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Friday, May 23, 2008

Red Letter Campaign- Equipping Family for Dealing with Questions

My topic today arises from one of my previous posts about choosing the kinds of language I want to use regarding our adoptive family. It got me thinking about our extended family and how this change might affect them. After all, the grandparents are bound to get questions when they are out and about with their grandkids. Are they ready with a response to some common occurrences?

In our family there are many different personality types. For instance, my mother and I are much alike, consequently she has read a lot of books with specific parenting techniques so she can be well equipped for anything that might arise when she does extended babysitting for us as she is often so happy to do. My dad is more of a laid back take it as it comes kind of dude, and I don't think he's read a single book thus far (but his wife has so that helps keep me from twitching). I have to be honest and say I fear a bit for him when suddenly our son is home and he's got to do the emotional prep work in a short time that many of us have been working through all these months..... but that's a different story.

My in-laws seem to have a sense of what to expect because my Sister-in-law and her hubby are a blended race family with a gorgeous blended baby girl and a son on the way. Even still, there are some differences between that and adoption.

Some things that I hope to have the opportunity to share more about with my family soon are the"little" things people might not realize make such a difference to an adoptive family. Some friends with adoptive/foster children at home warn me about certain issues that need to be talked through with family before a situation arises which could cause tension or worse in the family. It's mine and my husband's job to be the advocates for our adopted son in our family even if it means treading in water that makes for some uncomfortable conversation at times. I have to ask myself if I've been nudging the grandparents to explore these things.

One friend says her family tended to introduce their foster kids as "the foster girls." What her family didn't realize is that those words tend to convey, ESPECIALLY TO THE CHILDREN, the idea that they aren't really a part of the family even though the kids have been placed there since their birth. That is a HUGE no-no. Mental checklist: gently encourage grandparents and extended family to consider how they introduce grandson...make sure it's NOT always as the adopted grandson.

I also have yet to speak with some family members about the idea that not every member of society has a right to know our son's history and that just because people are curious doesn't mean they will be rewarded with the details of our adoption. This is especially true when our son is present. The clerk at the grocery store does not need to hear anything more than, "Yes, this is my wonderful son/grandson." end of conversation.

My friend Brooke has a good guide for determining how much info you might like to share about your children. If it's a random stranger with which you will most likely never have contact again keep it simple. One word answers send the message that the doors aren't open for the other person to go probing any further. People like neighbours and acquaintances will need to know a little more information. You will want to give them more information about your family to make interaction comfortable and help them to understand your situation. You'll want to stop them from being in a continual state of questioning what the deal is with your family so that they can settle into a social ease with your clan. From there you can increase the knowledge according to the level of interaction the person will have with your family.

In my family my husband and I plan to share our son's history (by "history" I mean the circumstances by which he became available for adoption, provided we ever get that information) with the grandparents only. As our son grows we will teach him all we know about his history and let him decide his comfort level with sharing that info and with whom when he is old enough to make those kinds of decisions. Until then it's confidential information. All other family members will have to respect that and I don't see any of them having a problem with it.

One of the coolest ideas I have read on empowering adoptive kids, especially trans racially adopted kids who stand to be the focus more in public, is putting the ball in their court when a stranger approaches them seeking information by saying, " (child's name) do you feel like telling your story today?" if the answer is yes you might share some standard details about the adoption like what country, how long it took, whatever you are comfortable with. I hope that one day my son and I can come up with a list of those things to say together. If the answer is no then just tell the stranger, "I'm sorry we just don't want to share our story today."

I am also working to equip our other kids with positive language about their brother and the adoption. I have reinforced the idea to them that there is a circle of family and friends who loves us and gets to know lots more about us and then there is the circle of people who sort of know us and get to sort of know things about our family and then there are strangers who don't know us and don't get to know all about our family. I've told them that they too, have the power to decide whether or not they want to share their story in public. I do this because often I hear of adults asking children the questions they don't have the guts to approach the parents with.

These are just some things I've been thinking about. What about you? What kinds of things have you been working on with your family? Any suggestions for things I haven't thought of? Have you any great conversation starters for family? Let me know your experiences, concerns, etc.

Finally, I want you to read this excerpt of a post from THIS blog and see what sparked my thoughts about getting back on track with talking with my family. I had to ask myself after reading it whether or not our family members would be ready for it? Come to think of it... Am I really ready for it? I pray I am!

Conversation with a lady at church (65ish) and me on Sunday after church.
Don't picture a nice old lady, she didn't even smile once:

Lady: Is this the one you just went and got?

Me: Yes, this is my new daughter!

Lady to Mayla: What is your name?

Mayla just smiles and waves at her.

Lady to Mayla: I said, what is your name?

Me: She doesn't speak...*gets interrupted*

Lady to Mayla (now right in her face, Mayla is putting her head on my
shoulder, because she is scared because she is yelling): LOOK AT ME, I SAID WHAT

Me: Her name is Mayla, she doesn't speak English.

Lady: Well then what does she speak?

Me: Amharic.

Lady: What?

Me: Amharic, it is the language of Ethiopia.

Lady: So she speaks African?

Me: She speaks Amharic.

Lady: Make her say something to me in African.

Me: I can't, she is shy and I don't know how to communicate to her to tell
her to speak to you in Amharic.

Lady to Mayla (now slow and very loud): SAY SOMETHING TO ME IN

Mayla is now turning her head away from the lady.

Lady : She doesn't listen very well. Lady to Mayla: I said, SAY SOMETHING IN

Me (now slow and very loud) SHE DOESN'T SPEAK ENGLISH.Then I walk


Kim said...

isn't that horrilble!!! love ya girl always thinking.

luvgod2 said...

Wow, what a sad interaction for that little one!

I pray for God's amazing wisdom and guidance as you work through all the nuances and challenges of daily life that will come your way with your new son.

E said...

Wow! I'm surprised at how mad that made me! GGGRRRR!

Words are important. You'd think someone would know that by the time they reach the age of 65. I know I should be more gracious, but it ticks me off.

As we've considered these issues for our family, we're relying on God's grace & mercy to cover us - as always. We've done our research. We've tried to be proactive about informing our family and close friends (I sent out an email about my journey to Ethiopia with a note at the end mentioning positive adoption language, etc.). I was amazed at the response I got. Because it was more of an aside than a whole email on the topic. But so many people appreciated what I shared about positive adoption language and commented on that more than anything else in that email. I was expecting no response on that topic...then to have to talk about it with people after "problems" came up. So, that was great.

Anyway, we've tried to educate ourselves and be proactive with others. But, we know things will come up and maybe we won't always deal with it perfectly. So we're praying for grace from God and others in those tough situations. I tend to go all mama bear, so it'll be a fine line. :)


Stacey said...

Wow Jen, that is so horrible for that little one. I can't even imagine what she must have been feeling in the situation!

I hope I have never made you feel like I'm probing you for info. I would never want to put you or your family in that situation. It's just been incredible to watch you all over this last year as you prepare for your son to arrive!

Carpenters said...

This is one of those hard, there-is-no-right-answer kind of topics. How much information to share, with whom, and when are tough questions. We haven’t gotten any really rude comments or questions yet. Yesterday, however, I was asked the question “Are they brother and sister?” about six or seven times. I some times feel like saying, “He’s our son and she’s our daughter. Yep, that would make them brother and sister.” I don’t like that question because I feel like asking, “Why do you want to know? How could the answer to that question affect you one way or another?” They aren’t biologically related to us, why would it matter if they are biologically related to each other. I finally started saying, “They are now.” I hope it conveys that there are boundaries in our family. I have been asked a couple of times where they are from. I just say they were born in Ethiopia and came home to NY in January.

I have found an effective strategy to pre-empting some questions when introducing the children to acquaintances is to say, “This is my son, Josiah and my daughter, Alexandra.” It is a mouthful sometimes, but it stops some stupid questions before they start. (i.e. Are they yours? Are they adopted?)

I think modeling positive adoption language makes a big difference. I loved it when I heard my mom using positive adoption language when answering a question about the children after hearing my answers. She just used the same language that I did to answer the question. It was one of those moments that I stopped and thanked God for the wonderful mother he gave me.

I like the idea about asking the child if they would like to share their story. The only draw back is it puts more attention and pressure on the child. I wonder if asking the child before entering a situation where there may be questions would be more effective. I like that this approach gives the child permission to not talk about their adoption if they choose. I’ll have to keep thinking about this one and keep it in my question answering repertoire. Thanks for the post, Jen.

With Love,