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    Do Adoptive Kids Need Parenting Kid Gloves

    Dawn Davenport

    31
    Are adopted kids more vulnerable

    Is this the world’s cutest tax credit? Have I just insulted her by saying that?

    Someone posted an adorable picture of her daughter on the Creating a Family Facebook Support Group with the comment:

    Hubby is finishing up our taxes… isn’t this the cutest little tax credit you’ve ever seen? We all chimed in that she was indeed cute, but then an adult adoptee commented that she found the sentiment offensive.

    Several commenter pointed out that tax credits are available for all kids, adopted or not. The original poster (a mom to both birth and adopted kids) noted that they were taking tax credit for six kids, but at the moment she posted only this one was acting adorably, so she was chosen for the picture.  (She is also the youngest and quite frankly is cute as a bug.)

    Many commenters, including me, said that their parents had jokingly referred to them as a little tax credit. My dad said it in a loving way, and I took it in the spirit it was said – as a loving, if somewhat stupid joke. The adult adoptee did not agree. To her, and she believes to other adoptees, this statement is offensive.

    Adoption Sensitivities

    I’ve thought a lot about this exchange since then. Are adoptees as a whole so different in their relation to their parents (adoptive) that a statement like this would feel inappropriate or hurtful?

    Being called “a little tax credit” is a very common joke made by parents. As I said, my dad said it. It never occurred to me to find it offensive – lame, yes; but not offensive. The only scenario I could imagine where someone would be offended is if they believed there was a kernel of truth behind the statement. That in fact, was the situation with this adult adoptee.

    Later in the thread she commented that she felt like an object in her family. I then understood where she was coming from. Of course a statement like this, which does in fact treat a child like an object, albeit in a joking manner, triggered her feelings of hurt. No child should ever feel like they are an object. But, if I understood her perspective, she thinks that being called a tax credit is an insult to most or all adoptees, not just to those who had been treated as objects within their families.

    Parenting with Kid Gloves

    What’s the lesson here for adoptive parents? Truthfully, I’m not sure. Do we parent with kid gloves? Do we assume our children are vulnerable and in need of extra careful words? Some parents aren’t the teasing silly kind. I am. I find parenting a lot more fun when I laugh and when my kids laugh. Should I be worried that my adopted kid will be harmed by this?

    My gut tells me no. I have to believe that my kids, both by birth and adoption, will read behind the laughter in our family and feel the love, just as I did with my dad. If I single out my adopted kids for protective treatment aren’t I telling them that they are somehow more fragile and their place in our family more tenuous?

    I want to be open to learning, especially learning from adults who have been adopted. I don’t want to automatically assume that my preconceived ideas are always correct. I have no doubt that this woman would have been hurt if she had been referred to as a tax credit, but I don’t think we can extrapolate her sensitivities to all adoptees.

    I should add that I firmly believe that parents have to “read their kids”. Some kids by temperament or early life experiences are more sensitive than others to teasing of any kind. (Our eldest child has the most sensitive temperament in our house, and we do kid around with her less.) I also believe that there is loving inclusive teasing and hurtful exclusive teasing.  No parent should ever, for any reason, engage in the hurtful kind. If you’re not sure you can tell the difference, then don’t tease.

    Adoption Sensibilities

    As I was reading this thread and thinking about it afterwards, I remembered a panel of adult adoptees that I heard many years ago. The panel was all women, all international adoptees, all adopted in the 1960 and early 1970s, and none were involved in the adoption profession or had spoken to adoptive parents before. One woman explained that her adoptive family was a combination of children by birth and adoption, and off-handedly remarked that her father always said he had two home grown and two imported. The audience, almost to a one, gave an audible gasp.

    Our response was enough to make the woman stop and ask why we reacted the way we did. Several audience members tried to explain why it was an inappropriate comment. At one point she wryly asked, “Don’t you think I’d know if I had been insulted?” She concluded by saying she was glad she hadn’t been raised in such a hyper-conscious time where every word had hidden meaning because it would have made her paranoid.

    I learned a valuable lesson that day about generalizations and presumptions.

    Thoughts??

     

    Image credit: Ross Hong Kong

    02/04/2014 | by Dawn Davenport | Categories: Adoption, Adoption Blog, Blog | 31 Comments


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    31 Responses to Do Adoptive Kids Need Parenting Kid Gloves

    1. cb says:

      “Later in the thread she commented that she felt like an object in her family. I then understood where she was coming from. Of course a statement like this, which does in fact treat a child like an object, albeit in a joking manner, triggered her feelings of hurt. No child should ever feel like they are an object. But, if I understood her perspective, she thinks that being called a tax credit is an insult to most or all adoptees, not just to those who had been treated as objects within their families”

      One impression I often gtet is that when an adoptee says anything that is at all negative about their own situation, there can be a tendency for APs/PAPs to then go “Oh, she had a bad experience with her family. But I am/I’m going to be a good parent and thus her situation is not relevant to me. Phew, thank God I can safely ignore what THAT adoptee has to say. Thus any adoptee who hasn’t “had a bad experience” probably won’t care less and since my child isn’t going to “have a bad experience” then my child won’t care less”.

      Personally, my childhood was fine – it was a fairly human childhood. One thing one will note about me online is that I will NEVER say anything negative about any of my families** – I understand how the game goes down.

      **Not that there is anything negative to say as such – just in case some of you are secretly thinking “I always KNEW cb had a bad experience” lol. Yes, I am a bit cynical after years of being an online adoptee (believe it or not, I was a sweet young thing at tone time :) ).

    2. marilynn says:

      Well teasing anyone is generally only funny to the person making the joke. Then teasers insult their victim again by saying they were just kidding and can’t they take a joke – sheesh don’t be so sensitive. So now the victim is both fat and has no sense of humor – or whatever. Teasing is not funny when the teasing is at someone’s expense. So just everyone should make sure their humor is not some loving little jab that people are supposed to take as good natured ribbing. Try to be funny and nice at the same time. They go together better than nasty and funny.

      Teasing is the specialty of bullies and passive agressives.

      • Marilyn, so do I understand you correctly to say that you feel like a parent calling their child in a loving manner “a little tax credit” is a form of insulting the child or what we call in my family “mean teasing”.

    3. I loved the post. Lots of good points there and here in the comments. I loved the comment, “Don’t you think I would know if I had been insulted?” I think we should gage our audiences. I’ve got to tell you that my jokes in the machine shop are a little different than one I might drop in church. I have adopted and biological children. I have children with and without special needs. I have children with and without mental illness. They are all different and find humor/offence in different things. I try to be sensitive to that. But in my own life, I became more happy when I decided that I would not give others as much power in deciding my happiness and that I would not allow myself to be offended easily. At the end of the day, we should remember that the larger and more diverse the audience is, the more cautious we should be. And we never need to be wrong to apologize for hurting someone’s feelings.

    4. Susan says:

      I love this post – excellent discussion! If I understand correctly, what may have seemed a “benign violation” to adoptive parents, is in fact a “malign violation” to adoptees.

    5. cb says:

      One thing also is that there can be difference between someone teasing you directly, eg your dad:

      “Being called “a little tax credit” is a very common joke made by parents. As I said, my dad said it.”

      – and having someone make that same joke in front of one to others, eg someone saying in front of a large group of people.

      I have to admit I found the comment rather patronising yet I was never made to feel like an object by my OWN parents, so I wondered why I thought it so. Then I realised it is because when one is on forums with prospective adoptive parents, they can sometimes talk about finding a child in the same way they might talk about buying a pair of shoes.

      Sometimes, not everything an adoptee feels uncomfortable about has to do with their own parents – sometimes they are not always real thrilled by things some other members might say.

      Disclaimer: I am not talking about this blog, I’m not even specifically referring to another forum I’m on – I am not talking about all APs or prospective parents – just some.

    6. cb says:

      “Perhaps it is adoption humor is like this, it is okay for Chris Rock to make jokes about African-Americans, Fluffy to make fun of Hispanics, and John Pinette to make fun of folks who are fat. My daughter can make the joke with the dog picture but I shouldn’t.”

      There is probably some truth to that – I am often making light of things adoptee related but I might feel differently if it came from someone else. It would depend on the situation.

    7. Lesley Earl says:

      this is a wonderful wonderful post…I’m absolutely thrilled that such responses are being discussed with out nastiness…thank you

    8. V.C. says:

      As Dawn French says “I’ll make the fat jokes around here” or something or that ilk. It’s ok for adoptees to make jokes as they feel comfortable but never for non-adoptees to. Those who have fertility problems wouldn’t feel comfortable with the jokes of others usually but on a good day may feel able to make a joke. It really is a matter of being sensitive and having empathy – surely not too hard!

    9. T. W. says:

      i find myself without words.

    10. Dawn says:

      It’s like the dog meme’s with the adoption comments. I always thought they were cute, until I became an AP. Then I thought of how my kids would look at that. Maybe they’d think it funny, maybe they wouldn’t. Maybe it would hurt. So in some cases, yes, I think I parent with more sensitivity to the things that adoptees have told me are pain points/sensitive issues for them. Maybe that counts as kid gloves. I’d rather be sensitive to the fact that birthdays may be painful to them and I might need to adjust how I celebrate their birthday than cause them pain unneccessarily for example.

    11. Sandy, you raise a good point about money. Did you see J’s comment on this blog. Very insightful and gave me much food for thought. However, I think you’re wrong about adoptive parents speaking out about the deportation issues. There was a huge rallying cry in the adoptive parent community over a case a year or so ago. I blogged on it, and lots of other adoptive parents were involved in this case–including hiring lawyers and raising money to fight her deportation.

    12. Greg says:

      I think it’s a matter of knowing your audience. Making a comment like that to a large group on a sensitive topic is bound to offend someone. Maybe to a small private group that would fly and you’d be ok but I completely understand any backlash to it with a larger audience with many different perspectives.

    13. Elaine, I don’t know why it picks up that picture. I deleted the preview, but not sure that will remove it completely. I went back in to your original post and inserted the new link you gave me. I think the picture of the dog is funny too.

    14. J says:

      I’m an adult adoptee and also a comedian.. My house is full of inappropriate jokes and teasing – I think that’s lovely.

      That being said, yes the joke is offensive to an adoptee. Maybe not all – but it would be a safe assumption before saying something like that that we would internalize it. Reason being – no matter how AWESOME our sense of family is (and mine is) we all have some degree of abandonment/second class citizen issues. Teeny, tiny, super hidden and rare for some people – maybe – but we all have them. So a joke that’s basically around something you get in exchange for raising one of us (hooray! someone is paying me a little to be your parent!) is going to be taken in differently because yeah, for most of us on some (hopefully irrational) level, we’re afraid instead of instantly belonging we’re being done a favor.

      So yeah.. as inappropriate as I am, just knowing what I do being an adoptee I would never make a joke like that – particularly with a young one. If he/she takes a teeny, tiny grain of it in it wouldn’t be worth it to me to experiment because frankly, he/she is going to have little grains of the same concept in his/her psyche whether they want them they’re or not.

      It’s a bit like making fat/thin jokes or less-than-a-man jokes with a little girl – even if she has a heightened sense of humor and a great sense of self, she’s going to get that stuff anyway.. Why risk adding to it.

      • J, what you say makes sense. I’m going to think on this a while. Thanks for sharing and opening my mind.

      • J, as I’ve had time to think about it, I completely understand your point. [the joke is offensive to an adoptee. Maybe not all – but it would be a safe assumption before saying something like that that we would internalize it. Reason being – no matter how AWESOME our sense of family is (and mine is) we all have some degree of abandonment/second class citizen issues. Teeny, tiny, super hidden and rare for some people – maybe – but we all have them. So a joke that’s basically around something you get in exchange for raising one of us (hooray! someone is paying me a little to be your parent!) is going to be taken in differently because yeah, for most of us on some (hopefully irrational) level, we’re afraid instead of instantly belonging we’re being done a favor.]

        I was so busy being logical (tax credits apply to everyone, being treated differently makes you feel different, etc.)that I wasn’t seeing the big picture. You’ve provided that. If I understand you correctly, your point is that it might hit a little close to home and it might bother someone so why run the risk. Thank you.

    15. Anon AP says:

      Oh, sure, I wasn’t trying to lecture or anything. Just thought it was a neat way of thinking about the differences in humor and how it resonates differently depending on experience, cultural norms, etc.

      I think any time we’re in a shared, broad, public space it’s probably wise to be aware of other people’s possible boundaries, but each family and each kid is different. I try to stay pretty conservative/neutral in my jokes in public or at work or anywhere that I don’t know others’ backgrounds or sensitivities well. Usually easiest to turn the humor on myself. I may not understand or agree with the placement of some folks’ defensive walls, but I have to accept that they are in place at that spot for a reason, and they also don’t owe me an explanation. At home or with family, I know how far I can push the “benign” part of the benign violation with various individuals, and I joke differently with my brother than I do with my sister, etc. So, at the end of all that, I guess I see it as a mix. Each person is an individual with their own tolerances and boundaries, but when we’re dealing with a group, it seems easiest just to stick to milquetoast humor.

    16. Elaine says:

      I think she amused by the expression on the dogs face. The picture that popped up with your resposting not right at all.

    17. Elaine Makiej says:

      Dawn, the picture that the FB feed is showing is NOT the one my daughter is using. Can you remove the picture?

    18. Elaine says:

      Dawn, could you take down my post. The picture above is NOT the one my daughter uses. My daughter use this one: http://www.pinterest.com/pin/242561129901590712/

    19. Korrie says:

      This is very good. My brother (who was adopted) did not grow up feeling differently than the rest of us (biological). I find it odd when parents put special preference over the one who was adopted – if anything, it points out that they are not equal, whether greater or less. We were treated completely equally but if course adoption came up from time to time as it was part of our family’s story. The only time anyone ever said anything that some could find a little offensive, was when our 101 year old great aunt was visited by my brother and she couldn’t remember who he was (as with everyone in her life). She finally remembered and ex

    20. Elaine Makiej says:

      We use the terms “Factory Original” and “Aftermarket Add-Ons” to describe the difference between bio and adoptees. Humor is often in the eye of the beholder. I think greeting cards that use “you’re adopted” as the punch line are offensive whilst my teen daughter (one of the aftermarket add-ons) uses this image as one her screen savers. http://www.pinterest.com/pin/242561129901590712/

      Perhaps it is adoption humor is like this, it is okay for Chris Rock to make jokes about African-Americans, Fluffy to make fun of Hispanics, and John Pinette to make fun of folks who are fat. My daughter can make the joke with the dog picture but I shouldn’t.

      I do agree with Dawn that you need to understand what the sensibilities are of the person you are joking around with. But that isn’t just for issues surround adoption. One should be considerate and thoughtful with every person in their life in this manner.

    21. Anon AP says:

      This reminded me of this series on Slate at the moment. Here’s the first entry about what defines humor:
      http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/culturebox/features/2014/the_humor_code/what_makes_something_funny_a_bold_new_attempt_at_a_unified_theory_of_comedy.html

      which calls out the Benign Violation Theory of Humor:
      http://leeds-faculty.colorado.edu/mcgrawp/Benign_Violation_Theory.html

      I think the last paragraph in the second link does a nice job explaining why there might be disconnects between why someone people might see the joke as funny while others see it as crass.

      • Anon AP, I understand that humor differs and why it might differ. The question I’m pondering is if we should make assumptions that all our adopted kids will respond the same way and do we need to treat them differently in anticipation of our perceived ideas of their sensitivities.

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