Talking about personal histories and other adoption stuff

This may seem like a weird post from adoptive parents who blog, but this is our way of sharing our kids with our families and their first families. That means constantly weighing what we share to balance our pride in our kids’ roots and respecting their right to own their stories.
When our kids came home, all the of their cousins were pretty young. (We have 15 cousins 6 and under now.) At family dinner the other night, someone asked me a question about one of our kids origins – and I thought,

Dear god! All of the kids just heard you!

Having adult conversation with toddlers running around never worried me, but we’re entering the era of adoption articles – by which I mean all of the reading and listening I’ve been doing over the course of our parenthood needs to be shared with the people our kids see all the time.

So here’s some guidelines we’ve picked up. Please don’t take this as preachiness, but understand that what we’ve shared and what you share about our kids will impact them a lot as they get older. It’s up to all of us to talk about adoption, and more importantly histories, with care and respect. We appreciate everyone’s love for our family, and trust all of you to keep these in mind.

1. Understand that we will not discuss our kids’ back stories to address your curiosity about our children’s biological backgrounds. Try not to put us in that situation, and never say anything disparaging or judgy about where our kids come from. I know! Seems like a no-brainer. You’d be surprised what we’ve heard already.

2. If you’re not sure whether or not a question is supportive or nosy, ask yourself (as I may ask you), “Why do you ask?” If it’s because someone you love is considering adoption and you want to know more, we’d be happy to talk to you in the right setting. If it’s because you’re curious, think twice.

3. Consider the impact of the questions you ask around my kids and other kids. Think about what that conversation may turn into when the adults aren’t in the room, and how damaging that could be to all of them.

4. Please take the time to discuss adoption with the kids in your life – not as it pertains to our kids, although you’re welcome to cite our obviously non-biological family as an example, but in general. We’re not born with an understanding of adoption, in the same way that we don’t immediately understand special needs or divorce. All of these impact families in different ways, and not giving kids the tools to understand and address them properly can lead to some horrifying kid-to-kid conversations. Be frank, don’t make judgements, and make sure to mention that our family is just as “real” as yours.

5. Racial bias among kids starts early – early enough that I’ve already seen kids treat our kids differently and make comments that break my heart. Remember your kids are always listening and watching you and that buddy, who often makes you cringe but has a heart of gold. Be aware that your choices impact our kids.

6. Understand that parenting a multi-racial family well means we value having people in our kids’ lives that look like them. You may not understand the importance of that, but we’ve talked to a lot of adults who felt like they were the only Asian/black/Mexican person anyone knew in their school/church/ neighborhood. We’re trying really hard to make sure our kids have people to look up to and kids to play with that look like them. That’s pretty tough in Milwaukee. Think about why that matters before challenging us on it.

7. We KNOW you love our kids. We see how important they are in your lives, and are so grateful that our wonderful friends and family hold these precious babes close to their hearts. Thank you.

8. A very small number of you know about our kids’ origins. Sometimes you mention their relatives with pride to others – pride in who these people are and what they’re doing to make their lives better, pride in passed-down musical talent or athleticism, for example. Please understand that while we bask in that pride and feel it as well, we do not always share your delight in sharing. Help us balance sharing and being proud of our existing relationships (like Micky sending a beautiful advent gift to the kids or us getting to visit Kerna) against sharing information that our kids may not want other people to know, like how their adoption came about or why their parent(s) chose us. If you’re not sure whether you should talk about something, err on the side of silence. This isn’t secrecy – it’s respect for our kids’ privacy and we’re grateful to have you watching out for them with us.

9. Thank you for your pride in how beautifully diverse these kids make our family. We are overwhelmed by how respectful people are, and how creative everyone is in helping us be the best parents we can be. Tess recently decided she hates her hair and wants curls like Remy and Griff. Sassy jumped right in to show her that her cousins and she had the same hair, and how beautiful straight blond hair is. Remy wants to grow his out a little after seeing boys with more than a buzz. Thanks to others, we’re better equipped to keep it hydrated and know how to deal with the “kitchens” up the back of his head. We need all of you, like any other parents with their village. That kind of sharing is all to the good!

10. When we opened our eyes to what different people go through in the world, one of the first things we read was that educating ourselves is our responsibility. We encourage all of the people we love to de-politicize gender and racial bias and do some reading/listening. Look past the tone of voice and look at the wide variety of people sharing experiences of fear. That will help our kids immensely in the long run. We’re happy to share sources that we’ve found helpful around adoption, race, you name it. Any respectful question you ask about how to take care of the boys’ hair or how to talk about race with little kids makes the world better for our family. We may not agree on problem scope or ways to resolve it, but we’d be thrilled if we could just proceed with respectful conversation on all fronts.

We also appreciate your understanding as our perspective changes. We are parenting brown and black boys, and the racial tensions in the world today make us fear for their safety. You may not agree with our concerns, but consider them before dismissing them.

That goes for how we talk about adoption as well. It may seem convoluted, over complicated, or secretive to you – but we’re making the best decisions we can for our kids. It’s messy. Parenting always is. You’re our first line of defense in the world, and we are so lucky to have you.