Saturday, August 7, 2010

Ten Things NOT to Say to an Adoptive Family

As Mark and I anticipate adding Inessa to our family, we have noticed that there are comments well meaning people make that...chaff a bit. Of course, we realize that before we became a part of the interesting dynamic of an adoptive family we probably said, or at least thought, some of these same things ourselves. Most of the time, I believe people have the very best of intentions, but the delivery...well, the delivery could use a bit of refining. Because of our situation of adopting an older international child, we have heard some spectacularly awkward comments. So in a attempt to be helpful, here are ten things NOT to say to an adoptive family.

1. "Thank goodness you are giving this child a chance at a good life."
What is often meant: "That child is going to have a better life now."
The reality: In many ways, a child's life is much better when they are adopted into a family. Clearly. But there is still a loss. Think about it - while Inessa gains us (and we are prize!) ;) she also now loses her physical and constant connection to her country, must concede that she will not be reunited with her birth family, is forced to learn a whole new language, eat foods that she is unfamiliar with, and learn how to function in a whole new family unit that she doesn't have a lifetime of history with. Sound bleak? Sorry about that. Yes, there are many benefits to adoption (many, many, many!!!!), but you completely oversimplifying adoption to forget about the losses and life changes that are a part of this process.

2. "Your child's adoption is another way to understand God's adoption of us into His family."
What is often meant: "I really want to sound theological. How'd I do?"
The reality: Not exactly. Yes, we are adopted into God's family, BUT that adoption comes solely out of the grace, mercy, and love of His perfect character. And as the adoptees, we leave a heritage of guaranteed death and destruction for a heritage of guaranteed life. We only gain as adopted children of God! The reality of human adoption is that there is almost always a teensy, tiny element of selfishness on the adoptive family's part, and there is inevitably loss on the child's part. If we are being frank here, part of the reason we are adopting Inessa is utterly selfish - we love her and we want her here. That isn't bad, but it is a bit selfish. Look, I have absolutely no doubt that God intends for Inessa to be our daughter. I am not saying there is no spiritual lessons to be learned from adoption. But we have to be careful not to attribute all the characteristics of God's adoption with ours.

3. "Thank heavens you saved that child!"
What is often meant: "That child would have had a horrible life without you!"
Would you walk up to a pregnant woman and passionately exclaim, "Thank heavens you saved that egg from a future of guaranteed menstruation!"??? Awkward. I am not a rescuer. I am a mother. The only one who can save any child is Jesus, and He is just as effective in Latvia as America. It is very easy to look at the practical logistics of an adoptee's situation, and come to this conclusion. But...just don't. I can't exactly tell you why it raises the hair on the back of my neck, but it does. So please just don't say it.

4. "You bought a baby!"
What is often meant: "The way you got a family is different."
Yep. The way Inessa has come into our lives is different than how Jude and Calvin arrived. I have not made any sheep noises in labor (those of you who know the story, know what I am talking about), I won't have to walk funny for weeks afterward, and I haven't gained any weight. (I joke with Inessa that she is my biggest baby and she left me with the littlest stomach.) Although I believe it is always unintended, there is this undercurrent of inferiority in that statement. Inessa will be as much my child as Jude or Cal. There's also this under the table, mafia boss vibe to this attempt at talking "cool" about adoption. Sometimes this may be a funny way of wondering about the expense of adoption. If you are going to say "You are buying a baby" you might as well drop all social skills and flat out ask how much it costs.

5. "How much does it cost?"
What is often meant: "How are you affording this?"
We have already been asked this more times than you could believe. I get that there is a natural curiosity about adoption and the logistics of it. There are a few close friends who know the dollar amount this will cost us, but it is an awkward question to answer, and we've been asked by total strangers when the topic of adoption comes up. (I am pondering a new answer of the exact dollar amount, immediately followed up by, "Would you like to donate by check or cash?", but I'm not sure that decreases the awkward factor much.) The general answer is that adoption costs vary widely based on a number of factors. I do believe it is a great idea for adoptive families to talk to other families interested in adoption about the financial aspects, but not in the grocery store check out line after I just told the boys we didn't have enough money to buy them each a candy bar.

6. "Are her parents dead?"
What is often meant: "Tell me her gruesome story so I can feel sorry for her and get that little thrill of hearing something shocking."
On more than one occasion while out with Inessa here, someone has asked me this. IN FRONT OF INESSA. I get that she doesn't speak fluent English, but she knows enough to know when people are talking about her. I have to admit, the first time I was totally caught of guard. The second time I was just plain mad. When I get some emotional distance from those situations, I try really hard to apply positive intent to this question, but I confess it is a struggle. No one has ever walked up to Jude and Cal and asked me to air their "dirty laundry". Please don't expect a mother to make an exception for another child. If you are genuinely interested in the plight of children available for adoption, please find a way to ask about it tactfully. And by tactfully, I mean if you can't contain your curiosity, at least DON'T SAY SOMETHING IN FRONT OF THE CHILD.

7. "She's so lucky to have you!"
What is often meant: "How fortunate this all is for her!"
I never really understood why so many adoptive families cringe when people said this...until now. And I also secretly suspected adoptive families were practicing false piety when they would inevitably reply, "No, we're the lucky ones"...until now. I am not trying to be all Christian-correct when I say that we really DO feel like the lucky ones. Inessa is this amazing, fun, spunky, delightful, strong, smart, interesting, beautiful child. I feel as lucky to have her as I do to have Jude and Calvin. As mothers, there is a sense of deep appreciation for the beauty and wonder of each of our children. It is the same whether they are adopted or not. I marvel at her just as I marveled tonight watching the boys sleep. Don't diminish that beauty for an adoptive family by saying this. The blessing is ours, as it is for every parent.

8. "You are such wonderful people for doing this."
What is often meant: "You are amazing for taking this child in."
I am not one to turn down a compliment, but this one literally makes me throw up a little bit in my mouth. Let me be clear - there are lots more differences between Mother Teresa and I besides the nose piercing, and I doubt Mark gets mistaken for Billy Graham much. Mark and I are not some super spiritual people (although we would like to be). We are just two people who desire to parent an amazing girl. Yes, our faith in Jesus affects most all of the decisions we make, but we aren't perfect and we aren't holier-than-thou. The next time you feel compelled to think this, I challenge you to take a deep breath and host a child through New Horizons. You'll meet a bunch of other non perfect families blessed by loving on some cool kids.

9. "I hope she will appreciate what you did for her."
What is often meant: "Bet you'll have less trouble with her because she's grateful."
Inessa is not obligated to appreciate us any more than Jude and Calvin are. I hope all of my children have that moment (or two!) of appreciating the job Mark and I did as parents. But her primary responsibility is to become the young woman God has created her to be, not to stroke Mark and my egos. We expect her to be like most other tween/teen girls - there will be days when she loves us and days when we get an eye roll...or two.

10. "Do you know what you are getting into?"
What is often meant: "You are in WAY over your heads!"
Yep. Clearly. Don't think for a minute that Mark and I don't know that. We have never parented a 12 year old girl. To count the number of ways we are out of our element would take all night, so let's just cut to the chase. We have taken online classes, read more books on adoption that you can imagine, and talked with many, many families who have gone through this before. Nope. Still not totally prepared. But certain, CERTAIN that we are in. 100% in. We have lots to learn, and experience will be the sole teacher of a few painful lessons I'm afraid, but even without knowing the future...we are all in. One of the greatest things I've learned through hosting and now the adoption process is that it is terrifying, yet amazing to live outside your abilities because you then get to be constantly amazed by God. It is often a nail biting, stomach turning, breath taking high wire act...but the view is unbelievable. This girl is...amazing. She is loved beyond words, and she blesses our family in ways I never imagined. I would never have had the courage for this, but somehow God knew our daughter was waiting for us. So we take little tiny steps of faith, and we trust that God will not desert us on this adventure.

I hope this post doesn't come off like I am some grumpy, militant, be-politically-correct lady! Trust me when I say, I love talking about Inessa and our family as we go through the adoption process. And trust me when I say, I apply positive intent to most everything people say to us about adoption. Adoption is a good thing. Actually, it is a great thing. Quite frankly, I think more people ought to do it. And if you take me up on that, you'll soon understand why we as the families are the lucky ones.

1 comment:

Renovation Girl said...

Great post, Ann. It's all about education. While we're not in the same adoption boat, I have a litany of things people should NOT say to those having suffered pregnancy losses OR infertility. Ignorance is truly amazing!