend heard he was adopted, she spoke up really quickly to say, "Well my friend here has 6 of her own and then adopted 2" and then whispers, her two are black"... I was really shocked. I was trying to think about what to say after that. I ended up not saying anything, but wanting to soo bad and now wishing that I did... What bothers me is I feel like I have 8 of my own kids. 6 came biological and the other 2 from adoption. I hate when it is seperated.. Then the whispering makes it sound like someone might hear or they have cancer... I should have said, something. I will at somepoint...

  17. Wow. I will be adopting an AA soon and it is good to know to be prepared for some ODD comments!