$h!t Not to Say to Multiracial Families

Jill Robbins
Written by Jill Robbins

My sons did not enter this world via my vajayjay. When you see the boys, you may assume I’m married to some hot Asian guy or that I’m babysitting. Nope. The two sticky-fingered boys with black hair and almond eyes trailing behind me at the store whining for Fruity Pebbles are mine. They belong to pasty white me and my pasty white husband from Detroit. They are adopted from China and we get a ton of questions when we’re out and about. These questions are usually not well-received by me, although sometimes I pretend to be nice about it.

I might see these questions as benign, funny, mildly annoying or straight-up rude. My reaction will be determined by a complicated equation factoring in time of the month, current caffeine level and the number of dumbass drivers I encountered on the road that day. The right (or wrong) mix of those three things can make me cuh-ray-zee and at those times, it is best not to ask me anything unless it sounds like “would you like wine with that?”

People ask me nosy questions about my kids in stores, at the playground, at birthday parties and in waiting rooms. Anytime I’m not moving and make accidental eye-contact, I emit invisible signals that scream “ask me something that’s none of your damn business! Go for it!”

Here’s a sampler platter:

“What’s he mixed with?”

This question interrupted my deep thoughts about whether I could get another week out of my boxed hair color root job or if I needed to schedule some time with Nice n’ Easy STAT. Seeing my look of confusion, the asker whispered:

“You know…his race.”

“He’s Chinese,” I whispered back.

I have no flippin’ clue why we were whispering; I just went with it so I could get back to worrying about important stuff, like whether or not my hair looked bad.

Also:

“He’s so smart! It’s in his genes, right?”

This was asked while my four year was contentedly licking the screen of my smart phone. I had to offer him something for entertainment so he’d behave while we were in line at the pharmacy (since I’m a slacker mom and forgot to bring toys). Oh yeah, lady. He’s writing an app with his tongue. MIT is already calling us about a full ride scholarship.

And even:

“Do they speak Asian?”

No, they speak Klingon. Seriously, Asian isn’t a language; get a clue. Who does not know this stuff?

Sometimes, it’s:

“Can he understand English?”

Maybe this is a legit question to ask someone with a Chinese kid. Unless you just witnessed the following exchange, in which case it’s kind of a dumb thing to ask me:

Kid: Mommy, I want grape soda”.

Me: No.

Kid: Awww, why?

Me: Because I said so.

Kid: No fair. You’re not my best friend, Mommy.

Nope. Kid doesn’t understand a thing I’m saying.

I get that people are curious. But curiosity gets old. In all seriousness, I try to err on the side of nice when responding to people’s questions. Mostly. When I’m well-fortified with coffee, chocolate, or booze (or all of that). I have no trouble letting someone know they’ve gotten too personal; I just don’t always snarl when I do it. I’ll give a gentler answer when I can.

The straight up MYOFB is reserved for:

“How much did they cost/where is their real mother/why didn’t their real parents want them/aren’t you afraid they’re going to turn out crazy/can you give them back/is it different than adopting a dog because I adopted a dog and that was really hard/are you still trying to get pregnant/they’re so lucky/where are they from no really where are they from?”

I’m not obligated to “gently educate” ignorant A-holes. I’m not an exclusive source of info about adoption or what it’s like to be a multi-racial family. There are plenty of places the curious can go for answers, like the Interwebs.

Aside from the fact that I don’t like interrupting my regularly scheduled programming to hold a Q & A in the health and beauty aisle, I usually choose not to answer these questions because they are not my questions. I have no idea how my kids will view the story of their beginnings or their place in our family once they’re older and have a better grasp of things. Right now it’s all about popsicles being the bestest thing ever and naps being the root of all evil. As they grow up, they may not want me sharing their story with strangers. They may not give a flying fart. Until they are old enough to decide, I choose not to share because once you put information out there, you can’t take it back.

One more:

Dry foods aisle. Lady stops to admire my boys as I hoist a 10 pound bag of rice into my cart. (This was during the fifteen minute window of the day where shirts were clean and nobody had a booger hanging, me included). She says, “I imagine they eat a lot of rice.”

Would you walk up to a Mexican family and say, “I imagine you eat a lot of tacos.” Would you???

Actually, my kids aren’t huge rice eaters. I like rice. People in shopping cart land everywhere: a good rule of thumb is to resist the urge to comment on stuff in people’s carts. Unless you routinely say stuff like, “Ooh pads, that time of the month?” or “Lactaid? My grandma is lactose intolerant, too. Milk gives her the squirts,” then keeping nosy questions to ourselves is probably the best path, hmm?

Just because “hey, I wonder” pops into our heads doesn’t mean “can I ask you” should fly out of your pie hole. You might meet me on a day when my coffee light is low and some jackass has just cut me off in traffic. Things could end badly for everyone. Cheers, people.

 

About the author

Jill Robbins

Jill Robbins

Jill writes about adoption, motherhood and midlife on her blog Ripped Jeans and Bifocals.
She has a degree in social psychology that she uses to try and make sense out of the behavior of her husband and three children but it hasn’t really helped so far. She enjoys dry humor and has a love/hate relationship with running. Her writing has also been featured on Huffington Post, Babble, Scary Mommy, In the Powder Room, and Mamalode. Jill is a BlogHer 2015 Voice of the Year and willingly answers any questions that end with “and would you like wine with that?” Hang out with Jill on Facebook. and Twitter.

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32 Comments

  • I’ve been told (by a Caucasian co-worker) that I’m not “really” Asian like his heavily accented wife, even though I’m also full Filipino. I also love it when people tell me that I married my (white) husband because I knew that my babies would be beautiful…yep I married him to make pretty kids for your viewing pleasure! And they’re smart too so there lol

    Ignorance abounds. People get shocked when they see that I don’t normally cook rice

  • Yep, ditto, I concur, heard em all!!!! And more, since my DH and I had 2 bio sons first and then adopted our 2 daughters from Guatemala. Well… heard all ‘cept the rice one, cuz we are the tacos family 😉 :p So… given the makeup of our kids, I can add… “oh, your 2nd husband must be very dark” to which I have literally bitten my tongue to restrain from saying, “I don’t know? I haven’t met him yet!?!” Another to add that you and I can share the fun in is, “Didja getem tuhgether??” To which I almost choke on my tongue not to say, “Yeah! They were havin’ a BOGO!” (as you can see, we don’t share the same love for sarcasm at all… nooo……)

  • Fucking love the line “those aren’t my questions” I never thought of it that way at all. I’m white my husband is black we have a blonde child, a brunette and a redhead. For real we don’t know how it all went down in the gene pool that night, but I have been asked on several occasions if the kids are all from different dads. Sometimes I want to answer that I don’t remember. But mostly I throw them some side eyes and blurt out NO. You rocked this blog post… Loved every bit of it. Thanks for writing it.

    • Thank you! You’re awesome for saying that. Genetics is a funny thing. What do I know, I flunked science. No joke. I have thought about telling people they’re not adopted but that I have a recessive Asian gene. I’m sure there are plenty of dumbasses that would buy that, dontcha think?

  • I have so wanted to ask the inquesitive person (especially if it is family with more then one kid) “So your kids have the same Daddy?” Just because it would be just as rude as the questions they are asking me.
    My kids are older and I no longer feel the need to answere questions unless it is a doctor for medical information. I am in my mid forties, so I fake hearing, just walk away and sometimes just “huh, what did you say” I did have one perfect moment when I shot off to the question do they speak English when I told them two differant Eourpean languages they spoke and left the questioner confused,,,,one of my finest B&&% leave us a lone moments!

  • Oh.My.God. Jill, as I read this article I think back to a recent Facebook status/post of mine. It was like I was reading my post on the Bizzaro episode of Seinfeld. And so, I feel inclined to share my post with you from the date of June 10, 2014. We have two kids, a 9 year old son and a 4 year old daughter. Both are Korean.

    For those who may not understand how interracial adoption works, allow me to explain from an interracial adoptive mother’s perspective.

    Patrick and Georgia are actually our “own.” They weren’t a consolation prize. Adopting children of a different race and ethnicity than what we are is the way we chose to form our family. Feeling “sorry” for us is offensive. Yes, we know we don’t look alike and pointing it out is unnecessary – we have mirrors. Yes, we may at times chuckle at you if we catch you staring at us (consciously or sub-consciously) trying to figure out our dynamic. No, my husband is not Chinese. Nor Japanese. No, they are not biologically related although in some ways I wish they were. And no, you may not ask what they “cost.” We are a family. We are no different than every other white couple with biological children who may or may not resemble each other. We may look different, but we are different in a good way. These two children ARE mine. In every sense of the word. So please stop trying to figure us out. There is no mystery to solve about our family. Except where Patrick left his 3-D DS.

    Oh, and P.S. My husband is also from Detroit. Too.many.parallels. 🙂

  • Wow! There really are some ignorant fools running around in this world. While I get that this is a serious issue, you did an amazing job of expressing it. You have an amazing sense of humor, loaded with tons of sarcasm. You’re my kind of people!

  • Yep, I’ve heard them all in the 20 years since we adopted our first child from India. 3 of our 5 children were adopted from India, the other 2 were not. When they were younger, we enjoyed going to a heritage camp for families with children adopted from India. At the camp, our blonde sons were the ones who were constantly stared at – once a little child looked at our son Chase and said sadly, “Wow, are AREN’T adopted?”

  • Oh my god, I laughed a lot reading this. I come from a mixed racial background. My mom was white and my dad was from China and my mom used to tell me stories all the time about people asking her if we were her kids and the best was “what did your family think?”…ummm WTF?!

    Great post.

  • Oh, wow. I already follow you on FB, etc. and love your wit, but this post makes me love you even more!! My son is my biological blonde grown son. My daughter is my young teen adopted Chinese girl. I’ve been asked so many questions through the years. I used to be pretty open if the question-asking person actually had an interest in adoption. But as my daughter grew older (she’s now 13) I rarely share anything because she’s a teen and hates the questions. The more frequently asked was if she spoke Chinese when I adopted her. She was 13 months old. I told them she was a baby and didn’t speak anything yet. Crazy people. Most are well-intentioned. It’s the uneducated who ask the stupidest questions. Their parents should have practiced better birth control. Luckily, in my suburb, it’s not such an oddity to see a Chinese child with a Caucasian parent. And… whenever I hear that she’s so lucky, I loudly protest that “NO, I’m the lucky one!!”

  • I LOVED this post. I didn’t love all the things people have said to you, but your delivery is hilarious and I am completely amazed at the things you have heard from others. Who are the people saying these things???

  • I read another post about the kind of rude questions people ask parents of adopted kids! It’s just mind-blowing that someone could be so assholey!!! 😛

  • Oh it is confession time for me.
    I have two sets of friends who adopted internationally. One set of twins from Swaziland and the others brought their little boy from Haiti.
    I was at a restaurant the other day, and say a white couple with a black boy and girl. I came within a microsecond of saying “Where did you get them from?”.
    Instead I complimented the little girl on her very lovely set of butterfly hair clips. Although I wanted to steal them both because they were so damned cute, I am glad I realized in time not to ask the question. It would have taken me ten minutes of explanation to clear that one up.
    sigh. I was almost that person, but it wasn’t meant but to start a conversation. But I suppose that is your point huh?

  • Great list! My kids are bi-racial. Half Chinese, half Caucasian. I would complain to friends about the ridiculous things strangers asked me and I think many of them didn’t believe me. In their defense, I *do* have a tendency to embellish, but still. One day I went to Sonic with a friend and our children. My kids were toddlers at the time and the young girl who brought our drinks stopped short when she saw my kids. “Ooooh,” she said, “What are they mixed with?” I gave my now-standard answer, “Love.” Her response? “That’s dope.” That is dope, indeed.

  • We are a 2 mom family with 4 children together so we get somewhat similar types of questions. Most don’t bother me at all but if I hear “which one is the REAL mom?” or “do they all have the same dad?” I have to resist the urge to punch Mr or Ms Inquisitive in the face. So to anyone who might be reading this….our children have TWO REAL moms and ZERO dads. They do, however, have a donor because I am sure that is the next question 🙂

  • I just can’t help but read “What are the mixed with”? (and all the other stuff people say) in disbelief. Oh I know there are rude idiots with no tact. But just because I know they exist, doesn’t mean it still catches me off guard when people are so blatantly ignorant and actually ask the crap that you just shouldn’t ask out loud and keep it in your head. I love your humor…

    If someone asked me what they were mixed it with, I’d probably go way snarky and say something like Hidden Valley Ranch Mix. Geesh- what are they? A freakin’ salad? I just DON’T understand!!!! I would never ask that. Good grief.

  • My BG is Hispanic and I’m pretty fair skinned. I’m actually disappointed that no one has asked me if she is my “real” daughter. I really want the chance to say “Oh thank goodness you can see her too. For a while I thought I was the only one.” Maybe one day ?. In the meantime I’m just asked if she gets her beauty from her father.

    I went 20 years of trying naturally , failed fertility treatments and a failed adoption (mother changed her mind) so they can just about ask me anything and I let it slide. Just so happy to have her in my life.