The art of opening up about openness in adoption
Not a week goes by that I don’t shake my head from side to side softly, secretly rolling my eyes while reminding myself that ignorance isn’t stupidity. Get a group of adoptive parents together in any forum and ask them if a well-meaning stranger has ever put their foot in their mouth over their family’s grafted makeup, and watch the hilarity ensue.
As adoptive parents, we make a choice when these inquiries arise: do we have time and/or is it the appropriate time and situation to educate, or do we need to bow out of the forced conversation as gracefully as possible? If you choose to engage, restate the question in an adoption-sensitive way, such as, “I think you’re asking if they’re biologically mine.” You can either choose to wait for their response or just keep the train rolling down the tracks, quickly adding something positive, such as, “And no, they’re not biologically mine, but thanks to adoption, they are absolutely my children through and through.”
Answering questions when your children aren’t present gives you the leeway to speak as candidly as you’re comfortable. For example, when my co-worker asked me if I was afraid my child’s birth parents would come and steal him from us, I took a minute to laugh to myself. I remembered she was merely coming from a place of ignorance, and then I decided to educate her. I told her that no, we weren’t at all concerned about that. Expectant parents are making an adoption plan for their children because they realize that there are limitations that will keep them from raising their child in the way they believe that child deserves. They have the child’s best interest at heart, and if they’re able to exhibit that by relinquishing their rights and allowing another family to raise them, they certainly care about that child’s long-term well-being.
I’ve compiled a Top 10 list that shows the tiniest fraction of the questions I heard most, from the moment we revealed that we were growing our family through adoption, all the way to now, when we’ve added two beautiful children to our family. I’ve listed some of our most common responses so you can begin thinking through what answers might work for you or even add some of our responses to your arsenal so you are eventually equipped with answers that flow naturally and are comfortable for your entire family.
1. Why would you want your child’s birth family in your life?
Boiled down, it’s not a matter of whether I want them in my life or not; it’s a matter of whether they are a beneficial addition to my child’s life. Having my children’s birth families in their lives is simply an added bonus for me because I get to see my children’s features reflected back at me, I have knowledge of their family histories, and my child has even more love. I want them in my child’s life so my child can hear their story straight from the source and find security in realizing they were never “given away.”
2. Are you sure you can love your adopted child as much as you’d love a biological child?
Well, I have no point of reference, but can I guarantee I’ll love a child who joins our family through adoption? I absolutely can. I love my spouse, and he has no biological relation to me; we joined together and a family was born, and we’ll welcome and love a child in that same way.
3. Do you really love your child’s birth family?
They created my child. Without them, I wouldn’t have the privilege of being my child’s mother. There is a special place in my heart reserved for my children’s birth families and it’s a love that’s mixed with gratitude and admiration.
4. Isn’t all of this open adoption stuff confusing for your child?
When I got married, my husband and I joined to form our family. He came with parents and siblings, along with extended family members. These in-laws then became my family. We have no biological connection, yet our love is true and sincere, and I love my husband’s family for bringing him into the world and helping him become the man I love. Our children understand that we have love, gratitude, and admiration for their families of origin, and they don’t disappear just because they’ve joined our family. With open adoption, we have the chance to show our children that we love everything about them, including where they came from, and they have a chance to feel a real sense of identity. It’s only confusing if we make it confusing.
5. Do your kids feel like real siblings?
Both of our children have both biological siblings and each other. To us, none of these bonds are more important than another, but our son and our daughter will share the context and closeness of being raised in the same home, by the same parents. A unique bond will form between them for this reason. Our son and daughter also have biological siblings, and the bond they share is unique, as well. Sibling relationships are vitally important, and our children are blessed to have an array of siblings with which to identify and relate.
6. What if your children grow up and want to live with their birth family?
This could happen, especially during teen years when most people struggle with their identities. In our case, we have two birth mothers who aren’t afraid to get on the phone with our kids and tell them to be respectful to their mother and remind them that they’re exactly where they’re intended to be. When a united front is created among mothers, reinforcements are in place when rebellion occurs. We’re fortunate that our children feel safe enough to express their emotions and talk through them together, never devaluing the truth that adoption is painful at times.
7. Could his birth parents just not afford to keep him and that’s why they gave him away? (or other personal questions related to the birth parent’s reasons for placing)
There were numerous factors that went into our child’s birth family not being able to raise him, but his story is personal to him, and I don’t like to go into great detail. With many adoption plans, finances (or other reasons) can play a part, but there isn’t usually just one reason that families choose to weather something as painful as an adoption plan.
8. How much did it cost for you to adopt your baby? Was she expensive?
Finances are such a personal subject, but I can tell you that adoption oftentimes requires financial stability, and costs really vary because each case is unique.
9. Does he know he’s adopted?
Absolutely. We began talking to him about his adoption story and how loved he is from day one. Adoption is nothing to be ashamed about, so there’s no reason to hide his story from him.
10. But your child looks exactly like you! I can’t believe he’s adopted [and/or] Your child looks nothing like you, so does she feel at home with your family?
Living together and spending so much time together has a way of creating similarities like the way we talk and our expressions, but he looks just like his birth mother and she deserves all the credit for that sweet face [and/or] We’ve raised our kids to realize that the way we look doesn’t make us a family. It’s the love we have for each other, the time we spend together, and the memories we create together. We depend on one another and create a home together, so we all belong. I didn’t choose my husband because he looked like me and didn’t do that with my children, either.
Most of all, allow yourself the time to grow in your reactions, practice while your children are young, and get comfortable discussing adoption. Someday, you may find yourself dipping into the answers you’ve become comfortable with in a way that directly benefits your child. It’s dark in the room and you’re snuggling your child before kissing her goodnight when she quietly asks, “Mama, why couldn’t my birth mom take care of me?” Your heart will break a little and, in that moment, you’ll realize that you already have answers you feel comfortable with worked out in your brain. You’ll process it for a second and then think back to those curious askers of probing questions, and feel gratitude for a fleeting second. Then, you’ll take a deep breath and support your child.
Just remember, Mama: Practice makes perfect.