How NOT To Drop The ‘A Bomb’ (The 3 Minute Adoption Etiquette Guide)

by Elizabeth Hunter on November 20, 2012

Unless you were adopted yourself, or are the parent of an adopted child, chances are you probably don’t realize just how often adopted children bear the slings & arrows of insensitive adoption comments from friends, neighbors, strangers, and the media every day.

Here’s a super simple guide to the 7 most important things you need to know to avoid  accidentally saying or doing something to confuse, worry, or hurt an adopted child.

Please share in honor of National Adoption month…

7 Ways to Avoid (Accidentally) Dropping the A Bomb on an Adoptive Parent

Over the past seven years, I’ve struggled to keep my jaw from dropping open on an almost daily basis as intelligent and well meaning people–most total strangers, some friends– have approached me at every random place & time with huge warm smiles on their faces and then proceeded to unintentionally drop the A bomb (as in, insensitive adoption comment) in front of my adopted children.

Not once in seven years have I had the presence of mind to respond.  Not once.  (although I’ve spent countless hours designing calm, witty and wise comebacks in my head afterwards).

What was my problem?  Looking back, I can see now that I wasn’t tongue tied, just  busy. Usually doing one of the following things:

  1. trying not to cry (“When are you going to have children of your own ?”)
  2. trying not to yell (“Do you run a daycare?”)
  3. changing a diaper in an unsanitary public restroom (“How much did it cost for her?”)
  4. desperately trying to distract my children so they wouldn’t confused by the intruder’s comment (“Are they REAL brother and sister?” “Are they yours?” “Where do they come from?”)

As my children get older, I see them becoming more and more aware of what’s being said.  And I worry.  How can this be good for their self esteem?  Their feelings of security?  Their confidence in themselves?

I’m definitely not a fan of an uber uptight, whiny, politically correct approach to life.

And yet…

An innocently intended &  random comment, like, “Are they yours?” (no, I just found them in the freezer aisle! think about it.)  can have a powerful impact on a child.

So here are the 7 most crucial rules of adoption etiquette every considerate person should know about:

Rule #1: When the urge to approach an adoptive family whom you don’t know in a public place hits you: Stop!

Count to ten. Take a deep breathe.  Then answer the following question: what is my motivation for doing this?   Am I  curious?  Do I want to tell them how ‘great’ I think adoption is (they know this or they wouldn’t have adopted ).  How wrong it is? Do I want to tell them about my coworker’s sister who adopted?

Recognize that while these are all fine,  they are your needs, and may not be in the best interests of the adoptive family at that moment. Before approaching, assess how you might be received. Pay attention to the setting and the action. Will your conversation be a delight to an adoptive parent who is changing diapers, choosing pumpkins, reprimanding a child, or laughing together over a private joke? Bottom line?  Ask yourself, ‘would I want me to come over and say what I plan to say right now?’ Only approach if the answer is a resounding, YES!

Rule #2: Don’t initiate a conversation about adoption when there are adoptive children present.

I can’t state this strongly enough: If adoptive children are anywhere within earshot  do NOT initiate a conversation about adoption. It’s just not appropriate.

You may inadvertently introduce words or phrases or vital information that the child doesn’t fully understand yet. Even very young children pick up the mood or tone of a conversation, and understand that their family is being repeatedly singled out.   If it is a transracial or transcultural adoption, the children have most likely heard comments from other children at school pointing out their differences (That’s not your real mother!  That’s not your real brother!) and are already struggling to understand how the world sees them and their place in it.  Children need security. They need to be told about adoption from their parents. It’s complicated.  It’s sensitive.  Children are smart and incredibly aware. This is not ‘small talk.’ It is very very  big talk. Avoid it.

Rule # 3 Words are kryptonite.

Just like Superman had his kryptonite, words are the young child’s secret weakness. So choose your words with the ears and heart of a child. Children do not yet have the life experience which creates associations and subtler meanings in language,  If you say to the mother of two adopted children, “Are they yours?” what you  really mean of course is “are they your biological children?” But this question can provoke a much more primal, fear based response when overheard by an adopted child  who was abandoned,  raising disturbing questions in their mind  like –”Do I belong here?‘ ‘Where do I belong?”
Also listen to the words used on TV show plotlines where one child punishes another by telling them “you were adopted!” and  ads for  “pet adoption” events with the ears of a child.

Rule #4: Bring adoption into the intimate places in your life.

The  best thing you can do to avoid accidentally saying or doing something boneheaded with an adoptive family is to reach out to an adoptive family.  They may look fine, but often adoptive families feel isolated, different and alone.  Especially in the beginning.  So invite the woman who is in the process of adopting a child to your new moms group. Offer to take that family with the new adopted child a meal when they get home. Take the first step. Not only will this make them feel SO much better, it’s the best way to get all your questions answered about adoption!

Rule # 5: Try not to idealize.

Far and away the most frequent comment me and my husband get about adoption is “You are so amazing (for adopting)!”  I estimate hundreds of people have said this to me over the years.

And yes, I am aware I do have four adopted children from two different continents, so maybe I am asking for trouble….(people also said this when I had only one adopted child) but for the record…

Adoption is not a charity thing.   Parenting adopted children is not drugdge work for which we deserve a medal.  Its a joy!! Just like any parent, we get way more than we give.  Plus many of us could not have been parents otherwise.

So…can you –pretty please– stop saying this?  :)

Rule #6: Move towards differences that make you uncomfortable.

This is weird, but profound. Don’t most of us decide in life that there are “comfortable” and “uncomfortable” differences? For instance, we may be comfortable with diversity in terms of race but not with someone who is gay.  Or we may be okay with both of these but NOT okay with transgendered people.  Or maybe we’re okay with all these.  But I promise you,  unless you’re Jesus, Gandhi or spend several hours daily meditating for world harmony, we all have our unconscious limits.

Be ruthlessly honest: do you have an immediate 100 percent positive reaction to the man with one leg, child with severe Down syndrome, the seriously overweight person, the very very tall person, the person with a thick accent, the boy who dresses like a girl in your child’s class?

Begin noticing your reflexive negative reactions to differences in your day to day life. Then start busting your comfort zones open when reacting to ALL differences you encounter. Train yourself to appreciate the wild untamed beauty of this ridiculously, crazily, overflowingly diverse world we live in–from the gzillion wildflowers in the field to the kindergartener who wears thick glasses.

How will this help adopted children?   in my own kids’ school–an incredibly liberal, enlightened, nurturing place where 99% of all families are white–the vast majority of parents have, in the interests of being “color blind,” never brought up the subject of diversity with their kids as it arises naturally. Instead they (falsely) believe they are doing my family a favor by trying not to see diversity at all.

This just makes their child’s first encounter with my four children of color all the more novel  & noteworthy. And it makes my children have to bear the brunt of their children’s natural curiosity, edgy comments and questions. Why not start early getting comfortable with what makes you uncomfortable?  Over time, your kids will pick up that you dig diversity as one of the joys of being alive & the natural order of things, not the exception.

Rule #7:   Don’t buy into limiting stereotypes about adopted children.

Adoption is a huge thing. A profound, wrenching disruption at a crucial time. Adoption always involves some loss. But so do many other situations children experience: imperfect parenting, divorce, death, illness, any major life disruptions, abuse, poverty.

So many people tell me they don’t want to adopt because the children come with ‘baggage.”  Really?  Who doesn’t?   Yet no one goes around screaming, “Your parents are divorced so give it up, you are damaged goods.”  How can we do that to our adopted children?    A culture that tells children they are forever damaged is arguably as damaging or MORE damaging than the initial disruption and wound of adoption.

Keep an open mind.  Don’t assume anything.  Always allow for the possibilities of healing,  redemption, resiliency, creative use for past pain, & transcendence.  And never ever underestimate the (yes I said it) power of love.

And finally (for Extra Credit)…

Rule #8: Lighten up.

Note to any person who has ever said or done one of the above mentioned things to me or another adoptive parent.  Please know: We love you and we don’t blame you.  A generation ago adoption was this big dark secret, rarely talked about. So how were  any of us supposed to know how to talk about adoption in a considerate way?  But now you have some tools.   And thank you for reading all the way to the end of the article,  it’s impressive.  It shows you care. Which in the end is what really matters    xo Elizabeth.

Please share your own etiquette tips and how you are celebrating National Adoption Month in the comments below.

{ 37 comments… read them below or add one }

tim November 20, 2012 at 7:33 pm

great pictures
just shared them here in the office

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Michele Theberge November 27, 2012 at 2:27 am

My jaw dropped when I read some of the things people have said to you. “How much did it cost for her?”

Wow.

So please forgive me but I will never stop thinking of you and Tim as amazing for adopting. Not because I think it is a “charity thing” but because of all the extra stuff you have to deal with to be adoptive parents. Some people get a little tipsy on Valentine’s day and 9 months later along comes baby Melinda. You traveled to different continents, filled out endless paperwork, submitted yourselves to scrutiny, waited and waited, and so much more that I am sure I don’t know. So, sorry, still think you are AMAZING.

XO

Michele

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elizabeth hunter November 27, 2012 at 7:35 pm

Okay, Michele, if you insist…:) hugs, Elizabeth

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Tracy Jennings November 27, 2012 at 5:05 am

Elizabeth —- EXCELLENT !!!! Not only the content … but I just love the way you write.

# 2 is SO SO SO SO SO RIGHT-ON …. AND SHOULD BE SO EASY FOR PEOPLE . But it’s not …

I think a possible addition to not dropping the A-Bomb is for people to realize our children’s stories are private …. they are personal …. their circumstances and what they know / we know — it’s to be protected and cherished. We do not as parents, nor do our children, “owe” anyone their story.

Well done !

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elizabeth hunter November 27, 2012 at 7:34 pm

Thanks Tracy. That’s a good one. Our children’s stories ARE so intimate and personal. And so fundamental to their own identity. We must do everything in our power to protect them. xoe

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T November 30, 2012 at 9:54 pm

HAPPY CONCLUSION TO ADOPTION AWARENESS MONTH!

I hope that your children are privy to their own stories – that their stories are not sooo private and personal that they can’t know about their own creation, while their peers get to learn about their own as they grow up. As you said, it’s fundamental to their own identity. I hope they are able to keep in touch with their birthparents and know something about them. Their stories are so intertwined with who their birthparents are and their impression of their birthparents. It’s best for their stories to be based on facts rather than secretive fantasy. Even if the secretive fantasy is for their protection, it won’t protect them. Rather, it will hinder their personal development and their ability to trust their decision-making skills.

They also have a right to their biological family’s medical history – it’s their medical history. If you don’t have it, you should try and get more information. You, as their parents, should have access to medical information about their birthfamilies (past and as they arise). It can help you (and them) make better decisions about their health needs. Their health needs will be different from yours. Don’t guide them into only relying on medical information that’s relevant to you and not them.

A couple comments about Rule #6:
1) Why are you criticizing the parents and other children in the school you chose for your children? You should actually be criticizing yourself for putting your children in that school and subjecting your children to that treatment and that sort of environment. If your community is so unfamiliar with your family’s diversity, then you’re in the wrong community for your family. Move your children to a neighborhood and a school where they would not have to “bear the brunt” of these awkward encounters constantly. Did you think about these things before you adopted these children??? Don’t put your children in such a hostile place to develop their sense of emotional safety and self-confidence. Maintaining privacy won’t make the environment better for them, but more ashamed. Move them to where people are familiar with diversity, ethnicity, where your children will be able to grow as normal people, where all of you can feel more open and trusting. You adopted kids so you could become parents, not to educate society, correct? Don’t make your children fight the “xeno” or “difference” battles you haven’t had to fight, don’t understand, and don’t know how to deal with. Don’t use your children as an educational tool for your community – that is unfair to your children and should not become the focus of their adoption.

2) Follow your own advise – Bust your own comfort zones so that your children can grow up with more continuity. You should move closer to their roots. Live for a year or so in each of their continents of origin. Someplace where they can learn the language and customs of their homeland, of their birthparents, of their roots, and come to make better sense of their trajectory in this world. You should learn those languages too. Help them to grow from their roots, don’t take away their roots. Don’t take them so far away from their roots, language, culture, so that they’ll never have a real option of going back or learning more if they want to (or maybe that’s your true wish – to keep them from being able to really go back). Remember, they had no choice in being taken from their country, continent, and original community to come and live in your world and speak your language. Regardless of the adoption situation, they have all experienced a profound loss and have been forced to rely on strangers to make the best decisions for them, so that they can make their own choices later on. Don’t let them down. Strengthen them from their roots and their insides so that they can be confident they can rely on themselves. Build their strength from their truth. They have already lived a vastly different life from yours and every day of their life will be different from yours. Your life experiences and wisdom will help them little in their lives. Find them people whose life experiences and wisdom can be a better role model for your children. I’m sure it’s wonderful and fascinating to watch your children grow up and how much you’re learning from them. It’s isn’t about you. It’s about building them up and preparing them for life on their own, with or without you. Don’t barricade them from resources and people they can relate to and then blame your surroundings for not understanding.

Do what is best for them. They’ve already lost so much – not their fault. But by intentionally adopting them, you’ve taken on this responsibility. Help them be able to retain as much as possible. Help them to come to terms with their loss as honestly and compassionately as possible. Their adoption is about their loss, their well-being, their future. They’ve been stripped of a mother, the connections, community, and history that can never be replaced (and shouldn’t be replaced). To better serve these children, we should built on top of their existing mother (or what impression is left of her), these connections, these children’s communities, and their history. In too many cases, adoption is about erasing and replacing rather than enhancing whatever foundation already existed. For all those women for whom childbearing wasn’t possible, I’m sorry for your loss. Really, I am. But, adoption isn’t about your loss. You ALWAYS had the choice not to adopt. These children had NO CHOICE in losing their mother, family, community, and sometimes language, country, ethnic heritage. So no, I don’t feel like adoption is so AMAZING. These children have already lost a lot in their short lives. Adoption sometimes creates more loss than before, loss that these children will have to cope with for the rest of their lives. Adoption makes these losses permanent and abrupt, usually to accommodate the lives and egos of the adoptive parents. I wish people would be more conscientious and have more foresight BEFORE they make a lifelong and life-altering decision to adopt. Your decisions profoundly affect the lives of these children and their families.

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Susan Whelan November 27, 2012 at 2:13 pm

Right on, Sister! Excellent advice and writing too. We experienced all of the above but the one I got so often that I came up with a response was, “Are they real sisters?” Hell yes! They are real sisters in that complicated love/hate sister way. My response became, “Oh, yes, they really are sisters but they are not biologically related.” Must have projected a bit of an edge because they usually went away shamefaced and hopefully never made that mistake again.

The kids have gotten SO big! Always great to see new pix of them. Happy Holidaze to you all!
XOXO Susan

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elizabeth hunter November 27, 2012 at 7:32 pm

Thanks Susan. Yes, you have to get creative in how you respond. I have not been too good at that (Which is why I needed to write this article :)) xoe

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Laura Cannon November 27, 2012 at 8:54 pm

When people ask, “Are they yours?” I simply answer “yes.” It’s usually not the answer there were looking for, and it forces them to rephrase their question more accurately and appropriately. It also communicates to my children all the good things they need to know about our family. It’s easy and low stress, and gives me time to phrase a good answer if they decide to try again.

Short, truthful answers delivered with a smile are all you owe askers. There is no need to stress yourself out packaging adoption for their understanding. If people are genuinely curious, they can do the work of making an appropriate inquiry.

Finally, from all I’ve read, children don’t appreciate parents telling their story to random strangers. So, again, simple answers are best!

Good luck, and thanks for sharing,
Laura

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sue at nobaddays November 27, 2012 at 10:17 pm

Great article – just shared it with my Facebook friends. I loathe the “You are amazing!”comments too. And while my adopted son is only 18 mo, it was a timely reminder that repeatedly talking about his story within his earshot is not ideal. I have a 7 yo biological son too, and the other comment that people make that drives me crazy is: “How do they get along?” Are you kidding me?! Like brothers!

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Adoptive Mama November 28, 2012 at 8:09 am

A tip: a lot of people ask about my daughter’s “orphanage,” which has a lot of negative connotations. A more gentle name to use instead of “orphanage” is “baby home.” Her baby home is actually called a “children’s home of happiness and peace.”

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elizabeth hunter November 28, 2012 at 12:34 pm

Lovely one. I will use that. :)

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Catana Tully November 28, 2012 at 9:13 pm

Hi Elizabeth,
I have read several of your posts and find they always are right on the mark. I am a much older exotic adoptee and did not have the luxury of a sensitive community. My parents, as much as they loved me, didn’t see the need to protect me, as it were, from rude questioners. It was protection enough, I suppose, that they were White. I was never able to confront inquisitive people who wanted to know why I ended up with White parents, and always responded honestly, although I invariably felt invaded and violated. Not until I was in my early fifties, and after years of therapy, could I set a little niece in her place by not giving her the answer she wanted. I felt I had crossed a huge milestone; had accomplished a major feat.

Your children are little, but it is never too early to strengthen their backbone with, perhaps at first “canned responses.” I would just let them know that their personal life is no one’s business. People are curious? So what!

As your children start to question a lot of things, they may not share with you their ultimate pain and grief: that their mother, whose body carried them for nine long months, could just have walked away from them. It’s this profound sense of abandonment that is most painful and is never sufficiently, if at all, addressed. This primal would can never be overcome.

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elizabeth hunter November 30, 2012 at 2:33 pm

Thank you for sharing your wisdom and experience, Catana. It gives us all a really good perspective.

I am SO sorry that you did not have the support to fully grieve and move into the pain of your early abandonment. You are right, I can only imagine, but never really know, the depth of your loss and the loss of each of my children.

That is why so much of the focus of my work with adoptive mothers is to help them do their own inner work–often dealing with shame and grief at infertility–so that they do not send an unconscious message to their adopted children that “mom can’t handle your complicated feelings of loss of your biological mother.” It’s a huge piece of work for many adoptive mothers. I know it was for me.

I DO believe that when we as adoptive mothers clear our own inner conflict and pain, our children start to feel safe sharing their feelings with us. And that opens up new possibilities of healing and transformation for us all. Don’t you think?

Please continue to share your valuable perspective in our community…xo Elizabeth

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Robin Frisella November 29, 2012 at 11:22 am

Beautifully written. There are several ‘life lessons’ in this post that apply to everyday life!

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elizabeth hunter November 30, 2012 at 2:25 pm

Thank you :) xoe

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Teresa November 29, 2012 at 1:35 pm

Hi, I have one question about one of the things on your list. Is “Are they yours?” always taken as a hurtful comment or does it depend on context? I ask because I am a member of a large family (with no adopted kids), and people ask us “Are they all yours?” all the time. (Sometimes in an unkind how-dare-you-bring-that-many-polluting-things-into-the-world kind of way, but frequently by older people who go on to tell us about their own large family and how they wish they saw more large families.) So if I were to point at a bunch of kids (same color as you or not) and ask “Are they yours?” I would be asking “Are some of them your next-door neighbors or the kids from your daughter’s soccer team?” But if it’s always going to be taken in a negative way, I’ll try to stop saying it.

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elizabeth hunter November 30, 2012 at 2:25 pm

Good question. When in doubt, always follow Rule #2: If there are adoptive children present, do not ask this question. I get that it’s often totally innocent, but it could be misunderstood and cause anxiety in an adopted child. So why not play it safe? Thanks for asking. :) xoe

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Nancy November 30, 2012 at 7:32 pm

I am a “normal” adopted kid. Old now. Don’t underestimate you children’s ability to cope. My parents adopted seven children and had two of their own. I was always asked if I was a “real” child. I decided that I was real, but on my own terms. I have been independent, stubborn, and adventure prone all my life.
I am also a retired college teacher, a (pretty) good mother, and have been married to the same man for 36 years.
Sadly people may even mean well…but then there are so many idiots…

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T November 30, 2012 at 9:59 pm

HAPPY ADOPTION AWARENESS MONTH!

I hope that your children are privy to their own stories – that their stories are not sooo private and personal that they can’t know about their own creation, while their peers get to learn about their own as they grow up. As you said, it’s fundamental to their own identity. I hope they are able to keep in touch with their birthparents and know something about them. Their stories are so intertwined with who their birthparents are and their impression of their birthparents. It’s best for their stories to be based on facts rather than secretive fantasy. Even if the secretive fantasy is for their protection, it won’t protect them. Rather, it will hinder their personal development and their ability to trust their decision-making skills.

They also have a right to their biological family’s medical history – it’s their medical history. If you don’t have it, you should try and get more information. You, as their parents, should have access to medical information about their birthfamilies (past and as they arise). It can help you (and them) make better decisions about their health needs. Their health needs will be different from yours. Don’t guide them into only relying on medical information that’s relevant to you and not them.

A couple comments about Rule #6:
1) Why are you criticizing the parents and other children in the school you chose for your children? You should actually be criticizing yourself for putting your children in that school and subjecting your children to that treatment and that sort of environment. If your community is so unfamiliar with your family’s diversity, then you’re in the wrong community for your family. Move your children to a neighborhood and a school where they would not have to “bear the brunt” of these awkward encounters constantly. Did you think about these things before you adopted these children??? Don’t put your children in such a hostile place to develop their sense of emotional safety and self-confidence. Maintaining privacy won’t make the environment better for them, but more ashamed. Move them to where people are familiar with diversity, ethnicity, where your children will be able to grow as normal people, where all of you can feel more open and trusting. You adopted kids so you could become parents, not to educate society, correct? Don’t make your children fight the “xeno” or “difference” battles you haven’t had to fight, don’t understand, and don’t know how to deal with. Don’t use your children as an educational tool for your community – that is unfair to your children and should not become the focus of their adoption.

2) Follow your own advise – Bust your own comfort zones so that your children can grow up with more continuity. You should move closer to their roots. Live for a year or so in each of their continents of origin. Someplace where they can learn the language and customs of their homeland, of their birthparents, of their roots, and come to make better sense of their trajectory in this world. You should learn those languages too. Help them to grow from their roots, don’t take away their roots. Don’t take them so far away from their roots, language, culture, so that they’ll never have a real option of going back or learning more if they want to (or maybe that’s your true wish – to keep them from being able to really go back). Remember, they had no choice in being taken from their country, continent, and original community to come and live in your world and speak your language. Regardless of the adoption situation, they have all experienced a profound loss and have been forced to rely on strangers to make the best decisions for them, so that they can make their own choices later on. Don’t let them down. Strengthen them from their roots and their insides so that they can be confident they can rely on themselves. Build their strength from their truth. They have already lived a vastly different life from yours and every day of their life will be different from yours. Your life experiences and wisdom will help them little in their lives. Find them people whose life experiences and wisdom can be a better role model for your children. I’m sure it’s wonderful and fascinating to watch your children grow up and how much you’re learning from them. It’s isn’t about you. It’s about building them up and preparing them for life on their own, with or without you. Don’t barricade them from resources and people they can relate to and then blame your surroundings for not understanding.

Do what is best for them. They’ve already lost so much – not their fault. But by intentionally adopting them, you’ve taken on this responsibility. Help them be able to retain as much as possible. Help them to come to terms with their loss as honestly and compassionately as possible. Their adoption is about their loss, their well-being, their future. They’ve been stripped of a mother, the connections, community, and history that can never be replaced (and shouldn’t be replaced). To better serve these children, we should built on top of their existing mother (or what impression is left of her), these connections, these children’s communities, and their history. In too many cases, adoption is about erasing and replacing rather than enhancing whatever foundation already existed. For all those women for whom childbearing wasn’t possible, I’m sorry for your loss. Really, I am. But, adoption isn’t about your loss. You ALWAYS had the choice not to adopt. These children had NO CHOICE in losing their mother, family, community, and sometimes language, country, ethnic heritage. So no, I don’t feel like adoption is so AMAZING. These children have already lost a lot in their short lives. Adoption sometimes creates more loss than before, loss that these children will have to cope with for the rest of their lives. Adoption makes these losses permanent and abrupt, usually to accommodate the lives and egos of the adoptive parents. I wish people would be more conscientious and have more foresight BEFORE they make a lifelong and life-altering decision to adopt. Your decisions profoundly affect the lives of these children and their families.

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Noelle December 1, 2012 at 3:04 am

What a lovely article. I have two thoughts after reading through this and the following comments. For reference, my sister and I were adopted into a family…we were brunettes, they were blonde. My mom got asked CONSTANTLY….”are they all yours???” (to which she always sweetly replied, “Yep! They’re all mine!” Her answer always helped, but I truly disliked when people asked that because it just made me wonder if I really belonged. Because if I DID, then why did people always ask that? It wasn’t easy, as a kid, to read between the lines and know if people meant it positively or negatively.

Interestingly, as a mom of 5 bio kids, I get asked this question a lot too (since it’s more than the average, I suppose). I NEVER mind being asked this and my kids don’t mind it either, but it’s because there is no question in anyone’s minds where they belong. And I am FINE with being over the average on number of kids, and if I’m blessed with an adopted child at some point, I’ll be be fiercely proud and thankful. But as an adopted child, that question lingered for a very long time, and questions just never helped. No one who asks means intentional harm, but in the case of adoption, harm is sadly likely.

Another thing: my mom was also told CONSTANTLY that she was amazing. She WAS/IS!! But it had an unwanted effect on me as an adopted child. Over the years, it made me feel angry and resentful….my thoughts were, “If she really WANTED us, then why is it so AMAZING that she raised us?” and “Why is SHE always the amazing one? I suffer the pain of abandonment every day, and no one ever thinks that’s one bit amazing.” Don’t get me wrong, I did think she was incredible. And I think it was appropriate for me to see that and acknowledge it. But telling her that in front of me diminished me…made me feel like I was a burden she had amazingly accepted. And it made me feel self-pity for my own lack of amazing-ness, which is sad too, and made me feel guilty. And I don’t think anyone realizes how it might make the adopted child feel.

Does that make any sense? I hardly ever voice these things, but both issues are ones I struggled through as an adopted child.

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elizabeth hunter December 2, 2012 at 3:49 pm

TOTALLY makes sense. Your comments were so moving to me. Up till now, since my kids are still very young and can’t articulate a lot of what they are feeling, I have pretty much been empathizing and intuiting how other people’s comments are hitting them.

It is SO valuable for me and for our community to to hear from you as an adult adoptee (and mom of five! love that) because you express so beautifully the things my/our children cannot say.

Look forward to connecting with you further. :) xo Elizabeth

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Beth December 1, 2012 at 10:05 pm

Thanks so much for writing this! I loved reading it, and I cringe to think of all the times I’m sure I broke these rules… with the best of intentions I’m sure. I have many friends who have adopted and my brother and his family are about to adopt 2 girls. Adoption is amazing, and so is just having children! But I totally get why you don’t want to hear someone tell you that! I get tired of being told I’m a special parent… I’m NOT! I just have a child with special needs, and that experience is shaping me into a different person in so many wonderful ways.

Speaking of which, I had a bit of an adverse reaction to your “severe downs syndrome” remark. My son has Down syndrome, and while there are varying degrees of abilities among those with Down syndrome, it angers me that some doctors tell parents prenatally that their child has a “severe or profound case”. There is no way to know until a significant amount of time after birth what functional level our kids will have. In the USA, downs syndrome is not the appropriate term. None the less, your point stands and is well made.

But, it totally helped me relate even more to your post. Just as I had an adverse reaction, I’m certain so do many parents and kids who are hit “A bomb” blunders of which you wrote. I’m rethinking my responses to families who have been fortunate to adopt. Thanks for an awesome educational read!

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elizabeth hunter December 2, 2012 at 12:33 am

Thank you so much for this. And I apologize. I now get exactly what you mean about the ‘severe downs syndrome’ remark and how that is a limiting label. Could you please tell me/us what should I have said in this piece to make my point without using that term?? SO helpful to know this!

xo Elizabeth

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Elaine December 2, 2012 at 6:00 pm

I think she just means that it’s not downs syndrome, it’s Down syndrome. Drop the s and capitalize the D.

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Beth December 2, 2012 at 4:19 am

Hmmm…. there in is the problem with person first language and concise writing. It gets tricky. I guess could have said a child with a disability who happens to be behaving poorly. Today we had a time like that. My son’s behavior can be great for long periods, but he is especially stubborn. Today he really wanted something I told him in no uncertain terms he could not have. He wanted no part of my answer and let me know! When he acts up, it can make ME uncomfortable, and even more so when it is in public, I fear people will think this is what our lives are like, constantly having to deal with these outbursts. But there are so many more times of great joy. All kids have bad moments, mine just might have more. And I am not alone (studies involving show that more than 90% of families (off the top of my head I think it was 96%) believe their lives are enriched by having a member with DS, no matter their functional levels.

But really, that is just a minuscule portion of my response to your piece. I’ve been mulling the points over all day!

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Elaine December 2, 2012 at 5:43 pm

As an adoptive mom I can relate. I’ve received all those comments and it worries me what my son may think (he’s only 2 right now so I don’t fully know what he thinks about all this because he can’t understand it all).

Number 7 struck a chord with me. I really have a very hard time dealing with people who start offering their excuses for why they don’t adopt. Or their fears of adoption. Example “Is it possible to love adopted children as much as your own children?” or “We can’t adopt because [fill in the blank with any myth about adoption]” Although I feel a strong need to correct myths and offer information and advice because I do want to be an advocate of adoptable children and help them find homes, it contradicts my internal feelings of sadness and disgust that the average person is so ignorant and that they find it perfectly acceptable to discuss these things without me (usually with my son by my side) without any warning. I try to tell people I’m happy to answer all their questions about adoption and we can set up a time to talk… LATER. Sometimes that works but mostly they aren’t actually interested in learning, they just wanted to make “small talk” or something. Makes me sad.

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elizabeth hunter December 2, 2012 at 7:09 pm

I feel you. I get it. There’s a big disconnect in our culture around how we think about adoption. And it really takes a toll on our children. Which is one of the main reasons I created AG and love our community here so much. This is one place to come together to effect real change in the adoption conversation. I am happy you found us and look forward to your input as we evolve and grow (I have some interesting projects targeting some of your main points in the works for 2013 :)) xo Elizabeth

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Elaine December 7, 2012 at 3:07 pm

Typo
should say
they find it perfectly acceptable to discuss these things WITH me (usually with my son by my side) without any warning.

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Noelle December 3, 2012 at 6:28 am

Elizabeth, thank you for your kind comments in response to mine. I have hardly connected with anyone over these issues, so sharing here and being understood was sweet.

May I share a quote I love by G.K. Chesterton?
“How can it be a large career to tell other people’s children [arithmetic], and a small career to tell one’s own children about the universe? How can it be broad to be the same thing to everyone, and narrow to be everything to someone? No; a woman’s function is laborious, but because it is gigantic, not because it is minute. I will pity Mrs. Jones for the hugeness of her task; I will never pity her for its smallness.”

Cheers to all the mamas!

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Julie December 18, 2012 at 7:01 pm

Fantastic post! May I add a #8? “Why didn’t you adopt from the US?” I have only gotten it from strangers (entitled much?) and it’s infuriating. I usually tell them it’s because my son wasn’t born in the US and walk away. My best remark to an intrusive question was a neighbor who asked in a nasty voice “where did you get him?!?” He was a baby so I responded “Baby’s R Us, he was on sale”. Now, I just don’t have the energy for people so the only response I give is “why do you ask”? I use this for any intrusive question. If they have a real reason (they were touched by adoption, special needs, interracial families, etc.) they will say so – otherwise they usually just slink away.

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Claire December 22, 2012 at 12:57 am

Thank you so much for educating people about these issues. I have an “invisible” adoption (meaning that my son looks enough like my husband and me that our adoption is not obvious) so we don’t get the rude comments/questions from strangers. But I’m sorry to say that even people in my family have unintentionally made hurtful comments. Thankfully so far, none have been in front of my son.

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Joy February 14, 2013 at 12:14 am

Thank you for this article. I’ve gotten some unbelievably ridiculous (everything you mentioned above) and some downright ugly comments (is she one of those crack babies? Do you regret adopting?) about my adoption and my children. It drives me nuts that people have the audacity to ask these questions in front of my kids who are almost five and almost one. My daughter is at an age that she notices differences and talks about them, but like you said, I want us to discuss difference in a positive way and I sure don’t want to have to talk to my four year old about what a crack baby is. Good lord. I’m always shocked that people don’t have more sense.

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Amanda B June 11, 2013 at 4:45 pm

I just stumbled upon your blog so forgive me if you cover what I’m about to request somewhere, but I’d love to know how you handle this attention/questioning in the heat of the moment in front of/not in front of your children. My husband and I are beginning the adoption process. Already, when I mention to people what we’re considering I get warnings from people who know people that adopted and it was just horrible. No, one tells people that are trying to get pregnant that they know someone who has a baby that was born with some genetic disorder. It’s so annoying and it’s freaking my husband out.

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Courtney October 3, 2013 at 8:14 pm

I just found this via Pinterest because I just wrote an article like this on my own blog and titled it “adoption etiquette” then searched it on Pinterest to see if anyone else had written anything similar. I left out some things I realized after reading yours! We have two adopted girls and we get things like this all the time and I just want to scream sometimes. I know people mean well, but I, too, worry so much about what these things do to my kids. I hate when someone at the grocery store will tell me how wonderful I am and how lucky the kids are to have me. I. HATE. IT. I know people mean so so well, but all it does is hurt my children. Thank you!

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Allie Ferguson November 18, 2013 at 10:41 pm

What a great post. my husband and I have just started the process to adopt and I have been up to my eyeballs in negative “research” and writing. IT’s almost like some of these adoption resources are trying to talk people out of adopting. #7 really resonates with me and I wholeheartedly agree. As a child of divorce, I too have a “primal wound” and while it has caused me pain my entire life, it has also made me stronger, braver and more self-sufficient than I would have been otherwise. negative stereotypes don’t do anyone any good.
http://adoptingcharlie.com
Allie Ferguson recently posted..Nesting: Not pregnant but expecting

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Des August 15, 2014 at 8:03 pm

Thank you XXX

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