4 Tips for Dealing with Adoption Ignorance Among Family and Friends

Consider these things the next time a family member or friend has a foot-in-mouth moment.

Susan Kuligowski March 29, 2016
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You’ve heard the saying “Ignorance is bliss”? When it comes to dealing with adoption ignorance among family and friends, many of us in the adoption community might find ourselves shaking our heads and saying, “Not so fast.”

It’s not like you don’t have enough to do in a day and are just waiting for adoption ignorance to rear its ugly head, but when it does, it’s common to find yourself wondering whether or not to let it go or confront it head-on.

Consider these things the next time a family member or friend has a foot-in-mouth moment.

1. Offer a family and friends discount.

If you’re part of an adoptive family, no doubt you are an expert on the subject and/or are becoming one through months or years of ongoing education. Chances are, your family and friends have probably not had the desire nor the interest to devote quite as much time, if any, to the subject that you hold so dear. So, before you have an Incredible Hulk moment, remember that there are probably important situations in their lives that you know next to nothing about either. Cut them a special break—they are family and friends after all, so I’m assuming you allow them into your life for a reason.

Don’t assume they know all about adoption or know how to ask certain things about adoption. Instead, make it a point to share what you know with your inner circle (without making every gathering an adoption infomercial or you’ll be the one being booted). Often, family and friends are (ironically) afraid of sounding ignorant and don’t know how to bring up the subject. Offer to answer their questions with an open mind, remembering that everyone has a right to their own opinions.

2. Give peace a chance. 

Ok, so Uncle John just made an inappropriate remark after you slaved all day making him and his brood Sunday supper. While you may feel hurt or angry, make sure you’re not overreacting or that he’s not just super bad at communicating his thoughts—both are a possibility.

Like any subject matter that hits close to home, your initial response may be to jump the table and take Uncle John down for the count. However, counting to 10 here may be a better option and less likely to land you in jail. “Excuse me?” Or What did you mean by that?” are appropriate. Chance are, your uncle is more embarrassed than you are angry.

If his explanation seems honest, you may be able to turn things around with a dash of adoption insight or a lighthearted comment (sarcasm always works well here, too) to let him know that what he said wasn’t appreciated, but you’ll let him live to see another day. It can be great to give our children the opportunity to witness two parties finding a healthy way to move forward together.

3. Know your surroundings.

Should you find yourself in an uncomfortable conversation with family or friends in the presence of your child and you can tell that a teachable moment is well out of reach, think twice about how you handle things. Children see and hear everything whether or not it looks like they’re paying attention, and they are definitely tuned in when it appears the Jerry Springer show may bust out in their living room.

Don’t turn a holiday or a playdate into a battleground. Keep your cool. It’s not worth ruining your day. If it’s a situation that you can handle easily enough, it’s a great time to be an example for your child and respond in turn. However, it may be a good idea to make sure your child is otherwise occupied when you find yourself addressing what was clearly meant as a word punch. Assuming the comment was not innocent, stand your ground, by all means, but not at the expense of your child’s feelings. Take care of business and move on or remove yourself from the situation (as the case may be).

Either way, definitely address what happened later with your little one to see what he may have heard. It also may be a great opportunity to talk to your child about something he may someday experience himself: dealing with adoption ignorance among family and friends.

4. Be prepared to cut your losses.

It turns out Aunt Bert has no interest in learning about adoption other than a gossipy story she heard from a friend of a friend 37 years ago, which did not end well and which she is all-too-happy to share again and again in your presence, all the while daring you to stay on your side of the table. While I’ve never been one to write someone off unless it becomes clear there’s not a chance in heck of any common ground to be found, sometimes a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do.

There are, as we all know, people who enjoy making you feel bad about yourself. When it comes to something as serious as adoption and the people you tuck into bed with a kiss and a special song each night, you may want to rethink your need to attend future gatherings unless it’s made clear that nasty comments are to be left at the door and realities checked.

True friends will take the time to learn about what’s important to you and your family and what’s appropriate and inappropriate to say—the rest were never truly friends at all.

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Susan Kuligowski

Sue Kuligowski is a staff storyteller at Adoption.com. The mother of two girls through adoption, she is a proposal coordinator, freelance writer/editor, and an adoption advocate. When she's not writing or editing, she can be found supervising sometimes successful glow-in-the-dark experiments, chasing down snails in the backyard, and attempting to make sure her girls are eating more vegetables than candy.


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