I’ve been part of the adoption community for a decade now. But even before we became parents for the first time — when people merely found out we were adopting — my husband and I heard a few common phrases over and over … and over again. Today we have three beautiful children, all of whom came to us through adoption; and yet we are still subject to some of the stereotypes and misunderstandings that seem to surround the way we chose to build our family.
Here are the ones that seem to pop up the most. Ones I think many families who adopt (or even think of adopting) are tired of hearing:
1. “Just adopt.”
There is no “just” when it comes to adopting. Adoption is bittersweet, expensive, complicated, and difficult. Even the easiest of adoptions require some financial costs, loads of paperwork, and a lot of soul-searching. Oftentimes when a couple has trouble conceiving, the solution offered is that they should “just adopt,” as if it’s as simple as pushing a button.
2. “There are so many children who need good homes.”
It is true that there are many children waiting for a forever family. In fact, in the United States alone, there are over 100,000 children in our foster care system who are available for adoption. However, one shouldn’t assume that every child who was adopted came from a “bad” home. Sometimes a birth parent places a child because she doesn’t want to raise them without the support of a family, or because she cannot afford to parent a child, or she has goals in her life that wouldn’t be met if she chose to parent.
3. “Birthparents are ______.” (Fill in the blank with “young,” “promiscuous,” “irresponsible,” “drug abusers,” and “immature,” and our family has heard it.)
There are women in their forties who place babies for adoption, just as teens do — and every age in between, for that matter. Not every birth parent is someone who is sexually promiscuous or uses drugs or alcohol. Some birth fathers are equally involved in the adoption process as the birth mother. Stereotyping birth parents isn’t fair to the children they place for adoption, because birth parents will always be the child’s first parents and deserve respect.
4. “Your child is so lucky.”
Adoptees (the name used for children who were adopted), are people who aren’t required to feel grateful for being adopted. The assumption is that many adoptees were “rescued” from dire circumstances by heroic, savior parents. Because of this, the parents are often put on an (undesired) pedestal while the child is assumed to be in a subservient position and his or her duty is to spend a lifetime bathed in gratitude. Truly, the parent who adopts the child is the lucky one!
5. “DNA doesn’t matter. Love makes a family.”
DNA and biology do matter. In fact, without it, the child wouldn’t exist. Furthermore, adoptees look like their birth families, sometimes share personality characteristics and tendencies, and might share medical issues as well. There isn’t a competition needed between the birth and adoptive family. They are both the child’s family, just in different ways.
6. “Children who are adopted have problems.”
Though Lifetime movies do a great job of making adoptees seem like unstable, dangerous, troubled individuals, many adoptees do not have problems outside the normal issues a child their age faces. Yes, there are some issues adoptees can have, especially those who come from a secretive or traumatic situation. However, to broad-brush adoptees and label them as problematic isn’t fair.
7. “You’re the child’s REAL parent.”
Believe me, parents who adopt do not doubt their “realness.” They are the ones who kiss the boo-boos, change the diapers, buy the Christmas gifts, tuck the child into bed at night. They are the child’s “real” parents. But the child’s birth parents are also real. Again, no competition between the two parties is needed, and parents who adopt do not need affirmation, no matter how well-intentioned, of their role in the child’s life.
8. “I don’t see color.”
Parents who adopt transracially (meaning, the parents are one race and the child is another) hear this often. The truth is, we all see color, and that is okay. Racial differences should be celebrated, not ignored. There’s nothing wrong with acknowledging racial differences; however, it’s never okay to interrogate a transracial family, asking assuming questions or attempting to fondle a child’s intricate hairstyle out of curiosity or admiration. If you meet a transracial family, a simple “you have a beautiful family” is a kind and appreciated way to acknowledge racial differences.
Adoption is certainly an interesting way to build a family, and I understand that the general public is intrigued by it, especially when they don’t have any experience with it.
However, instead of assuming anything, it’s okay to ask. Ask for a resource on adoption. Ask someone close to you who has adopted how you can better support her family. Seek out reliable information on the adoption process and adoption statistics. The more informed you are, the better you can support the families-by-adoption who come into your life.