How to Speak Adoption

Even the most well intentioned people rarely know how to ask about adoption or discuss adoption without ‘saying the wrong thing’. Let me be quick to point out that I am not referring to some new level of politically correct jargon. I am, instead, offering a personal guideline to being aware and sensitive about your words on a very tender subject. Adoption is a very tender subject. At one time it was widely hidden as a shameful family secret. Parents who have gone through the adoption experience (both birth and adoptive) have been emotionally raked over fiery coals. Children in an adoptive family can be confused by questions from others that frankly make no sense to them. Let me give a few examples of some comments and questions we are asked.

In case you don’t know I am the mother of seven adopted children. We are vastly the same and slightly different. We do not share the same skin color. We cause many people to be curious and sometimes people just want to know more about our family. I think folks look at us at times and think there must be a story. They are right about that. Sometimes people make assumptions. Sometimes people are eager to share that adoption is being experienced by a member of their family. Sometimes they themselves may be interested in adoption. I suppose sometimes people are just nosy. There are all sorts of people and all sorts of reasons they ask.

As a younger me and a newer adoptive momma, I will admit to being more easily offended by people who didn’t know how to ‘speak adoption’. As time passed, I decided to try to gently educate those who seemed to have the right intentions but, the wrong words. Almost every single time we are in public someone will ask us something. I have an opportunity to teach my children how to respond by answering properly, so I try hard.

*Are they brothers and sisters?
This usually follows immediately after someone has discovered that yes, these are my children; no, they are not foster children; yes, I have adopted them. They are mine.
What the asker means is, are they biologically or birth related. That is not a terrible thing to wonder about but, it is a rather personal thing to ask about, especially of a stranger in a public place. The worse part of this particular question is that it is almost always asked in the presence of my children.
When they were much younger, I can remember the looks of confusion on the faces of my children standing at a cash register at Walmart while the cashier asked and everyone in the near vicinity bent their ear to hear how I would reply.
Think for a moment how such a question would sound to an adopted child. A child who has been told (correctly) that they are a part of a lovingly designed family. Whether the child has been a part of the family from infancy or they joined the family at a later age, this question challenges their bond with siblings by indicating that there is a difference in the relationship if they share the same biological parents. There is no difference. And, if you have a differing opinion, you are wrong, flat out wrong. Blood does not trump love. Blood does not guarantee love.
I usually answer, “Yes, of course they are brothers and sisters. They are all my children.” Of course there are other times when a person who actually knows our family, who is genuinely interested in us and cares for us will ask the very same question. My answer for them is different. “What you mean is are they related by birth or biologically?”
In case you are now wondering, yes, some are. ūüôā

*Do you have any children of your own?
What the asker means is, did I birth any children. My answer varies according to whether asked privately and by how well I know the person. I usually reinforce the concept that these seven are indeed my own. That’s the most important part of the answer. Let me tell you, we didn’t accidentally adopt a single one of them. And as a matter of fact, our hearts claimed them as our own long before we could do so legally. Some of our adoptions took years to complete. Yes! They are our own!!
The better way to ask would be, “Do you have other children besides those you’ve adopted?” the answer to that question is yes. We fostered forty-five children and they hold a special place in our hearts. We also lost two children by miscarriage that we are looking forward to being reunited with in eternity. This is why I will almost always introduce myself as a ‘mom of many, adoptive mom of seven’.

*Why didn’t their momma want them?
This question still rises my temperature a bit. I can not answer for every situation, but, I can answer for ours. That is simply NOT the case. I have never encountered a birth mother who did not want their child. I have met birth mothers who in spite of wanting their child realized they could not properly care for their child. I have seen birth mothers who were caught up in lifestyles of addictions that had warped their ability to put their children first. I have seen birth mothers who continued to make poor choices and lost their rights to their children. I have seen birth mothers who were incapable of taking care of themselves much less a child. I have seen birth mothers who were able to beat the odds and make the changes and raise the children they birthed. But, in my experience, I have never seen a mother who just didn’t want their children. Perhaps they are out there, if so, they are the exception, not the rule.

*They are so lucky (or blessed) to have you.
The reply to that comment is easy. We are so blessed to have each other. And so we are.

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6 thoughts on “How to Speak Adoption”

  1. What an amazing read! Very well said. I am a mommy of 4. 3 of those children are birth children, 1 is currently a foster to adopt that we have had since she was 5 days old. We have recently gotten her permanency plan changed to adoption by current foster parent and are so excited. We are looking forward to making the change legal. She has been ours since day 1 and will be ours forever. Our children range in age from 1 to 4 and they don’t know any different. Our adoptive daughter and our final birth child are only 6 months apart in age. We found out we were pregnant shortly after welcoming that sweet little baby into our home. This has been our first experience with foster/adoption and are looking forward to continuing to add to our family through adoption.

    1. Kristina, I’m so glad you dropped by. Adoption is a beautiful way to grow a family. So exciting when permanency is taking place. Happy days of being an expectant mom in a different way.
      I pray all goes smoothly and quickly. God bless your family!

  2. Stephanie, God has truly gifted you. I have watched you for years and I am always blessed by your capacity to love, include, provide, shelter, defend, treasure, and most of all, guide the precious lives He has placed within your realm of care. Well done, His good and faithful servant!?

  3. This is a fantastic article! I am a social worker for an adoption support agency (APAC) and I’m doing a couple of trainings this month on this very topic. Do you mind if I quote you?

    1. I would be honored and very pleased for you to do so. I have other writings on adoption here on my blog. _Dangerously Different_ which deals with racism and adoptive or foster families. _Adoptability_ deals with how the chances of a child to be adopted are determined.

      I am familiar with APAC and excited to think I might can help in this small way.

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