Talking about adoption with friends and family members can, at times, be difficult.
“Whether you have already adopted or are in the process of adopting or are placing a child, your family and friends may have a lot of questions,” writes Lita Jordan, adoptive mother. Some of these questions may be very innocent, while others may be offensive. So, it can be helpful to think through these different reactions before having the big talk.
“We have a choice in how we react to these questions,” says Jordan.
Talking About Adoption With Friends and Family
“It is important to acknowledge the fact that each person is coming from a place of their perspective,” says Jordan. “It is simply what they’ve seen on the news or [watched in] the movies.” It is up to you to determine how you want to address these questions and comments.
“These negative messages are usually, but not always, unintentional,” says Julie Higginbotham, adoption professional.
First of All, You Don’t Have to Answer Rude Questions
“The first rule in answering adoption questions is that you do not owe anyone any answers,” explains Natalie Brenner. It is up to you to decide how personal you want to get. Sometimes these seemingly-rude questions come from a genuine place, but the people asking the question often just don’t know how to approach the topic in a compassionate way. So, depending on the situation and the people involved, you may feel comfortable answering the question and educating the person…or you may not. It is completely up to you.
“I like to use a three choice process when asked about my own adoption story. It is called the TIP process: Tell, Ignore, say it is Private,” explains Dr. Dean Kirschner, Executive Director and Adoption Counselor at Adoption Makes Family. “I can choose to tell the story of my child’s adoption. I can ignore the person, or I can say it is private.”
- Tell: When asked politely, many adoptive families have no issue discussing adoption open and honestly. This is an excellent opportunity to educate someone who is genuinely interested in learning more about adoption and your unique story.
- Ignore: Sometimes the best option is to just ignore a question, especially if it is posed in a purposefully hurtful way. Make sure your son or daughter is okay and just walk away.
- Say It’s Private: “Families built by adoption are unashamed,” says adoption blogger Jill Robbins. “But we aren’t eager to hand out our children’s stories like a grandma hands out chocolate chip cookies. Why? Because those stories are not only private, but sacred.” So, it’s perfectly okay to tell friends, family members, and especially strangers that you would rather not discuss your child’s adoption at this time.
Address Your Child Before Responding to Rude Questions
If your child is around when you receive a rude question, it is important to address the situation with them before responding. “At home, we’re telling our children that adoption is a special way of creating a family, and that their birth cultures are something to celebrate,” says Higginbotham. “Meanwhile, repeated encounters with people…send them a different message.”
It’s often not the question itself that is so hurtful, but the impact it can have on your child. “Even for the child who is the toughest cookie, some of the questions can leave them speechless,” explains Meredith Resnick L.C.S.W., Psychology Today. So, when dealing with nosy or outright rude adoption questions, it is important to first reassure your child that adoption is perfectly normal. Then, once you have addressed your child, you can respond.
Talking About Adoption From a Personal Place
“The biggest portion of explaining adoption […] will be the part that is personal to you,” explains Jordan. “As an adoptive parent, this could include speaking to your family about the timeline your agency has given you (if any), some general information about the child or their birth family, and possibly more about what type of adoption you will have—either open or closed,” says Jordan. You can also discuss your personal journey and why you decided adoption was the right choice for you and your family.
Talking About Adoption From a Place of Education
“People just simply do not understand adoption if they have not gone through it or not been part of a family that has children who were adopted,” says Jordan. “When you are speaking to your friends and family about adoption, it is important to remember this lack of understanding.” So, when friends and family members approach your adoption story with a general desire to learn, it can be helpful to educate them. “Many people just don’t even know how adoption works,” explains Jordan.
Talking About…Talking About Adoption
Talking about adoption with friends and family can be hard. So, if you are struggling with how to deal with rude questions, or if you just need someone to talk to, counseling can help. “Despite our best efforts, the incessant questions from strangers [and family members] chip away at our foundations,” says Higginbotham. But it is important to remember that you are not alone. Adoption Makes Family, a non-profit (501-C3), licensed adoption agency based in Maryland is here to help. Our caring and compassionate counselors provide a confidential, safe, and non-judgmental environment in which to explore your thoughts, feelings, and options. We can also help you prepare to speak with your family about adoption.
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