Our kids have had a rough start. Obviously. You don't wind up getting adopted by strangers living halfway around the world if everything has gone well. Imagine the types of things that get kids here into foster care, and you have some idea of the types of things they've gone through. But when people flat out ask me, "So, why are they up for adoption?" I'm not sure what to say. Because I could be all "drugs, neglect, incompetence, poverty, abuse, prostitution, abandonment, mental illness, alcohol abuse, rape, endangerment, and refusal to floss,"* and then people would either gasp and recoil, or furrow their brows and say "Poor babies!" (or possibly both). Neither of which is a response I really want people having to my kids. Or I could say, "You first--how exactly did you conceive your children? Which sexual position were you using at the moment of conception? I'm just curious, you know, like you're curious about our kids." I am just not ballsy enough to say that, and anyway, while it makes the point, it's also unnecessarily shaming. I think curiosity about the kids' background is natural, not the sign of nosiness of assholic proportions.
So I've trodden the bland middle ground so far. Sometimes it's been possible to ignore the question and respond to something else happening around us at the same time. Sometimes I've said, "Oh, the same kinds of things that would put kids into foster care here." (See how I did that earlier?) A few times I did a really awkward, "Well, I understand why you're asking, but we think it's really up to the kids to decide who they want to share that with." That is the most honest and straightforward approach, but it really makes both the questioner and me sqirm. It sounds preachy, and who wants to be on either end of that? (No offense to any preachers in my non-existent audience.) My worry is what to say when people ask in front of the kids. And every adoptive parent I've brought this up with, plus every adoptive parenting blog and book I've seen, has assured me that PEOPLE WILL ASK THIS QUESTION IN FRONT OF THE KIDS. PLUS "HOW MUCH DID THEY COST?". To me, the comparison to US foster care is the response that best addresses the question politely without oversharing. What I don't want is for the kids to get the idea that it's a secret, because secrets are shameful, and would imply there is something wrong with their history, and thus, wrong with them.
Then there are the people who will be really taken aback/hurt if we don't pony up a real answer. I'm talking immediate family. As immediate family, they want to know not out of nosiness, but because family knows each other's stuff and looks out for each other, right? My sisters especially; man, we are in each other's business like nobody's business. And I think my mother-in-law was a little...miffed? hurt? when we didn't spell it out for her. But I don't want even them having the kids' background as something to blame if things go wrong, if we struggle. And I don't want them even silently judging how we handle it--when we tell the kids what information and how. But the story is so intense that I also don't want to carry it around by myself. And again, I don't want to hide it and treat it like a shameful secret. I'm still struggling with this. I talked it all over with my oldest friend, who is a school social worker who's heard it all and then some, and that was helpful. I finally told one of my sisters when she asked me flat out, but I asked her to not share it with her husband or kids, and then I felt really weird about that.
I've heard two stories on par with our kids' story. One is the story a friend of mine tells about her family history, which includes all sorts of wild stuff from both her birth family and adopted family. The other is a story one of my students tells about how she wound up in foster care. I don't think either of these women tells their story to strangers on the bus, but they told me within a few months of getting to know them, and it clearly wasn't a disturbing secret to either of them. That's what I really want--for my kids to own their story without shame or concern for what others will think. Of the many many things I don't want to mess up on, this is high on the list.
*This list does not represent the real story. They didn't go through ALL of the above, although we have been warned they will need plenty of dental care.**
**That was just a joke about my joke about refusing to floss, not some weird reference to what they've actually been through.