“Are you the nanny?” As a Latina adoptive mom of Caucasian children, I have lost track of the number of times I have been asked that question!
I knew being a parent would be hard enough, with many people ready to share their unsolicited “pearls of wisdom” with you about parenting. However, if you choose to be a parent through adoption, be prepared for a whole different level of unwanted advice and questions, especially if you plan to be a conspicuous family. Invasive questions from curious strangers about how you formed your family seem to crop up in the most unexpected times, and, for me, they can be the most insensitive.
First, there is a glance, then a long stare, and then toward the end of a Gymboree class while putting our shoes on, I will be asked how much do I charge per hour? I have been solicited more times about my child care rates than I care to share!
In the YMCA family changing room, I have been complimented on how natural I am with “those kids.” But the best question came from a nanny at a playground by my home. She asked me how I get “their mother” to let me take the kids out to play in the puddles right after the rain. Her question was in Spanish and my response was in Spanish, “Es fácil, yo soy la madre.” (Easy, I’m the mother.)
The first time I was approached by somebody assuming I was my child’s nanny I was shocked and sad. I couldn’t leave the room fast enough, holding back the tears that brought to mind the years of failed infertility treatments and the long, stressful adoption process. I was dumbfounded that here, in Northern California, it would be assumed that since I do not physically match the appearance of my children, I cannot be their mother, only their caregiver. I know that the questions are based upon the assumption of what visually passes as a family. Sure, it’s okay for a Caucasian family to adopt a child transracially, but hard to imagine a parent of color adopting a Caucasian child. I used to think the comments were a consequence of being a conspicuous family until I met a fellow Latina mother who shared that she is routinely asked if her three daughters have the same father. Talk about assumptions!
My husband and I had been parenting for 12 years, and we thought the questions about my identity would slowly fade away when our children started talking and routinely calling me “Mommy.” I thought it would be obvious that I am their parent. Not so. This past weekend, we were attending a school festival, and as my daughter was looking over a prize table, I heard someone ask me, “Are you her mother?” I said that I was and the person said, “Funny she doesn’t look like you.” All I could do was chuckle and say she looks like her father. As I walked away, I realized social assumptions will not change and I need to continue to educate and prepare my children on how to respond to them.
Tips for Parents, When Asked Challenging Questions by Strangers:
Take a deep breath and give yourself a few seconds to compose yourself. Remember, you have many options as to how to respond (if you so choose to). Check in with how you feel, who is present, and where you are. Remember: Most people are not well-educated about adoption and may have their own ideas about what makes a family.
Decide on whether or not you would like to respond with a comment. If I’m not in the mood, sometimes I’ll pretend that I didn’t hear the question and move on.
Look to see who is listening. If my child is around, I may let it go and then address the question with the stranger at a later time when we are alone.
If I decide to respond, I often say, “Excuse me? Did you say something?” It allows the questioner the opportunity to process his/her question and the needs that surround it. I may help him/her rephrase the question by asking, “Are you asking this question because you are curious what it is like to be part of a transracial family?”
If I decide to answer in order to educate or have a “teaching moment,” I look at who is asking, (age, gender) and remind myself of where we are (park, store, family event, waiting in line) in order to respond in a way that I hope connects with the questioner. I then share (with permission from my children) that our family was built through open domestic adoption and I’d be happy to give the stranger the name of an agency if he/she is interested or curious to learn more.
If the stranger responds with praise or positive encouragement, such as “How wonderful you were to SAVE this child when you adopted,” I cut this off with, “Thank you, but I believe all parents are wonderful.”
When my kids are not around and I get the nanny question, I’ve responded “You know, because of my advanced degrees and years of experience, you really won’t be able to afford me. Besides, I sleep with the father.” – I do my best to bring humor into it as much as I can!
It is not very fun answering these kinds of questions, and I obviously get frustrated sometimes. But I keep in mind that how I respond sends a clear message to my children about how I feel about our family and how comfortable I am talking about adoption. I hope that by educating the questioners, I do my little part to challenge their assumptions about what a happy family can look like.
Roberta Havens, MEd, has been deeply involved in the local adoption community for many years. She co-founded the Bay Area Families In Adoption Play Group (BAFIA) in San Francisco and previously was Executive Director of Open Path and The Family Building Resource Organization of Northern California. She has presented at many regional and national adoption conferences. Roberta served for 20 years as a school administrator and continues to work in education. Currently, Roberta lives in San Francisco with her husband, Eli, and their son and daughter.
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