Adoptive Parents, Add to Your To-Do List: Educate Others

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I don’t know why they have to do a criminal background check on you.” “Doesn’t it take years to adopt a healthy baby?” “Can’t you just go to Haiti and adopt one of the children from the earthquake?” “Why must the birth mother pick you? Shouldn’t you pick her, since you’re paying the money?” “Why are you wanting to ask the birth parents their opinion on baby names? He’ll be your baby!” “How come you still have social worker visits, after you have your child?” “Why do you want to remain in contact with the birth family? Aren’t you worried about confusing your child?” “Why does it cost so much to adopt?”

Some of these questions may have been ones you’ve heard, or eventually will hear as an adoptive or prospective adoptive parent. While sometimes these questions come from strangers approaching you at the drug store, odds are the most surprising and brazen questions will come from your loved ones. It would be easy to give an annoyed look at a stranger and simply walk away. But if you’re preparing your Thanksgiving meal and your Dad asks, “How will you know if the biological mom is lying, by saying she hasn’t done drugs? Haven’t most of them had drinks during their pregnancies?” it is a lot harder and even less desirable to walk away and avoid answering.

Your initial response may be to get angry. “Dad, why do you mistrust everyone? Give me a break!” Or you could get defensive. “Dad, when did you become an expert on ‘birth mothers’? How do you know if they lie or drink or do drugs?” Or you could back down, “Dad, I just don’t know. What do you think?”

Hopefully, you will be able to take a deep breath and think about who is making the comment or question. If it’s from a loved one, then odds are they aren’t trying to talk you out of adoption. They are probably just wanting to learn about adoption and want to find out more. Unfortunately, they may be inquiring by not using the proper adoption language or making peculiar judgements about the adoption process. Think, did you know how to word everything, before your spent all your free time researching if adoption was the right choice for you?

Your Research vs. Their Research

Think about when you first began to research adoption. It could have been when you were still in infertility treatments. I began attending seminars on the topic while still going through infertility treatments, and it helped me emotionally to know there were other options if I couldn’t have a successful pregnancy. Even if you began to research adoption just prior to deciding to adopt, think about how much effort you put into it. You probably went online and read adoption blogs, articles, agency websites, or government adoption websites. Did you register and participate on any online adoption forums? Maybe you went to a bookstore or to your library and looked through books on adoption to gain as much knowledge on the topic as possible. Did you ask any of your friends, co-workers or neighbors if they had any insight on adoption? Were there any local adoption support groups you attended, to hear from others in the adoption process? Ever call any agencies and discuss with them their policies, pricing and time line for their adoptions?

Do you think any of your loved ones did any of that prior to you announcing that you were adopting? Do you honestly think that any of your loved ones did a tenth of that after you announced your adoption decision? I think the answer across the board would be NO.

So is it really fair to be frustrated and annoyed with ignorant adoption questions or comments from your loved ones? Maybe, maybe not. Although you already have enough to do during your adoption journey, you should take some time to educate your friends and family in order to catch them up to speed. They don’t need to know about every step of your homestudy process, but it would be helpful for them to understand who writes it, what it consists of, and why you need it. Just that basic information, would help your loved ones out tremendously.

Create a Website

How are you to educate everyone? There are a few ways you can do it. Some couples I know created an online blog, when they announced their adoption decision. On this blog, were basic adoption questions, such as “What is an open adoption?,” with the answer below it. The blog included links to helpful websites, like Adoptive Families and Adoption.com. Then later if someone had an adoption question, the couple could just refer them to their website.

Also, on this website, the couple can include where they are at in the process, so they don’t have to tell relatives the same information over and over. If they write, “June 24, 2010: We have our homestudy approved!” then it’s known to anyone who has access to the website. You have the option to have the website secure, through passwords or invitations so there are no worries about strangers knowing your adoption progress.

Introduce Them to the Adoption Community

If you have the option of bringing your loved one to an adoption support meeting, then you would be giving them a wonderful opportunity to meet other couples just like you. In my monthly adoption support meeting, now and then someone will bring a sister, a friend or their parents to a meeting. I absolutely love having people like that there. First of all, I am always impressed that they are taking their time to attend the meeting in order to educate themselves about adoption. Without fail after those meetings, the loved ones always leave wide-eyed. They’ll say, “I had no idea how involved this was.” or “This helped me so much in understanding what my son and his wife and going through.”

If you happen to know other couples who have adopted, invite them over to socialize with your loved ones. Seeing the adoptive family together may help dispel any fears your loved ones have about bonding and loving a family member not biologically related. You, along with the other couples, may then initiate a dialog about adoption, which your loved ones could listen to or participate in. Don’t make the discussion about bashing those who ask stupid adoption questions. Instead discuss your fears of adoption and gain advice from your friends who have been through it. Odds are your loved ones have similar fears but may be afraid to voice them to you. By hearing you openly discuss your feelings, they may come to understand theirs better.

Buy a Book

There is a wonderful book written by Patricia Johnston titled, “Adoption is a Family Affair.” This is not a book for prospective adoptive parents, but instead written for their loved ones. It plainly explains the adoption process, proper adoption language, questions never to ask, tips on how to support the prospective adoptive parents and other helpful advice. I bought a copy for my parents and in-laws once we decided to adopt. Both sets of parents read it within a day or two (it’s very short and easy to read) and then passed it on to other family members. I didn’t quiz anyone to see if they had actually read it, but it was obvious through their words and actions, that they did. I didn’t receive any silly or ignorant questions. I didn’t have to explain every step of the adoption process. I didn’t have to correct their language, when they spoke of adoption.

My favorite story on this topic was when my son, Keith, was a few weeks old. I had known by then that my 83 year-old grandfather had the “Adoption is a Family Affair” book passed along to him from my mother. I was talking on the phone to him when he asked me, “How is Keith’s birth mother doing?” I was shocked. First, he said “birth” mother and not “real” or “biological” mother. Second, he understood that I would definitely care how the birth mother would be doing. He knew that through our open adoption, I had developed a relationship with her. She was now part of our family.

I understand that there will always be loved ones who will say the wrong thing. Some people are not willing to educate themselves. Luckily, most people are. So when you get frustrated by the ignorant adoption questions or comments coming from your brother, grandmother or best friend, just try to remember that they don’t get “it”. You get “it” because you devoted a lot of your time researching on this very important topic. Now it’s your turn to educate your loved ones. They are bugging you with their questions because they want the best for you and want to make sure you are making the best decision possible. If you show them that you know what you are doing by educating them, then you are creating an excellent environment for future talks about adoption.

Danielle I. Pennel

Three Yellow Roses

www.threeyellowroses.com

One thought on “Adoptive Parents, Add to Your To-Do List: Educate Others

  1. What a great post. In our family, we were totally “onboard” with adoption because we wanted a family for our loved ones. Not knowing exactly what to say or ask may have stopped me from speaking up – it is not lack of interest or being oppossed that may prevent speaking up for many family members. Birth is always an emotional time. I would recommend developing a good relationship prior to the adoption process so the family can feel comfortable and the adopting couple can answer clearly and tell the family how they would like things handled. Having read and reread the book mentioned, I can attest to its usefulness – and it could open the door to good discussion. All family members need to be honest, loving and supportive of one another.
    Thank you for a great post!

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