Wednesday, January 11, 2012

No Dumb Questions?

On the Transracial Adoption Questionnaire, a part of our adoption application, we had to answer a question about how I would handle a situation if someone approached me after seeing my transracially adopted child and asked if I had had an affair to bring the child about. I had to read the question through several times before coming to the stunned conclusion that if this is important enough to have on an application, it must happen a lot. Who asks that question of a stranger at a park? I can't honestly remember what my response to this question was, other than that I'd likely have to walk away.  What kind of helpful response could I actually utter?

A friend from my life group, a white woman with one Chinese child and one Taiwanese child, is constantly asked if her children are brother and sister.  "Ah yes", she says with a warning tone in her voice "they are in the same family, aren't they?" Most people ignore the tone and reply with that oh-so-hurtful of adoption questions "Yes, but are they REALLY brother and sister? You know what I mean."  Yes, she does.  She knew what you meant the first time.  And her children really are brother and sister just as much as any other siblings would be. Genetics aren't the basis of reality here.

Our culture suffers from an idolatry of bloodlines; a practical worship of the biologically constructed family.  Sadly, I think this is true even in the Christian church, a place where our own understanding of our adoption into God's family should be at the forefront of informing how we see human families. Several books I've read have set aside chapters to deal with this issue; that people who are outside of the world of adoption can often look into it and see families that have chosen to be together but who must not be as "real" as their own family, a family created the "old-fashioned way." Is it really possible to love a child who is not "yours," they wonder.  I've even gotten the question, "Aren't you afraid you'll love Josh more than an adopted child since he's "really" yours and your adopted child won't be?"  This way of thinking betrays a culture that is obsessed with the biological definition of family.

Probably once a week someone makes the casual comment to me "You know you'll get pregnant the second your adoption goes through."  With increasing frustration, I stare in disbelief at these people or greet the statement with silence on the phone.  First of all, I don't know that I'll ever get pregnant and if I did know that, what would it change?  Are they saying that I'll only really be happy about this adoption if I get to have another biological child in the end? Or that somehow getting pregnant would be the better way to continue our family and we're settling for something that is not as good, something second best? We've all heard the "success" stories of people who've adopted and then gotten pregnant - believe me, people love to tell me these, but statistics say that only 5% of people who struggle with the type of infertility we have end up getting pregnant after adoption. Only 5%.   I've personally heard many more stories of people who have adopted and pregnancy has not ultimately been a part of their story- the thing is, it doesn't have to be a part of their story to be a success story for their family. This idolatry of bloodlines leads us to think that there is inherently something "better" about the biological parent-child relationship than the adoptive one. Adoption is always plan B or a desperate grab to be parents when your bodies haven't cooperated. Why else would you choose it? It's less than. 

 This way of thinking is a flat out lie. And it causes people to ask dumb questions.

Some people will make the argument that the biological family is more natural, that adoption is not the best thing for a kid. On one level, I agree.  Of course the best thing would be for all children to be born into a family and be able to stay there, to not be separated from their biological family and have to deal with the grief of loss their whole lives.  In a perfect world, a world unbroken by sin and suffering, every child would have the joy and security of being born into a perfectly intact and healthy family to two parents who are completely prepared and equipped to care for them.  However, it goes without saying that we do not live in a perfect world.  Adoption is a humbling and redemptive way to understand God's love for us and that he can build beautiful families, real families, out of the ashes of loss and hopelessness. 

I'm sure you can hear some frustration in this post. I am frustrated for my friends and the questions they've had fired at them, questions about the realness of their family relationships, about the race of their children, the depth of their love for each other.  I'm frustrated that people constantly tell me that once I relax and adopt I'll have more babies. I might, I might not; it's irrelevant to our adoption story.  One thing that would be easy to do is to come up with clever and witty and angry retorts to these questions that would put people in their place- but I'm certain that's not what I'm meant to do.  Is there a way to phrase responses that will help people see the hurtfulness behind their questions, help them face the often flawed assumptions they have about adoption without attacking them?  Is there a way to ask a question in response that will target that inherent idolatry of biology with which many of us struggle? To challenge the false notions of race and adoption and family in our society? Or would a challenging response merely be a selfish retaliation?

I'm asking God these questions right now, before we start getting the crazy, racially loaded, infidelity-assuming questions we're going to field. Before I'm asked by a random stranger if I slept with a black man who was not my husband to produce the child at my side. Before I'm asked how much my baby cost. (Seriously, it happens.)  I'm asking God these questions now because I do not trust in my own ability to answer in helpful, non-reactive ways that might encourage the asker to treat the next adoptive family on the playground with a little more sensitivity. Only God can help me respond to hurtfulness, ignorance and just plain dumb questions with grace, truth and love.  In my own power, this would just get nasty.

God will see our family in all its realness- I'm relying on Him to help others see it, too.  And to help me forgive them when they don't.


  1. uuuuggghhhh - dumb questions indeed.
    I'll be praying that God will be preparing your heart for all of that.
    Perhaps you can just log the questions/comments away for a Saturday Night Live like segment - "Really?" you thought that was appropriate? Really??

    and - we'll probably have to find some sort of sugar free york yumminess to munch on to take your mind of the ignorance of others

  2. Well said and very thoughtful! I really enjoyed reading this.