November is National Adoption Month ??? Here, a Mom Shares How to ???Speak??? to the Adopted and Those Who Adopt With Kindness and Love.
Published: October 31, 2015
By: Stephanie Rodda
Even the most well–intentioned people rarely know how to ask about adoption or discuss adoption without “saying the wrong thing.” I’m not talking about being politically correct; I mean being sensitive about your words on a very tender subject – adoption.
I am the mother of seven adopted children. We are vastly the same and slightly different. We do not share the same skin color. We cause many people to be curious and sometimes people just want to know more about our family. People likely look at us at times and think there must be a story. They are right about that.
Sometimes people make assumptions. Sometimes people are eager to share that adoption is being experienced by a member of their family. Sometimes they themselves may be interested in adoption. And I suppose sometimes people are just nosy. There are all sorts of people and all sorts of reasons they ask.
As a younger me and a newer adoptive momma, I will admit to being more easily offended by people who didn’t know how to “speak adoption.” As time passed, I decided to try to gently educate those who seemed to have the right intentions, but the wrong words. Almost every single time we are in public someone will ask us something. I have an opportunity to teach my children how to respond by answering properly, so I try hard.
It’s important to say that at one-time adoption was often hidden as a shameful family secret. Parents who have gone through the adoption experience (both birth and adoptive) have been emotionally raked over fiery coals. Children in an adoptive family can be confused by questions from others that frankly make no sense to them.
Here are a few examples of some comments and questions we are asked:
Are they brothers and sisters?
This usually follows immediately after someone has discovered that yes, these are my children; no, they are not foster children; yes, I have adopted them. They are mine.
What the asker means is, are they biologically or birth related? That is not a terrible thing to wonder about, but it is a rather personal thing to ask, especially of a stranger in a public place. The worst part of this particular question is that it is almost always asked in the presence of my children.
When they were much younger, I can remember the looks of confusion on the faces of my children standing at a cash register at Wal-Mart while the cashier asked and everyone in the near vicinity bent their ear to hear how I would reply.
Think for a moment how such a question would sound to an adopted child. A child who has been told (correctly) that they are a part of a lovingly designed family. Whether the child has been a part of the family from infancy or they joined the family at a later age, this question challenges their bond with siblings by indicating that there is a difference in the relationship if they share the same biological parents. There is no difference. And, if you have a differing opinion, you are wrong, flat out wrong. Blood does not trump love. Blood does not guarantee love.
I usually answer, “Yes, of course they are brothers and sisters. They are all my children.” Of course there are other times when a person who actually knows our family, who is genuinely interested in us and cares for us will ask the very same question. My answer for them is different. “What you mean is, are they related by birth or biologically?” In case you are now wondering, yes, some are.
Do you have any children of your own?
What the asker means is, did I birth any children? My answer varies according to whether asked privately and by how well I know the person. I usually reinforce the concept that these seven are indeed my own. That’s the most important part of the answer. Let me tell you, we didn’t accidentally adopt a single one of them. And as a matter of fact, our hearts claimed them as our own long before we could do so legally. Some of our adoptions took years to complete. Yes! They are our own!!
The better way to ask would be, “Do you have other children besides those you’ve adopted?” The answer to that question is yes. We fostered 45 children and they hold a special place in our hearts. We also lost two children by miscarriage that we are looking forward to being reunited with in eternity. This is why I will almost always introduce myself as a “mom of many, adoptive mom of seven.”
Why didn’t their momma want them?
This question still raises my temperature a bit. I cannot answer for every situation, but, I can answer for ours. That is simply NOT the case.
I have never encountered a birth mother who did not want her child. I have met birth mothers who in spite of wanting their children realized they could not properly care for them. I have seen birth mothers who were caught up in lifestyles of addiction that had warped their ability to put their children first. I have seen birth mothers who continued to make poor choices and lost their rights to their children. I have seen birth mothers who were incapable of taking care of themselves, much less a child. I have seen birth mothers who were able to beat the odds and make the changes and raise the children they birthed. But, in my experience, I have never seen a mother who just didn’t want her children. Perhaps they are out there. If so, they are the exception, not the rule.
They are so lucky (or blessed) to have you.
The reply to that comment is easy. We are so blessed to have each other. And so we are. What we need to avoid is the implication that we have rescued them. We have indeed claimed them as our own and labored in a different manner to make them ours. But, we didn’t just feel sorry for them and take them out of pity. It is love that has forged our family together.
Recently a young adoptive couple shared an encounter with an elderly couple. The older man asked why they had adopted a black baby. His wife answered him before they could, “He was their last chance.” The young parents were astounded and quickly corrected that errant viewpoint. “He was not our last chance and we were not his. He is God’s plan for us and we are God’s plan for him.”
When considering how to speak adoption, it may be best to understand a bit about adoption culture. There are international adoptions, domestic adoptions, familial adoptions, foster adoptions, open adoptions and private adoptions. Adoption is diverse and many times involves a complicated array of emotions. Be aware of red flags before asking what you really want to know. Are you in public? Are the children within earshot? Are you crossing the lines of personal and private?
So, what can you say? How can you respond? What is a good way to give an encouraging word? There are plenty of ways. Did you know that most adoptive parents are extremely proud of their children and adoption proponents? Most of them will gladly share parts of their journey, even with a stranger. Most of them will respond with grace even when you stumble into the conversation. Most of them want to encourage a healthy interest in the beauty of adoption. It is, after all, a lovely way to build a family.
Here are some great things to say:
You have a lovely family.
This then opens the door for the parent to mention adoption if they so choose. I have often replied to such a comment when the time is right, “Thank you. We are so thankful for the miracle of adoption.” That gives the commenting person there window to ask more. Other times I can only say thank you and move on due to the place or time.
What a beautiful baby!
You may really want to know if this is a foster child, an adoptive child or a neighbor’s child. But, honestly, you don’t need to know the details of why this baby is in their arms, it is enough to know that this baby is in loving arms. Once again, the parent may offer more or an opportunity to ask more.
We are considering adoption.
To this, a parent might clarify their situation or strike up conversation or simply say, “That’s wonderful!” They also might pause and fill your ears with a glimpse of their own journey. I assure you, when it is the right time, their eyes will twinkle with delight to do so as they speak adoption.
Stephanie Rodda is a Birmingham-based freelance writer, wife and mother of seven adopted children. She blogs, speaks and writes about faith and family. She is a proponent of adoption, especially foster-adoption.