My friend and fellow adoptive mother, Heidi, recently shared an article about why it is important that your child be taught about adoption. (Teach Your Children About Adoption Before Releasing Them on the Playground by Rachel Quinn Egan) Not my adopted child. Your biological child. The artical tells of an experience where the author's young daughter was bombarded with questions on a playground regarding her adoption: "Is that your mom? (Pointing at me) Why is she white and you are brown? Are you adopted? Where is your real mom? Why isn't she here? Where is she? Why didn't she want you? You didn't come out of that mom's tummy over there, but your sister did. Right?"
It made me realize that my six year old is well educated in what adoption is and how he came into our family. But your child most likely has no understanding of it, and it maybe be much more important for him or her to understand than you or I might have considered.
Surprisingly, as someone who started researching adoption ten years ago and has experienced so many of it's facets, this is something I had never really thought about. My child has not experienced the same thing (yet) as the girls in this article . And it often is the case that we don't think to champion a cause until we have been touched by it. But my eyes have been opened, and I am now championing this cause in hopes of preventing an incident like this from happening to my sweet boys.
So, in honor of November being National Adoption Month and even more so in honor of my boys and other adoptive families and birth parents. I'm asking all of parents of children of any age, so begin in some way to also include a little adoption education when you are discussing other issues, such as differences in race, beliefs, familial makeup, gender, etc. Do you ever wonder what to say? Or perhaps what not to say? Here are a few of my thoughts of points to consider (many of which are covered in the article mentioned above). Not all of these will be appropriate to share with a child, so choose wisely and age appropriately and always out of love for all children.
1. Adoption is normal. It might not be as common as a biological family, but it is normal.
2. "Real" is not a word we use to describe biological or adoptive parents. I am my son's mother. Period. He also has a birth mother, or his first mommy as we refer to her. She is also real and she was also a mother to him.
3. Children are not given up for adoption because they are not wanted. In most cases, there are circumstances preventing a birth parent from being able to keep a child. It could be anything from mental illness, to financial problems, to drugs, to age and a number of other reasons. We must educate our children to not think a parent (mother or father) gave a child up because they did not want the baby. Yes, there may be rare instances where that is the case, although I still say the reason they do not want to keep the baby are based somewhere other than desire.
4. The reasons for #3 are personal and private and nobody's business. It has no bearing on the value of my child as a beautiful, loved son or daughter. If I or my child chooses to share the reasons at some point, then I hope you will listen with an open heart. Otherwise, we need to educate our children that they may not understand all the reasons, and that's okay. What matters is that they were able to be matched up with parents of love them.
5. There is always some degree of loss. A child adopted at birth still experiences sadness at some point in his or her life. There is still loss. Some process and cope with it better than others. But most likely, every adopted child will experience some degree of loss, and that is perfectly normal. And they also will always feel a love for their birth family, and that is perfectly normal and it is a very good thing.
6. Adoption shouldn't be a secret we whisper about behind closed doors. Secrets imply something is wrong, and there is nothing wrong with it. If your child asks you a question about adoption in front of my child, please answer truthfully, cheerfully and with love and compassion, just as you would if they asked you "what's wrong with that man?" in front of a man in a wheelchair. Or "why is his skin so dark?" in front of a woman of color. Don't whisper as if there is shame. You can say "yes, D is adopted and isn't that wonderful? Do you have any questions about what that means?" Or maybe "D, can you explain what adoption is?" Because my child can, and he's not ashamed of it. It's all he knows.
7. Please, oh please do not tell my child, or yours, that my child should be grateful we adopted him. First of all, he's not grateful yet because he doesn't realize he should be. And he doesn't realize that life could have been worse for him. And second of all, I will always need to be more grateful that I was given these sweet boys than they ever need to be for me. It is not a requirement for him to recognize every minute of his life that he was rescued and should be indebted to us for that. That may not really be the case. And I can promise you there were many many people in line for these sweet babies. I wasn't his last resort. Please just let him be a kid who can be frustrated with his parents like every other kid out there. He doesn't need to bow in gratitude for a decision in which he had no choice.
8. And please, oh please, do not tell me how wonderful I am for taking him in, especially in front of him! I'm not his saviour. I am his mother.
9. Adopted children often have different physical features than their adoptive parents. We don't face this as much in our family, but remember that those traits did come from someone...from other parents. And we celebrate them and love them. And there are many biological families, especially those of mixed race, in which there are differences in skin tones and eye color and sizes. It's part of what makes us unique. It's not a flaw or a shameful characteristic. It's unique. I have one black haired, brown-eyed son and one blue-eyed blondie. I always say D's eyes are the color of chocolate and S's eyes or the color of the sky (both things I love). And when D sadly says I have black hair and none of my friends have black hair I always get excited and say "isn't that amazing?? Your hair is so special and not many people have hair as black as yours." And truly, it is beautiful hair.
10. Please, please remember that we don't discuss adoption every day. We talk about school and funny things that happened and Wild Kratts and the planets and how to make homemade clay. We don't NOT talk about adoption, but it's not an every day topic, just as you don't discuss your child's birth every day. How often do you remind your child he or she was conceived by you and your spouse and show them footage of the birth? It's part of their story for sure, but it just doesn't generally come up at the dinner table. So while education on the subject is so important for all of us, remember that we are a normal family, just like you. We aren't always "and adoptive family" or an "adopted son". We are just a family. He is just my son. It's not derogatory to say those things. It's just not necessary to clarify all the time. It's just who we are. It would be like saying "my African-American friend" or "my friend in the wheelchair". Yes, those may be accurate descriptions, but they aren't necessary because those aren't the reasons you are friends. They are side notes. Minor details. They aren't shameful side notes or details, just not pertinent in most cases.
Remember that adoption is part of this thing we call diversity. When discussing diversity, please include this large segment of our population. I will be forever grateful if my child is understood and accepted "as is" than made to feel like he was unloved and unwanted and rescued. Perhaps the questions are just curious, but they still hurt. And when a child is bombarded with the questions on a playground or at school or wherever he or she may be, it can be a truly traumatic experience. And my child should really just be like your child, living his or her normal, but always special, and hopefully still magical childhood.