Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Multiracial Family Fun

Ken over at Popehat has a sadly-all-too-familiar post about stranger interest in one's multiracial family:


Along the same lines, the BBDD took Bambina to the doctor on Friday where a nice lady came over and started chatting about how cute Bambina is. Then, as expected, she said, "So--what is she?" Right in front of our daughter. "So. What is she?" Um, a human child. What are you? Much like Ken, the BBDD gets pissed OFF when total strangers feel compelled to know "what" your kid "is" and see absolutely nothing wrong with asking right in front of the child. So the BBDD just looked at her and said nothing. So the lady said, "You know, where is she from?" He answered in a very matter of fact manner, "We live right here in [town]; we're local. And you?" Total silence. Then she said, "Oh, I guess some people don't like to talk about it," as if not sharing personal information with a stranger implies that we are ashamed of that information! Obviously not the case, and not worth trying to make that case with someone you don't even know and will never see again.

The primary defining feature of our response to strangers is our concern for Bambina. She is almost 4, which means she's pretty aware of stuff like this these days. She recently told us that it is "annoying" when strangers stop us to tell her how cute she is. On the one hand, you might think "what a punk ass kid! The people are just being nice!" On the other hand, imagine being four years old and constantly having total strangers walk up to you, tell you you are cute, and then ask your parents "what is she?" She may be young, but she's not stupid. Like any other kid, she just wants to be a kid, which for the most part means to be left alone to do her thing. She gets that she is a bit of an object of interest in public and it is starting to bother her, as everything we've read on the subject said it would. So I don't try to talk her out of her feelings; she is absolutely entitled to them. We just tell her that people mostly mean well, that we can say Thank You if they compliment us, and then she doesn't have to say anything else if she doesn't want to. I'm not going to force my kid to interact with strangers who make her uncomfortable so that those strangers can think my kid is polite. That's not my job. My job is to prepare my kid to face life as a regular kid--albeit as a racial minority, as a child of adoption, and as a member of a multiracial family. It's not to make random people in the Trader Joes feel good about themselves. It's never okay to be rude to people who seem well-meaning. But I look forward to the day when the onus to not be rude is finally, at long last, put back on THEM rather than on me and my four year-old.

This article from parenthood.com sums it up for me, especially the last line by Renee Lubowich:

"Is your son adopted?"

You’re standing at the checkout line at the supermarket, and someone leans over your shoulder and oohs and aahs: "What a beautiful baby. Is she yours?" Or you’re watching your son navigate the play structure at a playground when someone you’ve never met asks, "Is your son adopted? How much did he cost?" Or the boy and girl you adopted from two different birth families in the United States are playing happily together and a neighbor asks, "Are they real brother and sister?"

Adoptive families say they’re often asked deeply personal questions by people they don’t know. "There’s a general sense that people have the permission to say anything they want," says Susan Jordan, the mother of a son and daughter from Honduras. "They don’t imagine we would have feelings about it or that we would feel about our children the way they feel about their children."

Often, adoptive parents don’t know how to respond. Susan Caughman, publisher of Adoptive Families magazine, says the important thing to keep in mind is that the way you respond should be based on the situation, a lesson that is important to teach adoptive children as well. "If the person asking is someone you really care about, you might explain it one way," Caughman says. "If you are being bothered by someone or don’t even know them, answer another way."

"If someone asks, ‘How much did she cost?’ you might say, ‘She’s priceless.’ Or you could say, ‘Would you like me to call you and tell you more about the process of adoption at another time?’" Renee Lubowich says one of her favorite responses for adoptive parents is, "Why do you ask?" "I think it gives the adoptive parent more time to think about how they want to respond," she says, "and it also asks the questioner to think about why the question is being asked." It can be a burden for adoptive families to always feel they have to be educating the world, Lubowich says. "But for someone who is interested in adoption, you might say, ‘I’d be glad to talk with you sometime. Here in the supermarket doesn’t seem like the best place.’"

Lubowich says it’s important for non-adoptive families being addressed in public to set an example for their children. "My response is really for my child, not for the person asking the question or for me. It’s what I’m teaching my child about how to handle herself in the world."

Now if only curious grown-ups could learn that too...


Anonymous said...

I love this post. I'm 23 and was adopted from Korea and my parents always thought it was great that so many people would come up to us to talk about me, how adorable I was. I hated it so much. Kids just want to be like every other kid and every time we went out I was reminded that I was "other" and different. They just saw people saying I was cute, but I felt so invaded all the time. i learned early the meaning of "what is she." i also know that had I been with Korean parents there would have been far fewer professions of love for me from strangers. IMHO you are def doing the right thing for your daughter. Teach her manners but don't teach her to swallow her feelings to make strangers (or worse you) feel good.

t said...

I can't comment on the ridiculous comments that get made by people who haven't stopped for a second to think about what they are saying (what a complete drag)...but please know that many kids get stopped by strangers to be told how cute they are - regardless of how much they look like their parents.

Beach Bum said...

Yeah, we get those questions as well but at I've been lucky in that when they come my way the person asking frames it more for the adoption angle then like how much I paid for my daughter at Wal-Mart.

Utah Savage said...

I wasn't adopted, but having people always feel just fine about commenting as to my cuteness made me feel alien. Like I was some kind of freak that allowed them to talk about me like they were just visiting the carnival.

Anonymous said...

I don't want to start a fight with you but I do have to tell you that your daughter IS the kind of beautiful that people have to comment on. She's really gorgeous, E. in a double-take kind of way. and I'd tell you that even if you weren't her mother!