Encouraging independence in children is an ongoing task which needs to be attended to as early as possible. My dear friend Patricia always believed that children were only truly independent when they had learned to clean their own ears – a bit like kittens and puppies! My view was a little broader and also involved things like encouraging responsibility and decision making. As an adoptee, I cringe at the method used by the mother below, but take the lesson from it that adoptees are regarded as more independent than others! It depends of course on what you call independence. Most adoptees are very good at survival against all odds, but not so good at positive self-talk, feeling secure, trusting or change. There are exceptions, we are not all the same, out of the same mold, but the early loss and trauma have ways of creating similar effects in human babies and children. Adoptees are more than familiar with them; prospective adopters need to be and adopters should be!
Then we come to this advice to the curious on-looker, on how to approach the new adoptive parents, as if they are a protected species. By all means be sensitive, tactful and polite, but really, doesn’t everyone want to know how much it costs? If adopters are not robust enough to deal with these questions and have not rehearsed the answers in their preparatory groups and are going to be hurt by references to the adoptee’s origins, ethnicity and parents, perhaps they are not suited to be adopters! It doesn’t bode well!
Understand …To not hurt the adoptive parents in any way, avoid saying anything about the child’s origin, his ethnicity, or his biological parents.Adoption is a very emotionally draining process. Adoptive parents tend to think and rethink about their decision time and again, before they finally decide to take responsibility of a child that is biologically not their own. Though they are very happy with their bundle of joy after adoption, there is a history behind this decision that isn’t necessarily easy. At that moment, they need assurance that everything is going to be fine, and that there is no reason for worry. When you pay a visit or happen to meet them casually at a social gathering, it is very important that you don’t mention things that might hurt them. Adoption can be a sensitive issue for them, and a wrong statement can make matters worse in no time.
Here are a few examples of things not to say to adoptive parents and why.
#1: He’s so lucky to have you.
It is always assumed that only the underprivileged or orphaned children are listed for adoption. However, though this may hold true to some extent, there are parents who willingly put their children up for adoption. The reasons for this are many, and are not your concern. The adoptive parents are just as lucky to have found their bundle of joy. Never make it seem as though they’re adopting to help someone in need. Never. Ever.
#2: Why was he put up for adoption?
Sometimes, the adoptive parents know the truth, but sometimes, they don’t. Whatever the reasons are, they’re personal. You are not only intruding, but making the parents feel awkward by asking such a question. It’s really not necessary. It’s like asking for information that is in no way going to help you.
#3: Are you going to try for a child of your own in the future?
The parents are very happy about having a new member in the family, who is just as much as their own as their real child would be. By asking this question, you are directly discriminating between the adopted child and the child that may come tomorrow. In a way, you also imply that the adoptive parents have no children of their own. Parents who don’t have biological children go through their own share of troubles. Reminding them not only touches a nerve, but also takes away attention from the child in question now.
#4: Do the birth parents know where he is going to live? If they want, can they get in touch with him in future?
The people you are talking to, ‘are’ the child’s parents. Parenting is not only about giving birth, but also about raising the child. By saying that the biological parents may contact the child later on, you are introducing a somewhat scary thought in the adoptive parents’ mind. Again, this information isn’t going to help you in any way; you can honestly do without it.
#5: Will you allow him to see his biological parents?
Sometimes, the adoptive parents have contact details of the biological parents. Sometimes, they choose not to have them. That’s their business basically. Anyway, whether they will allow their child to meet his biological parents or not, is a question for later; maybe they haven’t thought of it. You’re making them think less about the happiness that surrounds them, and too much about things they shouldn’t as of now. Do yourself and them a favor―kill your curiosity.
#6: Is adopting a baby expensive?
Why? Why would you want to know? And out of so many things in the world, why would you ask them just this one question? It’s like you’re asking your friend how much she got her new shoes for. Really … don’t! When you bring money into the conversation, you make it seem like a purchase. Adoption is nowhere close to that.
#7: Is your baby from the United States of America?
How would it matter if he was from India? Maybe, you doubt he is, maybe, you doubt your friend is pulling off an Angelina Jolie, maybe, you’re just dumb enough to care. Any which way, you’re upsetting the parent. In a way, you’re making the adoptive parents feel as though this is a very big deal―something they should pay a lot of attention to―something that matters a lot.
#8: Awww! He looks just like you! OR Don’t you mind that he doesn’t/won’t look like you?
You know he is adopted. You’re also old enough to know that sometimes, even biological children have zero to little resemblance to their parents. Why then exactly would you want to ask this question? Sounds amusing? Only to you. Period.
#9: Wow! You’re big with charity!
Well … what exactly is it that you want to hear? I mean, seriously … what kind of question is that? People who adopt children want a family. Adoption is not a way to do charity, it never will be. When a couple adopts a child, they want to complete their family, and live the roles of a parent.
#10: When do you plan to tell him that he’s adopted?
How is that even your concern? When the parents tell their child he is adopted, they are basically telling him that he is not their biological child, nor are they his biological parents. However, to a child it is simple―they are not his parents. It is a very big step, albeit not an immediate one. To cause worry to yourself and the parents is just plain stupid.
It’s not very difficult to figure out what not to say to an adopted child and adoptive parents. You have to value their emotional vulnerability in the first few months of adoption. You should assure them that everything is perfect, and how happy this moment is. A little, careful sentiment is all it really needs.
Read more at Buzzle: http://www.buzzle.com/articles/10things-not-to-say-to-adoptive-parents.html
So here’s some alternate advice for adopters –
*make sure you have dealt with your infertility, insecurities and fears well before you begin to parent
* make sure you have worked out your approaches to all the big decisions well before placement, there is often plenty of time to get sorted where you stand on open adoption, when to tell, how to tell and what to tell and all the other big questions of adoption
*rehearse some good answers for the over-curious and intrusive; humour is good if you can manage it
*remember that not everyone lives and breathes adoption and don’t expect all to be as conversant as you are, so be kind and patient if you can
*expect racism, you live in a racist country; how you teach an adoptee to deal with it is what is important
And some advice for questioners –
* most questions seem to wrong-foot those who are going through adoption; try to be patient, tactful, kind and don’t pry
* don’t ask anything of them you wouldn’t want asked about your family
* don’t assure them that everything is perfect, it may be far from perfect!
* adoption is complex and too hard to talk about in Aisle 3
* if you are really interested in showing support take them a meal, just as you would for any new family
* good luck if you are genuinely interested in seeking the truth of adoption; it won’t be found in one place