I really was minding my own business. Well, actually, I was minding the business of the three kids I had in tow that afternoon, but I wasn’t looking for a confrontation, however life-changing it turned out to be. I was simply walking in the linen aisle in a local big box store looking for a guest room pillow. My daughter and my niece skipped and danced in front of me, and my son sat in the cart I pushed down the row. He was nineteen months old and had only been with us for a few weeks at this point, but he and I had a fierce devotion to each other from our first moment together. He laid his fuzzy, warm chocolate brown head on my pale pink arm and petted me, gently saying, “Mama, mama” over and over—the only word he really knew and the name he called me the first day we met.
Halfway down the aisle, a man in a motorized cart gave us a stern look and moved over to block our way. “That’s what I was gonna ask, too.”
My girls quickly stopped and turned, concerned by the man’s volume and the slight edge to his tone.
“I’m sorry?” I responded, confused by his remark since none of us had asked a question and no one had spoken to him.
“That’s what I was gonna ask. Where’s that boy’s mama?” This time there was no mistaking the antagonism, possibly even anger in his voice.
My girls moved closer to the cart, but my son never stopped stroking my arm and saying my name. His actions in those tense seconds gave me the courage to respond.
“There is more than one way to create a family, sir. Have a lovely day.”
He glowered and huffed, and I moved the girls to one side and continued on.
This wasn’t the first, nor was it the last time I’ve heard words or comments, both blatant and covert, that did not recognize or support adoption. Sometimes it’s a subtle remark that often sounds like, “We thought about adopting, but we wanted our own.” Sometimes it’s a snide look when I tell my son, “Sissy’s coming!” and his blond-haired sister runs up to meet him with a hug after school. Sometimes it’s an insensitive, hurtful comment about the first mothers of my children that often is poorly draped in the words, “I don’t know how…” (an FYI on this one, don’t. Just don’t).
Over the years I’ve learned a few things about how to respond to these attitudes and words that truly cut deep, despite my practiced, polished exterior and friendly smile.
My poor reaction to someone else’s attitude will never change their mind.
This can be applied to pretty much everything in life but particularly regarding adoption. We live in a world where cyber arguments with complete strangers are the norm. There is safety in anonymity, and opinions are thrown around like confetti, falling where they may with no regard to the mess they make. Careless comments, nasty stares, and hateful remarks about adoption are insensitive, nasty, hateful views of my family. My children. My husband (who was adopted also). They cut me. To. The. Core. But lashing back, hating back, biting back only isolates me from the speaker and does not allow the sweet words my children share with each other speak more loudly than someone’s thoughtless remark. A gentle answer turns away wrath; a harsh word stirs up anger. Someone much wiser than I spoke those words many years ago. They are still true today.
Most hurtful words and careless expressions stem from ignorance.
I want to believe with my whole heart that those looks, those words, those thoughts stem from a place of misunderstanding or misinformation rather than a place of ugliness and disdain. And because ignorance truly is lack of knowledge, it is with my intentional actions and gentle words that I can choose to education, choose to model, choose to explain the beauty and pain and complexity that is adoption one interaction and one response at a time.
Someone else’s opinion will never change the dynamic of my family. Ever.
You don’t like that my family doesn’t match? Oh well.
You don’t like that my children—and my husband—all have birth mothers that are respected and loved? Oh well.
You don’t understand but still have an opinion about adoption? Fine, but don’t share it with me. You would’ve adopted but wanted your own? Probably gonna put you in check with that comment—but I’ll make sure I do it with a smile on my face. Because I am every bit my children’s mama.
Your judgments will never change my son’s daily dinner prayer: Thank you, God, for my awesome daddy. Thank you for my beautiful mommy. Thank you for my wonderful sissy. Thank you, God, for my family.
It won’t change my daughter’s love notes for each of us pasted on walls and the refrigerator and bathroom mirrors.
It will never change the color of any of our skin—which, by the way, is each a different shade and tone regardless of which race any of us are labeled.
It will never dry the tears of overwhelming love when I kiss my children in their beds each night. It will never stop my husband from taking our daughter out on dates to McDonald’s in her Easter dress on a random Saturday in November or from teaching our son to hit a baseball or play with Matchbox cars.
It won’t change telling the best part of our days at the dinner table. It won’t change story time before bed. It won’t change Saturday mornings at the park.
So have your opinion.
Even voice it, if you want.
But I probably won’t hear it; my kids are too loud giggling over a fierce Twister battle on family game night.
Jennifer Kraft is a 20+ year veteran teacher turned stay-at-home mom and co-founder with her husband of Chosen One Ministries, an online adoption resource and adoption story collection. She and her husband chose adoption as the avenue to grow their family to honor her husband’s roots in adoption. Jennifer is passionate about children’s books that celebrate diversity, going on adventures with her two kids, vacuuming Cheerios of the carpet, and spending her life savings on graduate degrees in education. She currently lives in New Jersey.