My friend, Jeff Lee, and his family had their adoption story recently featured in the November issue of OC Family Magazine. Check out the story titled, “Special Love: Adopting a special-needs child brings unique rewards to the entire family” by Susan Serrano.
In the issue, there was also a very helpful sidebar article by Judy M. Miller titled, “Adoption Etiquette: What Not to Say to Adoptive Parents.” While I am not yet an adoptive parent, I have already experienced the discomfort of some of the comments mentioned below. Miller offers good insight and instruction for us all.
“ADOPTION ETIQUETTE: What not to say to adoptive parents”
By Judy M. Miller
Finding the right words honors the relationships in an adoptive family, where love transcends blood and genetics. More than 10 million families have considered adoption, and approximately 1 million more are seeking to adopt at any given time.
Those who meet the new addition include extended family, friends and acquaintances. And, sometimes, they are strangers you can’t help but notice because they are conspicuous; these people obviously see that you don’t “match.” Their curiosity is natural. But sometime it gets the better of us.
Adoptive parents often find themselves in the spotlight. Those who have adopted internationally or trans-racially find themselves under more scrutiny and approached more often. Generally, non-adoptive parents don’t realize that they’re being intrusive and may be disparaging with their questions and comments.
Certain terms and phrases, while well-intentioned most of the time, rankle the adoptive parent by implying that a family formed through adoption doesn’t measure up. Many adoptive parents aren’t always good at responding, particularly when they are approached by a stranger or in the company of their children. Here is some advice for avoiding the “cringe factor” among adoptive parents:
- Don’t say anything along the lines of “God bless you!” or “You’re an amazing person to do this.” In “Shared Fate: A Theory and Method of Adoptive Relationships” (Brentwood Bay, BC: Ben Simon Publications, 1988), author H. David Kirk found that 92 percent of adoptive parents had been called “saints” in one form or another. Adoptive parents aren’t saints for adopting, and this type of praise may make them uncomfortable.
- Don’t use the word “real” to qualify the adoptive family relationships, as in “real” mom, “real” dad, “real” child, or “real” sibling. Adoptive parents and adoptive families are as real as a birth parent 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.
- Don’t say, “They’re so lucky!” This may be the top contender for cringing among adoptive parents. Like non-adoptive parents, adoptive parents consider themselves the lucky ones. They have a beautiful child to raise and enjoy
- Don’t say one of your “own” children. Similarly, don’t ask, “Which one is yours?” or “Are they sisters?” These statements and questions can devalue the relationships within an adoptive family. They address the dissimilarities, especially within trans-racial and multiracial families. Adoptive parents know that the relationships in their families transcend blood and genetics.
When approaching adoptive parents about their family, remember these important tips:
- The details about how the family has come together are private.
- The adoptive parents expect you to respect their privacy.
- These are the adoptive parents’ children.
- Positive adoption language
Use these terms when referring to relationships within adoptive families:
- “Parent,” “mommy,” “daddy,” “sister,” “brother,” etc., for describing 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” rather than “is adopted”
- “Your child” rather than “your adopted child” or “your own child”
- “Placed for adoption” or “made an adoption plan,” rather than “orphaned,” “given up,” “unwanted” or “abandoned”