"So promise me you'll never forget...that you aren't an accident or an incident...you are a gift to the world, a divine work of art, signed by God. You were deliberately planned, specifically gifted, and lovingly positioned on this earth...Flooded by emotion, overcome by pride, the Starmaker turns to us, one by one, and says, 'You are my child. I love you dearly.'" Max Lucado, God Thinks You're Wonderful

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Adoption Etiquette

I often think of the silly things that are said in public around my kids.

Most of the time I can shrug them off and move on, but some need to be shared here. I also want to talk about them because I know several of you have adopted and can share your stories (and your clever responses). One of my friend's brother is starting this process and is using these etiquette posts to educate her family on what is okay to say. You might pull up some of the other posts using the adoption etiquette label, because I think the first one had some good thoughts too.

"Where did you get them?" I politely inform them of the agency we used and the city they were born in.

"Are they foster kids?" No, but even if they were that's not right to ask. If we had foster children, pointing that out only reminds the child of the situation with their first family. They need to feel loved and chosen, and not reminded all of the time they are only here for a little while. They aren't my adopted kids either...they are my children! They just happen to join our family through adoption. It's not a label, just a part of their story.

"Do they have the same parents?"- Yes, my husband and I are their parents. No, they do not all share biological parents. And why does that matter anyway? Questions about birth families are generally off limits. I will tell you what I want you to know. That is very private information and very intimate to my child. I want them to understand their story first before everyone else does. I could not say that enough...be very sensitive to the subject of birth families.

"Do you have any of your own?" - I really don't like this one. What makes a child more my own than these three? Please use the right words: biological children. And no, we don't have any of those, we chose not to. This wasn't our plan B.

"Do they call you mom?" No lie, I got this one yesterday. Lady...come on. Have you never known a child in an open adoption? Yes, I am their mom and they call me that. This one was almost laughable. But so many people have questions about open adoption. We often talk about how our kids have 2 moms that love them very much. We know less about their birth fathers, so we don't talk a ton about them except for in very quiet moments.

"How do they feel about open adoption?" First, we never say that "open adoption". They just know adoption and they know their story and it's very natural for them. They have no weirdness that adults put on kids about having relationships with their birth parents. That's all bunk in my opinion. That's adoptive parents making excuses for why they don't embrace birth families. Kids pick up on how parents feel about their birth parents. They will be weird about it if you are...and I seriously believe it will become an issue down the road. They will embrace it if you do, and your closeness with your child will deepen because you are loving and accepting ALL of who they are.

But some of the worst things are not questions at all, but what people think are compliments. These make me want to gag.

"They are so blessed to have you." Are you kidding? We are BEYOND blessed to have THEM!!! I mean, I think we are good parents, but every family is blessed to be together.

"You are doing the ultimate mission for God." NO! This is not a mission, these are my children. I didn't save them. Yuck. That's awful for a child to hear that someones sees them at "outreach" or a good deed. Please don't adopt children because you feel this way. Can you imagine what it must feel like for a child to be brought up feeling this from home?

"I just couldn't do it. I couldn't handle losing a child." Well, life is not about you. How come I have never heard someone say that of marriage? One in every 2 marriages fails, and yet no one says I just couldn't get married because chances are we'd be divorced. No one could walk into this wanting to lose a child, but it's well worth the risk. Being with Kennedy for 8 days was worth the loss of her. I'd do it a million times over. We are not super heroes, we are parents and we have to take that risk because it's a part of the journey. Don't act like we don't have feelings and intense bonding and deep love for every child placed with us. God carries us through, it's not by our own strength.

One of my sisters wanted to know what IS okay to say. She sees families like ours in public and wants to show her love and support. Yes, we have a need to talk to everyone in our family! Here are things I love hearing and we actually get a lot of these:

Your family is beautiful! Sorry but we just couldn't keep from staring.

Your family looks just like my family. I love seeing that!

Your children are gorgeous. They behave like angels too (just kidding, just wanted to see if you were still paying attention!)

Your kids are beautiful. We have always talked about adopting, do you mind if I ask questions?

Your family makes me smile.

Okay, hope this was read how my heart meant it to come out. I never want to offend anyone in writing this stuff.


Jana Farris said...

Love your thoughts! And I completely ditto them. Some of the things that irk me is comments about our birth mom. I know that open adoption is really foreign to most people, and they don't understand WHY you would want to have one. We have actually only seen our birth mother 3 times in the last 13 months ~ by her choice. I LOVE our visits and think that she is a precious lady. My mother-in-law said the other day, "well, maybe she'll just fade out into the background." What?! It breaks my heart to think that she might do this; I can't imagine not seeing her again.
Or another irk: "how could she look at him and not want him?" Well...she made the decision BEFORE she saw him....and she new that she needed to give him a life that she could not offer. BECAUSE SHE LOVED HIM THAT MUCH!!!!
Sorry... Didn't mean to step all in your post. :) Just nice to have this conversation with someone who understands.

Samantha said...

Molly, you said it perfectly! Those of us that read your blog know your heart and your intent. I love how you are standing up and fighting for your kiddos by teaching others the correct terms and reminding everyone that it's NOT about you. And, BTW, I loved {LOVED} the Easter pics you sent out!

There are so many situations that surround us that demand that people know the proper etiquette - adoption is simply another one that I plan to add to my ever-growing list, including, but not limited to: diabetes and being a NICU parent.

norma murphy said...

Yes, MY grandchildren are gorgeous, behave like angels and make me smile!! Thanks, Molly... Printed it off for mom... Love, Noonie

Jessica said...

I know every situation is different, so I will just share my personal experience and sayings that irk me.

My oldest son is adopted, my younger is biological (both are very happy surprises and blessings). I think what makes me stand on edge is when people introduce us or talk about us by saying:

"That's her adopted son, that's her natural son". I also HATE hearing "That happens all the time - seems like everyone who adopts gets pregnant"!

I hate both of these saying because 1) as Colt gets older I hate the idea of him thinking his adoption makes him an outlier in our family or him thinking others think he's not as much a part of our family because he's adopted and 2) NO, it does not ALWAYS happen, in fact getting pregnant after adoption only happens to 8% of couples that adopt (even smaller percentage when you factor in infertility). And don't get me started on using the word "natural".

I think I'm dealing with more and more sensitivity as my son gets older and can understand/comprehend what people are saying. Any suggestions on how you deal with these comments in front of your kids? What do you say to them later, now that they understand what these comments mean?

Melodie said...

i found your blog for the first time when you did your first "adoption etiquette" post. so this title caught my attention quickly. i'm shocked that someone has ever said "you are doing the ultimate mission for god." that kinda made me laugh. but a girl at my old church recently said to a friend that was adopting "i really like the romance of adopting internationally..."(blah blah blah) HAULT! stop the bus. don't do it for the romance!

we don't get many comments and we surely haven't gotten most of these. i think that i like it that way. now that i've said that, my next trip out with the boys - it's going to hit me. :) we have gotten "they are blessed to have you." and we quickly reply with, "we are the ones that are blessed to have them." people mean well, but sometimes don't think before speaking. and when little ears are present, people should especially think before speaking.

Just Believing said...

Didn't finish reading yet but I had to share the other day at my mom group a woman who has adopted 2 children one from foster and one thru private spoke on adoption...not as an expert just as someone who had done it and Molly she was horrible! i felt like she scared everyone away from adoption in our moms group ;( i didnt even know what to say first she used more wrong terminology than the man on the moon...I kept thinking how can you say these things! you should know better!

then she spoe ill about birthmoms obviously her expirience is different but she didn't clarify that every situation is different and how wonderful birthmoms and open adoption are...she just stood on her soap box going on and on about how closed adoption is the only " right" thing

It was so hard! Anyways sorry I had to share on here it just reminded me all the stupid things people say and even people who have adopted need to learn!

Kristin said...

Well, we haven't even adopted yet and I'm already having to defend our birthmom to my inlaws. They just can't understand why these moms can't just get help with parenting. I'm like, well did you give any of these moms a safe place to live or food for their babies? The agency we're adopting from is not really even an agency, they're a crisis pregnancy center meaning they've already been helping them to parent and it's just not what's meant to be. I didn't fully understand birthmoms either until we got into adoption, so I can't judge, but once you are educated, there's no excuse.

mom2many said...

Since I have both bios and adopted, I get this one "So which ones are your "real" kids and which did you adopt?" I usually say, "You know, I just don't remember anymore." When Jacob was little, we were somewhere with all seven and I was holding him. (Jacob was AA and the rest of my clan are white.) A lady said "Are they all yours except for HIM?" I said, "Nope...he's the ONLY one that's mine." I know...I'm a little tackier than you are, Molly!!! But, geez???? My friend actually has biracial bios and caucasion bios and someone recently asked her at Walmart if she did foster care. Her son, who is 14, said, "Hey lady, I can hear you." LOL!!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing, Molly... I needed the reminder about foster kids, as we have baby A in our home currently and so many people that know us want to know if we have adopted again, and I say no he is a foster. I think what is important is that with intimate, close relationships it is fine to discuss some of the details, but with the general public, I say no need. Last Sunday after church we went to lunch and Sam's and at each place we were asked if the boys were fraternal twins. I had to laugh and say, no one is 3 years old, the other 10 months! It has been fun having baby A, and from this day forward I promise you they will be introduced by name, with no additional message shared! Love you friend... Lisa M

AmyK said...

I haven't been there yet...and I am sure I have used incorrect terminology from time to time- I am thankful for the times I have been corrected. I love the idea of finding humorous responses. We do similar things with bio kids too...Where did he get those curls?, etc... and it seems any mew mother is expected to divulge the details of her childbirth to anyone interested.
I think a lot of times people are exploring their own options. I know in my case, there was a period of time when I really wanted to know more about the process but had not yet fully accepted myself that it may become my only path to parenthood. I try to remember that any curiosities expressed are an opportunity for learning and I think when handled well, can actually build the relationship between a parent and child. I was born into a family that included 3 adolescents. It was not unusual at all for me to overhear an adult referring to me as the "oops" baby or the "accident".(Horrible horrible things to say!) But I LOVED my daddy's response when I asked him about it. He always said "I planned you, I just didn't tell your mother about it." As an adult, I love my daddy all the more, and I think he might have been telling the truth! Occasionally, the old man scores.
Thanks for sharing your experiences!

Courtney Connelly said...
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Courtney Connelly said...
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Courtney Connelly said...

LOVE your post today, thanks so much for sharing. I called my friend Rachel (who is also part of the Deaconess family and is Griffin's mom) right after I read it because I knew she would appreciate your post! Love ya! Also, so excited for you all and your Atlanta adventure to come!

Whitney said...

I love this post and I love your family! Amazing some of the things that come out of peoples mouths. Do they even think before they speak? I just think your entire family is blessed and I am still praying for what God has in store for you guys! Atlanta doesn't know whats about to hit them!!

Ursula said...

YES! Love it. Even though I know you, I have been shocked by the tackiness of comments from people. B/c I have one biological child and one transracially adopted child, it is amazing how many people think I had 2 different "baby daddys" (a term strangers have used w/me) really close together, and will ask me what kind they are. Are you kidding me? I also can't say how much I can't stand the "you're an angel to have done this" type comments - as if my daughter is hard to love. Again, are you kidding me? The other one that's really hard are the comments about how beautiful she is and if that makes her birthfamily regret their decision. As if people choose adoption placements after evaluating the cuteness of their children. Seriously.

What else TO say - you're kids are really cute - they have nice eyes -wow those 2 seem to really like each other, or basically anything that honors them but doesn't ask intrusive questions about my family.

Sorry to rant myself, but I think you could post about this topic every day and it still would be worth saying more.

Anna said...

This is so good to hear! We're in the process of a transracial adoption, and of course, now it seems like everywhere you look we see families that look like ours will someday hopefully. I never say anything, because I'm sure they get enough comments, but my heart longs to hear their journeys and give compliments. I'll try to be braver and let them know that their families are beautiful!

Charissa said...

Nice post.

Megan said...

I love to read your blog, see the pictures of your captivating family and hear about all of the fun you have! My husband and I both have it in our hearts to adopt, so I love that you generously share your experience and enthusiasm in motherhood!

I have to say that in my life I have been asked many questions that surprise me. Even though the questions about personal matters shock and sometimes insult me, they usually lend themselves to a teachable moment! It's helped so much to realize that people may not think before they speak (we all say things and ask questions we wish we hadn't) but they don't necessarily mean harm. They just need to be educated! (; I think that creative, light-hearted, honest answers are the best! Graciously answering people's questions could have a lasting impact and could potentially open people's hearts to being blessed by adopting children as well!

Thanks again, Molly, for being so open! You're simply inspirational!

Anonymous said...

I found your blog while researching adoption for a friend of mine.

People are insensitive. I think it comes fron not knowing what to say and being nervous.

A few weeks ago, I was talking to a friend about her struggles with IF and now adoption. I remember telling her that it was going to happen. I caught myself. I know that there is no guarantee of having a child or adopting a child. I've walked that road, and I said the same stupid phrase that hurt me everytime I heard it.

All we can do is love them like God wants us to and try to set a better example. Thank you for the example your blog sets.

Rebekah said...

I found a t-shirt online that says "Yes, my mom does have one of her own--me!" I also just discovered an etsy shop that has some great shirts praising birthmothers--"I (heart) my birthmother" and another giving the definition of adoption that included something about being loved by two families.

People as if our kids are brother and sister, and I usually answer that they are full biological siblings, but sometimes I answer that they are doubly so--our kids and full biological siblings :)

What I hate are the stereotypes that people have (namely my mother-in-law) about my kids because they are black. No, my two year old doesn't listen to rap music! If I liked rap, that would be a different story, but just because he's black doesn't mean that he likes rap!

GiGi said...

I would luv to repost this to facebook or if you post it in facebook and share it but I so agree with all of it.
I do think your family is a blessed family!
I luv reading your blog it always helps me through long nights at work


Brooke and Peter said...

that was very honest and helpful... thanks for that Molly! And, your family is beautiful ;)

Eve said...

I can't believe strangers would ask such private questions. I hope to adopt one day, and am particularly interested in interracial adoption, but would never ask a parent in that situation about their family, especially around the children. Sorry you have to go through such reactions. This post was very helpful. All the best.

Mandi said...

I love this post! We hear a lot of those same things too. I actually told a lady once that my children were a two for one deal on eBay because I was so taken aback by her asking where I got them, like children can be bought the same way as pets.