Are personal questions acceptable?

As foster parents we know many other families who have adopted children of various ages. In our area, though, most of the adoptees share the same race as their new parents so their non-biological relationship is not usually apparent just by looking at the family.

For us, however, as a White couple with a daughter of color, she/we get quizzical looks. We live in an area where talking to strangers is polite and the norm. Most people are very sweet and merely comment on “M”’s beauty or her pretty, curly locks. I smile, thank them, and move along.

Some people, though, will say things like, “I need to get one of those.” Huh? I think they are trying to connect with us or affirm our decision to adopt.

But it just doesn’t sit right. On so many levels.

I am conflicted about comments like these: I want to correct them, but the grocery store isn’t quite the right place to instruct. And, ultimately, do I really want to subject my daughter to that conversation when we will likely never see this person again? Moreover, I want to protect “M” so that she remains confident and self-assured.


As a multiracial family, we will draw attention that single-race families do not; and, thus, positioning adoption as a defining aspect of our home. I do not want to limit “M” by labels. Rather, I want her to understand and embrace her heritage as best as possible (both biological and adopted). And, therefore, helping her to value her identity, her self.

Justin Taylor of The Gospel Coalition says, “We don’t regard our transracial adoption as something especially noble or sacrificial, or anything like a social statement. This is simply the way that God in his providence has designed our family to expand, and we sense his great grace in the way he has knit our family together.”

It’s just our family. It should be that simple. However rude or ignorant comments reveal that it is not simple at all.

I recently shared a video by adoptive parents, Jesse and Marisa Butterworth. They came up with a rule of thumb: “If you wouldn’t say it about a boob job, don’t say it about an adoptive family.” Jesse offered suggestions (corrections) to help people avoid vocabulary faux pas when talking to adoptive families. Among the list of no-no questions were, “Is that your real daughter?” and “Where’d you get her?” He rephrased the questions with more acceptable ones like “Is she your biological daughter?” and “Where is she from?”

I shared the video — at the risk of offending people — because I felt it was a humorous way to educate. Like the Butterworth’s, I want to protect my daughter from inappropriate comments (particularly, intrusive comments made by strangers).

It felt a bit “PC” to me at the time, but I still saw value in the overall message.

A few days later I read a round table discussion between 10 adult adoptees. The Lost Daughters unanimously did not like that video. From their vantage point, the video makes an attempt to challenge social blunders but, instead, merely relabeled the disrespectful thinking instead of correcting it. Although this roundtable does not represent the opinion of all adoptees, it was interesting and insightful.

The group of ladies saw this video as a microagression. A microagression is when someone acts on a bias while being unconscious that he or she even has biased attitudes or feelings. In particular, a microagression is a demeaning message sent to a group of people by well-intentioned people who are unaware of the hidden messages being sent (source).

Amanda Woolston said,

Being a parent makes you an advocate for your child which means being willing to be uncomfortable for the child’s sake. This means not shutting adoption discourse down when you have a chance to engage with people about real change that can make a more positive atmosphere for adopted people. And not treating us like invisible, unaware bystanders who aren’t affected by these comments people make (or moreso).

Moreover, adoptive parents themselves may unintentionally spread messages that present the adoptee as a perpetual child. This renders the adoptee “voiceless.”

But the fact remains that right now my daughter IS a child — a toddler. She is an impressionable two-year-old who hears and processes (and sometimes repeats) what people say around here.

It seems the point The Lost Daughters are trying to make, though, goes beyond the parent’s responsibility to protect and train a minor child.

Karen Pickell adds:

… This video and other efforts like it consider only one point of view, that of the adoptive parent. They perpetuate the idea that the adoptive parent is the most important person to consider when thinking about adoption, when the reality is that it is the adopted person who should be forefront in the mind of anyone having a dialogue about adoption. Don’t misunderstand–I’m not saying that adoptive and original parents are unimportant or that their experiences should be discounted. I’m saying that adopted people are the ones most affected by adoption and, therefore, must always be considered in every conversation about adoption.

This is what I may have missed before: our need to train “M” to take the lead in these conversations. I instinctively want to hold back, and maybe I should. Yet I can show her how to speak up with respect about her birth-family and adoptive family. To teach her that certain questions should only be asked by close friends or family. To affirm that she gets to decide whether or not to answer. And to offer appropriate ways to respond to impolite inquiries and insults — because they will come.

Again, Amanda offers:

I think the world forgets that adoptees offer keen insight on these remarks and they neglect to ask us our insight. As an adoptee, I have had almost 29 years of experience with these remarks. I can tell my parents how I’d like them to respond to questions asked about me. … “Is she your real daughter?” Yes, she is real. She also has two sets of real parents. “Where did you get her?” I’m sorry, can you rephrase that? “Do you wish you had one of your own?” She has two families and both are her own.

So much patience and empathy is needed as we navigate this journey together. I am thankful that I can learn from adult adoptees and, hopefully, our inquisitive neighbors will welcome instruction, too, with grace and kindness,.



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Elaine and her husband are licensed as an adoptive family and foster home.




2 thoughts on “Are personal questions acceptable?

  1. I am very much at sea on the question of how I will respond to questions about my family and my daughter (now at D minus 10 days and counting!), so I value your thoughts on the subject. It seems to me quite a problem: how do I protect my daughter from impertinent and even hateful questions / comments while at the same time teaching her to handle them herself AND not giving her the idea that she somehow embarrasses me? How do I discriminate between and handle people who are friendly but unwittingly tactless and people who are simply jerks?

    Sigh… This promises to not be easy, especially given my bad temper.

    • Hi Jim. Thanks for your comment. And, you’re right, it’s not easy at all! I have accepted that I cannot completely protect my daughter from rude questions (we haven’t encountered downright hateful comments, yet; just stares). I can, however, show her that she is in control of her own response.

      For us, it’s much easier to ignore inappropriate comments — the questions, though, are harder to push past since the person is waiting for an answer. We have “rehearsed” vague responses that seem to let the questioner know they are being rude, while still upholding our daughter’s dignity and value as a family member. I never want her to feel like “the other.”

      We teach our daughter to love her hair, her skin color, her biological traits and heritage. We are not colorblind. Hopefully this foundation will help her feel confident to respond for herself as she gets older.

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