We talk about education all the time here, but one thing we haven’t touched on much is educating your extended family and close friends.
Adoption is a big life changing moment that happens in your family. That includes extended family, and I will dare say, even more so than someone having a biological baby.
Why? Because adoption has a stigma attached to it. We all have perceived notions of what adoption means or what the experience is like, and that does not exclude family members. They may have an antiqued view of adoption, of expectant parents, how to talk about adoption, simply because they grew up with adoption being handled different. We are all trying to undo this!
When my parents chose to adopt there were many comments and questions from family members, mainly because they couldn’t wrap their head around it or had questions of what modern adoption looks like.
They would ask questions such as:
How can you love a child that is not your “own”?
How can you care for another child?
Why would you want to have visits and send letters to their birth parents? They are “giving their child away.”
These questions were based on stigmas portrayed by society or generational views of adoption. It was my parents' job to educate them. Just as it is your job to educate your family, or to at least encourage education and expanding their view.
Here are some ways you can shift their mindset and change the narrative in your close circle.
Always use positive adoption language! They won’t always get it right, especially in the beginning, and you may not either, but using positive adoption language in your daily conversations will stick and it will become natural coming out of their mouth.
Use: was adopted
Not: is adopted
Adoption is an event that happens. The child that enters your family should be referred to as your son or daughter, not prefixed as “adopted son” or “adopted daughter.” Encourage your family to not introduce your child in this way to others.
Use: made an adoption plan or placed their child
Not: give up or gave away
Biological parents don’t give their babies away. Many make heartbreaking decisions that will alter their lives because they can’t provide something that they wish they could. Also, family, friends or strangers may refer to you or the biological parents as the “real parents.” This can be incredibly insensitive to the roles that both parties play.
Allow them to ask questions. That’s how we all learn, right? Encourage questions. Bring up topics. Don’t become angry if they don’t understand at first and instead fill the questions they ask as best you can with grace and kindness.
Have them become part of the process with you. Ask them to help with different parts of your journey. Perhaps they can help with gathering photos for your profile book or reading your drafts before it’s finalized. Invite them to tour your agency or meet with your home study worker. Ask them to join you at adoption conferences to learn more together.
Encourage them to educate themselves, too. Send them books, articles, podcasts, and social media pages you find helpful to answer their questions. There is a great book called In On It: What Adoptive Parents Want You to Know About Adoption by Elisabeth O’ Toole that you can gift to your family for them to start educating themselves in between the conversations you all have together. You could even purchase and gift our Woven Together course to them! This will allow them to hear from many sides of the triad and get a glimpse into how you are educating yourself as well.
Share modern adoption stories with them. There is such power in hearing how another family is living out this new concept of adoption, especially open adoption. Point them to stories that show the benefits of these open adoption relationships and stories that undo the stigma of birth parents. Leah has one here!
Remember, we all start somewhere. Changing the adoption narrative in your close circle starts with one. It starts with you and ripples into your family. That can make waves into your own community! You could be the one to change how those around you perceive adoption.
Blog post written by Mallory Fogas, Owner of Arrow + Root
Edited by Leah Outten, Owner of The Open Adoption Consultant