Doesn’t the phrase “positive adoption language” just make you want to scroll on past this blog entry? How about “What not to say to an adoptive parent”? The problem with that title is that you might have said one of these things to us already and I don’t want you to feel bad! It’s okay, we understand because we’ve said a few of these things ourselves! But now that we have logged in several hours of required adoption education and know more adoptive families, we thought we’d pass along some tips on what to say or not say to an adoptive family.
1. What happened to his REAL parents?
It’s awkward to know how to refer to Leo’s biological family, especially since “biological” doesn’t roll off the tongue in conversation. But it’s best to avoid referring to them as his “real” parents, unless you’re talking about us. I remember I once asked a friend if her two adopted children were biologically related. Now I wonder why I cared! There are many people out there who were raised by a grandparent or step-parent that they consider their “real” parent. A parent is someone who raises you, and who is there for you during the good times and the bad times. Along the same lines, Leo is going to be the “real” brother of all of my children, even though he looks different and he wasn’t born into our family.
2. How much did he cost?
The sale of children is strictly prohibited. There were costs associated with having Leo join our family, but I assure you that the many days of hospital care I received for preterm labor which ended in a c-section with my firstborn was also not cheap. It’s generally not polite to ask about money, but adoption agencies are very open about how adoption expenses break down, so if you’re really curious you can click on through to our adoption agency on the right and read the information they have on the topic.
3. You must be rich to be able to afford that!
This question is related to the one above, but I want you to know that you do not have to be rich in order to be able to adopt. Adopting from foster care is usually free! If you adopt internationally, there is a tax credit to help with the costs, in addition to grants and loans that you can apply for. I have met many dedicated families who struggle with small or single incomes and have been able to adopt through working a 2nd or even 3rd job, being creative with finances, and often with the support of friends and family through fundraisers. What better way to to spend some money than to help a child have a family!
It’s difficult for adoptees to grow up hearing themselves referred to as “abandoned” and “unwanted.” Those are hard labels for person to have. As I mentioned before, the reality that leads a child to need a family is often much more complex than merely being unwanted. Even if we knew for certain that Leo wasn’t wanted by his birth parents, he is very much wanted by us. It is better to phrase the question “Do you know anything about the circumstances that led to his being available for adoption?”
5. He’s so lucky! or God created him to be your child!
As I mentioned previously, every adoption begins with a loss. Yes, he is ultimately better off in our family than he would have been if he stayed in China. But especially as he grows older, he might inwardly roll his eyes and think “Yes, I’m super lucky to have been abandoned by my parents!” Adoptees often have conflicted feelings because as much as they love their family, part of them will always wonder why they couldn’t have been raised in their birth family, or why they were unwanted. They really do not feel lucky to have ended up without a family but they feel that society tells them they can’t mourn the loss of the their birth family, they should just be happy that they didn’t grow up in an orphanage. As much as we appreciate the sentiment of saying that he’s lucky, it might be better just to say “You have a beautiful family.”
This might be my theological background, but bringing theology into things can get tricky. Do you believe that God causes everything in our life to happen for a reason? Is there one perfect plan for our life? The idea that God had a hand in the adoption is wonderful. I think we all have the desire to know that God guides us in our life. But at the same time, I think we would all be uncomfortable in saying that God somehow caused Leo’s parents to abandon him so that he could end up with our family. I think that God intends every child to be raised in their family of birth, but sometimes bad things happen and the ideal isn’t possible. We are still blessed to have him in our family, regardless of how he came to be here.
6. “My neighbor’s cousin adopted a child, and they tried to burn the house down!”
Just like the compulsion to tell a pregnant woman labor horror stories, adoptive families often get told about every adoptee who ever became a serial killer. The good news is that studies have found that adoptees fair, in general, about the same as everyone else. Some adoptees will struggle in life because of the trauma, abuse, or malnutrition they suffered early in life. But so will many people who grew up in their family of origin.
I decided to make a separate post to discuss questions and comments on adopting a special needs child, so look for that on Thursday.