See That Obviously Adoptive Family at the Mall You Want to Compliment? Read This First.

Shopping galleryThe holidays can be emotionally loaded for anyone. They are often especially confusing and challenging for adopted children and adults who were adopted.

When my family is out and about around the holidays, we often get the head-cocked, lips pressed together in a slight smile, starry-eyed stare that says the very sight of our transracial family has given someone Feed The Worldgrade goose-bumps.

“You’re family is so beautiful,” they tell me.

They are right about that in the literal sense:  my kids’ gorgeousness (brag I) totally cancels out my husband’s and my middle-aged, pre-hipster nerdiness. But I am pretty sure when they say “beautiful” with tears sprouting, they mean something else.

“Those kids are so lucky to get a Christmas this year.”

There it is!

By beautiful, they mean “something that makes me feel good about humanity.”

I understand the desire to feel merry during the holidays, to believe that the magic of a season has the power to spread infinite cheer. But my kids — and kids like mine — do not want the job of affirming that notion for anyone, much less total strangers. Nor should any adoptive parents assume such a role (largely because it’s untrue and, more importantly, because it chooses the comfort of strangers over the comfort of our own children).

Before you head out for your Hanukkah or Christmas Eve shopping, cocooned in the glow of twinkly lights, jovial music and Hallmark expectations (and I’m right there with you), please try and understand that warm fuzzies over families like mine could potentially be hurtful to the children. Furthermore, there’s no way for you to know if any of the other adults with the children might also be a birth or first parent. Your compliments to the adoptive parents could be quite hurtful to everyone else. To cap it off, please consider how it feels for non-adopted siblings to watch as random strangers fawn all over their adopted siblings.

It’s also quite possible that the family wasn’t even formed by adoption in the first place. You can’t always know for sure.

I encourage you to take a look at how these adult adoptees, birth/first parents, and non-adopted siblings process adoption and family, especially at this time of year:

Lost Daughters shares about the cruel expectation that adoptees should just “move on” emotionally.

Musings of the lame talks about how it feels to have placed a child for adoption and the triggers that holidays can cause.

That Adopted Girl shares a moving reflection about the year guilt in particular triggered her on Christmas.

The Not So Secret Life of an Adoptee describes with unforgettable power years when Christmas sent her spiraling and the shift that moved her to celebrate instead.

Those Four Little Words presents adoption from the view of a non-adopted sibling in this interview with Sarah Gross, who made the documentary Brown Bread about her family formed through birth and adoption.

Enjoy your holiday season and all the fun (and frazzling) preparations. From now on, though, please leave the warm-fuzzies up to old movies where angels get their wings and Grinchs’ hearts grow three sizes.