What is offensive to adoptees?
Would you as an adoptive parent ever call you child “a cute little tax deduction”? As an adoptee, are you offended?


Last year at about the time, someone posted in our online support group a picture of her Chinese adopted daughter with the tagline: Cutest Little Tax Deduction Ever. Her daughter was impishly adorable and most commenters said so, until someone commented that this was inappropriate to say about an adopted child. Then several others, including a few adult adoptees, chimed in that they thought it was out of place and harmful for adoptive parents to imply that their child was a way to make money.

This exchange bothered me. I want to be sensitive and I want to learn from adopted people how best to navigate the world of adoptive parenting, but I worried about the risk of treating our kids as if they are fragile would do more harm than good. As always when I’m trying to figure something out, I blogged about it: Do Adoptive Kids Need Parenting Kid Gloves. The comments we received, especially those from adoptees, were enlightening, but I remain unsettled.

I was thinking about it months later, and decided to talk with one of my daughters about it. She is 19 and adopted from Korea.

Me: I’d like to get your opinion on something. Around tax time, a lady in our online support group posted a picture of her 2-year-old daughter with the caption “Cutest little tax deduction ever.” What…

Dearest Daughter: [giggling} That’s funny.

Me: …What’s your opinion of this.

DD: I think it’s adorable.

Me: Does it change your opinion if her daughter was adopted because it was obvious that she was.

DD: [looking genuinely confused] Why would it?

Me: Well, some people, including some adult adoptees, think that a parent shouldn’t say something like this.

DD: But why?

Me: They think that it might imply that the parent adopted the child for the deduction or that they were treating their child as an object.

DD: So you only get a deduction if you adopt a child?

Me: No, you get a tax deduction for a child regardless how she joins the family. There is a special tax credit to help parents pay for adoption, but that wasn’t what she was talking about.

DD: I don’t get why someone wouldn’t think it was just a sweet way for a parent to show off their kid.

Later her friend Katie, adopted from China and also 19, came over to eat ice cream and bake cookies (nothing like junk food to while away an afternoon). You might remember Katie from our funny conversation 5 years ago in The Debate over Adopt-a- Programs. We continued our discussion with her.

Katie: I think it’s cute. But maybe it’s because of the way I was raised. My parents didn’t raise me to take offense to things. I guess I’m pretty secure in being Chinese and being adopted.

DD: It’s not like it’s an insult or anything. I mean people don’t go around saying “Hey, you little tax deduction” as a put down.

Katie: Yeah, plus we hear a lot more stupid things than that like “Can you see when you smile?”

DD: Some things people say are kind of funny though. “How do you blindfold an Asian”

Katie: [without missing a beat] Dental floss.

[Both girls burst out laughing.]

Katie: How do Chinese name their children?

DD: By throwing a bunch of forks down the stairs.

[More laughter, followed by more Asian jokes.]

DD: Hey, we’re like a comedy duo. Maybe we should go on the road.

Me: [more than a little aghast at the direction the conversation was going] Don’t these jokes bother you just a little. Or do you at least get tired of hearing them?

DD: Not really Mom, they’re funny and they are just jokes. They aren’t said to be mean. Everybody has something that people can laugh at. I think people need to lighten up. If they want to be upset if their mom thinks their cute and calls them a tax deduction, OK for them, but I don’t want to live like that.

Well OK then.

Truthfully, I wasn’t sure how to take the Asian jokes. Racial jokes aren’t something that I “allow”, not that I’m in the position with my older kids to do much allowing or disallowing anymore. The girls had clearly put them in the category of blond jokes (also something I hate), and just like their blond friends tell and laugh at them. I’m still thinking on that.

Jokes aside, both girls response to the “cutest little tax deduction” comment supports my general attitude that adopted kids, as a whole, are not hothouse flowers.

The Problem with Hothouse Flowers

Hothouse flowers have to be treated differently because they are fragile and can’t thrive without a lot of extra attention and care. If we go into parenting assuming our kids need to be treated like that, don’t we run the risk that they will assume that they are somehow more likely to wilt. Wilting is the opposite of thriving and I want my kids to thrive.

The problem with avoiding certain subjects and being extra careful with our words with all adopted people is that we are treating them as something “other”…as something different, and different is just a step away from lesser.

Know Your Child

I’m not sure Katie is right that her lack of taking offense is directly related to her parents. I would like to think that I’ve had some impact on my kids being fairly resilient and not taking themselves too seriously, but I suspect their God-given temperament has as much to do with it as I anything their dad and I did.

We as parents have an obligation to know our kids. If our child is on the sensitive side, then by all means avoid saying or doing things that might hurt them. One of my kids is more sensitive, less able to laugh at herself and more quick to take offense than others, and we are more careful about any teasing with her. (Not that it matters, but she is a child by birth.) If our child is insecure about their place in the family, then again, we need to be extra careful. Follow your kid’s lead, but you don’t have to apply that to all adopted people.

Not All Adoptees Are Alike

I’ve been around the adoption world long enough to know that you cannot make a blanket statement that applies to all adoptees. I hate the expression “the angry adoptee” which implies that an adopted person that complains about some aspect of adoption is “angry”. Adopted people, like all other people, can hold two emotions at once about a topic. Plenty of adopted people hate certain aspects of adoption and the way it is practiced, but are very happy with most parts of their own adoption.

Some adult adoptees take offense to the word “real” being used in reference to their biological family and for others it’s their preferred term. Some adoptees love the idea of “gotcha day” and others loathe it. And yes, some adopted people would take offense to being called a “cute tax deduction” and others would think it is adorable.

So, what do you think? Adorable or offensive? Better to avoid and be safe or is that treating our kids as hothouse flowers?


Image credit: Steven Depolo