Talking About Adoption

Recently, when I was mindlessly scrolling through my social media feed, I got stuck on a (fairly innocent) post of a funny family anecdote. The kind where a parent retells a sibling conversation. This one involved one kid telling the other that they don’t belong in their family because they were adopted. (They’re not.) People commented that they were laughing so hard they were crying.

But not me. It kind of punched me in the gut & I just cried. Serves me right for spending too much time on Facebook.

I don’t often address stuff like this other than over coffee with a friend, but since my response was so strong, I felt like I had to. There are a lot of people involved in one adoption story, so it can feel awkward to share just my perspective, honestly. So, please extend grace to me?

If you read nothing else, know this: your words matter. Your words can either bless or curse. Choose to be a blessing, friend.

There are a few other things I really want you to know: 

1. Adoption jokes just aren’t funny.

It may seem cute to you, but, to my family, most of these jokes are about as funny as a race-related joke, or a joke about a caesarian section. (Significantly not funny.) If you know anything about adoption, it only happens if there is a profound loss for most everyone involved. So, yeah – just not funny.

2. Assume that any adoptive parent has likely already been told an adoption horror story, and we probably don’t need to hear the one that you know.

I love you with the love of Jesus, but I do NOT want to hear about your cousin’s friend’s sister who adopted and the kid started using drugs, and I’m not sure why you whisper when you tell me these things. If you tell me these stories, I will tell you about two people I knew who died tragically of substance abuse, although they lived with their biological, completely “normal” families. Or my two biological uncles who committed suicide. Perhaps it would have been higher risk for me to have biological children?

Here’s the thing: we read those stories in the news all the time. It’s shockingly common to read something like, “Engelbert Smith, adopted by his parents at birth, was charged with first degree murder on Wednesday…”

(This aggravates me to no end.) We don’t read things like how dear Engelbert, delivered after ten hours of hard labour that his mother never let him forget, was charged with first degree murder (maybe he murdered his mom for always holding his birth story over his head?). Ugh.  

3. Our stories are all different. 

Every single adoptee, birth parent or adoptive parent has a unique story. My story, which I choose to share, is different than my daughter’s, or her birth family’s or even my husband’s. In our extended family alone, there are three remarkably different situations, and in our immediate community of friends, there are three totally different others. We might want to share, and we might not. The story belongs to us. I share my story, because I see such incredible redemption in it. Often, the beautiful stories don’t get told, because they seem unremarkable (see #2.)

4. Real, vulnerable children are involved.

That innocent Facebook post grieved me because I’ve read so many stories of kids aging out in foster care, because although they didn’t do one single thing to land up there (kids are placed in foster care because parents couldn’t parent, not because the kids were bad), everyone believes that the kids are actually the problem. Can we stop saying things like “adopted child” or “foster kid”? Child suffices, and then we can talk about whatever situation the child has been placed in (which typically, they had no choice in.)

5. Our kids are real people too.

I grieve for every adoptive parent who has been asked inappropriate questions about their child’s background, their health history, and whether or not they knew that ADHD/ASD/Asthma/general health problems or ingrown toenails were a potential when they adopted. And also for all the kids that overheard this question being asked (based on a true story). FOR THE LOVE, PEOPLE! Chances are, most biological parents who carried their beloved babies in their womb have no sweet clue about whether these things are in their future (& most kids I’ve met with these conditions were not adopted). The reality is we wouldn’t give up our kids even if we DID know.

6. My daughter is listening, and so are your kids.

Throughout her life, my daughter is going to hear stupid things and careless comments and although she’s only 4, she already has been hurt with words from her peers, and it broke her heart.

Instead of posting on social media, here’s what I would ask you to do instead: have a conversation with your kiddos about adoption. About how God’s pretty clear about loving and advocating and caring for the orphan, and about how our words are powerful. About how kids who are adopted actually do belong in their families, and they’re there forever. How we’re called to use our powerful words for good. How, if we’re Christians, we’re all adopted in and it means that we actually do belong. Chances are, that might help change the conversation when it happens at school, and when my daughter is listening.

7. It’s my responsibility.

Ultimately, it’s my responsibility to give grace, knowing that others just don’t understand. Also, to know that I probably unintentionally say hurtful things all the time. I took all the training that told us that as adoptive parents we become advocates, helping others change culture by learning how to talk about adoption as a blessing, instead of a curse. It’s my job to teach my daughter how to respond to unthinking jokes. I need to learn how to gently correct people who make hurtful comments, because most of the time, they just don’t know.

Oh, and it’s also on us to have a sense of humour. We laugh when our doctor (who signed all our pre-adoption paperwork to say we were fit to parent, which can be a funny joke all on its own) regularly forgets that our wee girl was adopted. We laugh because so much of this journey is quirky and just plain funny if you look at it the right way.

So, are you wondering what is okay to say? Here’s a filter: would your words bless or curse my four-year old daughter? Would you want her to hear your joke or comment? Would you want your kids to repeat it to her in the classroom? Would you want someone to say those things about your own child?

Your words have power – let it be remarkable, life-giving power. Power that helps build into families, not tearing them down. Let your words be ones that empower families like ours. In a world full of not-so-kind words, we need all the good ones we can get.