Insensitive comments from people who are unfamiliar with children from hard places are nothing new in the adoption community.
Here are 3 things to consider when talking about the children in our care:
1. Whether or not we are speaking to our children, we are speaking to our children.
Our kids hear what we say to other people about them, and our answers often have a greater capacity for harm or good than the questions posed by strangers. When the tactless shopper in the grocery store asks about the way our child walks or talks, answer the stranger believing the child is listening and understanding every word. Specifically, questions that begin with, “What is wrong with …” can easily be answered with “Nothing. (S)he is fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14).”
2. Just because the personal question is asked doesn’t mean we need to respond with personal information.
When someone inquires about our child’s health or history, we are not required to give details. “Thank you for your concern” is a genuine response to a plethora of questions beginning with “Why?” Why can’t he sit still? Why does he look like that? Why is she in a wheelchair?
When my husband and I were adopting, our home study coordinator encouraged us to place our son’s personal information in a virtual lockbox and hold on to the key until he was old enough to decide what information should be taken out and given away. Best advice ever.
—Trisha, Adoptive Mom
3. Not everyone who asks a sensitive question is being thoughtless or judgmental.
Many times people genuinely want to know and understand what our kids are experiencing. Sure, comments such as, “He doesn’t act his age,” or “Is he developmentally behind?” or “Will she ever catch up?” aren’t fun to hear, but they may not be coming from a place of insincerity or nonacceptance.
Let’s be honest.
The line between showing concern and asking the wrong question is often unclear and prone to shift depending on the situation. The person in the restaurant who asks where your child is from may be wanting to start a conversation because he, too, was adopted. The mother in the library may be asking you questions about your child’s diagnosis because her child was just diagnosed with the same thing. Sometimes we can best answer a question by asking a question. “I’m not sure I understand. Are you asking about [X]?”
Sometimes, in our desire to defend our children, we can venture into emotional overcharge. Depending on how open you and your child are to gently educating people, a high-level answer about the challenge may be appropriate, along with positive comments about God’s good gifts in the child’s life. He has grown so much in the 4 years he has been home! We are thrilled to see what happens as he continues to learn.
Important note: Before we are ready to be gracious and helpful to other people who ask questions about our child, we must be at peace with the situation ourselves. For whatever reason, God in His great wisdom saw fit to place a specific child with specific strengths and weaknesses in our lives. Embracing that gift and all its implications will enable us to love and encourage others … leading them to view our children through the same lens of love and respect.
After all, that’s just good parenting.