How to Talk About Adoption

Ok, first I want to say this: I understand that talking to people who are into adopting can be intimidating. It certainly doesn’t help that there are plenty of blogs, tweets, and Facebook posts that contain complaints about the crazy things people have said to adoptive families. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, that’s ok, I’d rather you not know because I don’t want you to be scared of saying the wrong thing.

Well, except, maybe I do… just a little.

Here’s the thing, personally, I don’t mind you asking me any kind of crazy

Click for an entire photo essay on rude adoption comments.
Click for an entire photo essay on rude adoption comments.

questions about adoption. What I WILL mind is if you ask me a question about adoption in front of my kids that could be hurtful. In general, it’s a good rule of thumb to not ask questions or make comments about adoption in front of the kids. It’s better to just save that conversation for an adults-only situation, unless of course, you’re very good friends of the family and then you’ll know when it’s ok. Am I confusing you? Sorry. I know, it is kind of sticky and I totally understand why you would be confused.

If it helps, I feel the same way. As we’ve begun our adoption journey, I’ve been talking to a lot of different parents who’ve adopted. Some I know well and some are just random people in Facebook support groups. I’m totally scared of saying the wrong thing. I just have genuine questions that I would love to get into with others who’ve been there. I’m not talking about logistical how-to type stuff, I’m talking like “how do I navigate the psychological implications of having a non-biological kid” type of stuff. I’d love to pose some heart-wrenching questions to these folks but I’m scared silly to do so.

This is really unfortunate because WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT ADOPTION. We need to be spreading ACCURATE INFORMATION. Here’s why: when we (the advocates of adoption) don’t allow people to ask questions about adoption, they get the information from other people who have NO idea what they’re talking about. So we can’t get all bent out of shape when people ask us personal questions or use the wrong lingo. We need to have grace here.

Now, on the other end, if you’re the one who’s not adopting but has questions, here’s what I have to say to you: ASK ASK ASK! Just remember what I said earlier about asking in front of the kids. It’s awkward and kids just don’t have the emotional capacity to understand you’re coming from a good place. All they hear is: someone else noticed that I’m different than the rest of my family. Especially in a grocery store check-out situation. That’s awesome that you think that the family in front of you is beautiful, go ahead and say that. Or just smile and be friendly. Your support is assumed. Just don’t compliment a specific child on how they look when it’s obvious that you’re noticing their aesthetic difference from their family. You can just leave that out.

(Side note: I know it’s ok that kids have aesthetic differences from their family and their family should be doing everything in their power to help them make peace with being different, it’s just not fun to be reminded that you are constantly being noticed as different everywhere you go… you got me?)

If you are a curious bystander or supportive friend/family member of someone who is adopting and you’d like to know some of the best ways to articulate your questions about adoption, here’s some lingo that might be helpful for you:

Positive Language in Adoption

Birth Mother, First Mother
Birth parent
Birth child
My child
Born to unmarried parents
Terminate parental rights
Make an adoption plan
To parent
Adoption triad or circle
Child placed for adoption
Child with special needs
Was adopted

Negative, Outdated, or Inaccurate Language in Adoption

Real parent
Natural parent
Own child
Adopted child; Own child
Give up
Give away
To keep
Adoption triangle
An unwanted child
Handicapped child
Is adopted

Is that helpful at all? I hope it didn’t make things more confusing. I really mean it when I say that I hope you will ask questions and get curious about adoption. Orphans need advocates. Not all of us will adopt but we can at least spread accurate information and positive experiences to encourage those who do. This also offers an opportunity to learn about ways to help orphans beyond adopting. Thank you for reading. I hope you continue to get curious about adoption!


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