Yesterday I shared a post on my personal Facebook page. It was just one of those silly lists from a pop culture site, called 15 Things Adoptive Parents Don’t Want to Hear. I noted that as adoptive parents we had heard many things on that list. An old friend commented that she is isn’t sure how to respond to adoptive parents because those kinds of lists tell people what not to say, but she doesn’t know what she should say. She recalled an awkward conversation that she had with me at the beginning of our adoption process that I honestly don’t remember. I thought that was a fair point, and and I also wanted to explain why wording matters so much in conversation with adoptive families.
When we began the adoption process, over and over again I was asked “Couldn’t you have a real baby?” Over the years this question has morphed into “Does he know about his real mom?” thrown in among other even less tactful thoughts. I am happy to answer questions about our adoption, but the way that those questions are worded, particularly when they are asked in front of my son, is extremely important. I’m going to share some numbers to try to explain why:
There are approximately 52 weeks in a year. Let’s estimate that I have this conversation with someone once a week, which is actually a very low estimate, because there are most certainly weeks when I have it multiple times a day. We adopted our son 7 years ago.
52 weeks over 7 years. 52 x 7= 364.
That means I have had this conversation a minimum of 364 times in front of my 8-year-old son.
He has heard over 300 adults imply in whispered voices that I may not be his “real” mother. It is not hard to change that word to “biological,” which is the word you are looking for. Although, funny enough, almost every time I have corrected someone it has been met with a similar reaction. A wave of the hand, a shrug, and, “Oh, you know what I mean, though, right?”
Yes. I do know what you mean. And I know that your intentions are not to hurt anyone. This one conversation might not hurt him. But, although this may be the only conversation you ever have about adoption, we don’t get the luxury of walking away afterwards. This won’t be the only conversation he overhears. He needs to hear me correct you. I’m (mostly) not doing it for your benefit.
If it comes up twice a week, that will be over 1,800 conversations by the time he’s an adult.
Could you hear something 1,800 times and not start to wonder?
Similarly, we are often told how lucky he is. This is meant to be the highest form of a compliment directed right at me. Every part of me knows that. I truly do. I know I am supposed to smile and say “thank you.”
I hope that Nicholas reaches this conclusion for himself one day when he looks back and reflects on his adoption. I hope he feels as blessed that he has us as we do that we have him. But this child is anything but lucky. Many children who have been placed for adoption have endured horrific things before coming to this place. Please, please, please do not call them lucky. It can be incredibly confusing to a child who is going through some of the worst days of his life, losing people he loved, possibly processing the aftermath of an abusive situation, to hear adults constantly telling him how lucky he is when inside he feels anything but. Just tell us as adoptive families you are glad we found each other.
I am not just being over-sensitive. Words do matter. They are the things that Bibles and wedding vows and Declarations of Independence are made of. They are the single most powerful tangible thing on the planet. So, yes, the way that you phrase things around my son regarding his adoption is extremely important. It will help shape the man that he is to become.
I just ask that you please tread carefully.
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