How to Approach and Talk to Adoptive Parents
November is Adoption Awareness Month:
Adoptive families. You see them because they are conspicuous; they don’t “match.” You know them because they are family, friends, or acquaintances. Being curious is natural, but sometimes it gets the better of you and you approach them, because darn it—you’re just dying to know.
Adoptive parents may find themselves the focus of attention, simply because they chose to form their families through adoption. Those who have adopted internationally or trans-racially find themselves under more scrutiny and approached more often.
Usually, non-adoptive parents don’t realize that they’re being intrusive and possibly disparaging with the questions and comments they direct to adoptive parents. They aren’t familiar with the words that express positive adoption feelings or empower a positive perspective. Certain terms and phrases, well intentioned most of the time, rankle the adoptive parent by implying that a family formed through adoption doesn’t measure up to the traditional family.
On the other side, many adoptive parents aren’t always good at answering the questions, especially when they are asked by a stranger or in the company of their child. Keep in mind that how something is said reflects how the person saying it feels. When approaching the adoptive parent about her family, remember these things:
• The details about how the family has come together are private.
• The adoptive parent expects you to respect their privacy.
• These are the adoptive parent’s children.
• Let’s start with some of the big bombs—what not to do.
Don’t say anything along the line of “God bless you!”or “You’re an amazing person to do this.”
In, Shared Fate: A Theory and Method of Adoptive Relationships, H. David Kirk found that 92 percent of adoptive parents have been called “saints” in one form or another. Adoptive parents aren’t saints. They’re parents. This type of praise makes the adoptive parent uncomfortable. It also implies that the adoptive parent is an exceptional person to have adopted. They’re not.
Don’t use the word “real” to qualify the adoptive family relationships—as in “real mom,” “real dad,” “real parent,” “real child,” or “real sibling.”
Adoptive parents and adoptive families are as real as birth parents and birth families. The word “real” implies that the relationships within the adoptive family are not real. This isn’t the case. The relationships within the adoptive family are as true and as permanent as in any other.
“They’re so lucky!”
This may be the top contender for cringing among adoptive parents. Like non-adoptive parents, adoptive parents consider themselves to be the lucky ones. They have a beautiful child to raise and enjoy.
Don’t use phrases like, “one of your own,” “your own” or ask “Which one is yours?” or “Are they sisters?”
Statements and questions like these devalue the relationships within the adoptive family. They address the dissimilarities, especially within the multi-ethnic families. The adoptive parent knows that the relationships within her family transcend blood and genetics.
So, how do you talk to an adoptive parent? Say:
• Parent, mommy, daddy, sister, brother, etc. to describe adoptive family members.
• Birth parents, birth father, birth mother for describing the man and woman who conceived and gave birth to the child.
• Was adopted instead of is adopted.
• My child instead of adopted child or own child.
• Placed for adoption or made an adoption plan instead of orphaned, given up, unwanted, or abandoned.
They want to be seen as a family, not judged as an adoptive family. Be a PAL to the adoptive parent. Use Positive Adoption Language and be considerate when striking up a conversation with them. They’ll appreciate it.
Judy M. Miller lives with her husband and four children. Judy’s essays and articles have appeared in parenting magazines. Her story, “Souls Speak,” is featured in A Cup of Comfort for Adoptive Families (Adams Media). “Healing the Roots of Our Grafted Tree” is featured in Pieces of Me: Who Do I Want to Be? (EMK Press).