Adoption: Public Curiosity or A Family’s Private Story?

Our family became one through the long journey of adoption. While we had expected an assault on our privacy as the adoption agency did their work to prepare us, e.g. home studies, financial and police, checks, we were less prepared for the questions about adoption that came our way, and to our children. Innocent things said to us that suddenly now meant something different.

So, picture this – my preschoolers and I enjoying a lovely outing at our neighbourhood park and packing up after a couple of hours of play. As we collected our sand toys to head home, a curious parent approached our happy little crew. She was a stranger to my two beautiful Chinese girls and to me, however, it didn’t stop her from asking one of those dreaded stranger questions, “Are they yours?” “They sure are!” I proudly replied continuing to gather our things. Then, the even more dreaded question, “Are they really sisters?” My girls stopped what they were doing, clearly listening in. “Yes, they are,” I said without hesitation. “No, I mean, are they really sisters?” A curious stranger in front of me and two little, wide-eyed girls holding my legs on either side…what could I say? “Of course, they are really sisters.”

Two adopted children with motherTruth be told, I knew that what this parent was really asking was whether or not our girls were biological siblings. They were three and five years old at the time and definitely sisters with the mutual love, care, imitation, fights, humour, and private jokes that siblings share. They are sisters through and through regardless of biology. They are “really sisters”.

This question also made me realize that at three and five years, the adoption story was no longer my story to tell, it was also firmly planted in the hearts and lives of two lovely little girls. No doubt, my husband and I were key players in their story, but how open or private they chose to be about this history was just taking shape. If I had said to them, “Well, girls, are you really sisters?” what would their answer have been? No doubt, it would have been a resounding “Yes!”

Are you a parent of an adopted child or children or are you an adoptee yourself? What question(s) have you faced that delighted, surprised, challenged or even annoyed you? Share your story with us:

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  • Email us at haltonparents@halton.ca
  • Call the HaltonParents line for parenting information or to speak directly to a Public Health Nurse (every Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.) Simply dial 311 or 905-825-6000.

About this guest blogger:

Bonnie Hewitt, RN is a supervisor with the Early Years Health Program. Although she has 27 years of experience working with families of young children, she turns to colleagues for parenting advice. She has 2 lovely girls who are tweens.

This entry was posted in Babies, Parenting, Preschool, School-aged Children, Toddlers and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Adoption: Public Curiosity or A Family’s Private Story?

  1. Catherine Collinson says:

    I am a very proud Mamma of two beautiful daughters whom we adopted as babies from China in 1997 and 2000. They are 18 and 15 this year, one going off to University while the other dredges her way through that ‘useless’ thing they call highschool (their words, not mine!). Those ugly, invasive, insulting, curious questions ended for us a long time ago, more or less. We got the ‘Are they really sisters’ question and in fact if there is ever a question asked now, that is the one we still get. In fact the girls actually get that question asked to them directly at school as well. I think sometimes they just say yes and sometimes they say ‘yes, but not biologically’. I suppose it depends on whose asking! The hardest/worst question I used to get, sometimes with my two little ones clinging to me, watching, wide eyed, was ‘How much did they cost?’ The implication of that question always sent chills down my spine and made the hair stand straight up on the back of my neck. Unfortunately, with adoption, and particularly with international adoption there are some fairly hefty costs, legal, translation, travel, accommodations, donations, etc. My answer was always, ‘Yes, of course there are always legal, translation, travel and accommodation, donation costs involved in adoptions, particularly international adoptions’ and I’d smile and see if they dared to actually ask me what they were really implying. I can honestly say that I don’t think I ever had to go any further with the argument. I was once asked, in Costco, ‘Oh what isle did you find her in’, as my little daughter sat in the basket. As I donned my armor, ready for battle I realized that it was an older couple who’s intention was simply to tell me how adorable my daughter was and it was they’re segway into that with no malice intended. In fact I think what I really discovered was that sometimes some people don’t respect boundaries, and other times people are asking you questions to gather information for themselves and when they see you they see the opportunity to ask someone first hand. The most difficult statement, not question, I ever had to deal with in relation to the adoption of my daughters was being told how ‘wonderful’ we were for adopting them. When we adopted our daughters we were anything but wonderful. We were desperate for a family and when my eldest daughter was placed in my arms, all of the sadness and loss and grief flowed from me. We didn’t save our daughters from anything. They would have gone on with they’re lives in a different way and to assume that what we were bringing them to was or is better would be absolute arrogance. Our daughters saved us. They have brought us more love and joy and frustration and worry than we could have ever imagined or hoped for and we hope that we’ve provided them with a smooth path to the bigger path for they’re journey through life.

    • Bonnie says:

      You have done such a lovely job of summarizing some of your experiences. Thank you so much for sharing them. Happily, I’ve not been faced with the cost scenario, but can imagine the rising hairs on the neck! Regarding your final statement about how “wonderful” you were for adopting your girls, I find that one a difficult one to address. The question does not seem to bother my girls, but I am torn like you. The wonder is all “them” directed in my mind. Isn’t it wonderful that they could bounce back from an entirely different language and culture and adapt so quickly to a new world? Isn’t it wonderful that they love Canada and can enjoy great friendships, Canadian burgers, and fresh strawberries while sometimes wishing for dumplings or fish balls? Isn’t it wonderful that they can give me one of those full-of-love, no holding back embraces because I am their mom? I’m 100% with you on that one, Catherine. It is our girls who are wonderful!

  2. Lisa Visser says:

    Thank you for this post Bonnie and for your reply Catherine. I am blessed with 2 beautiful sons from Korea, ages 4 and 6. I have to admit, the question that irks me the most is when TOTAL STRANGERS ask us in front of our intelligent sons if they are real brothers. So far my boys don’t seem to mind – but maybe one day after years of people asking this quesiton, it will bother them. They both know their storey – but what is most real to them is the love we have as a family. People don’t realize, that when we are out together as a family, we are not 2 parents out with our adopted children – we are simply a family. We don’t even realize that we look different from one another anymore – because when I look at my sons, I see my sons, and when they look at me, they see their mother. This is not to say I don’t think about and pray for the biologicial families of my sons – but we are a forever family, and just want to be seen as one, and would appreciate the privacy that goes along with being one. I would never dream to ask a total stranger out with her family if her children were delivered vag or C-section – it’s private and non of my business!

    The other day, I was retelling my 4 year old his adoption story. When I was done he cuddled in close and said, “Mommy, I missed you when I was a baby!”. There are no sweeter words!

    • Catherine Collinson says:

      Lisa, that is so funny. I still puff up when people tell me how beautiful my daughters are, as if I had something to do with how beautiful they are on the outside!

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