I believe that adoptive parents and waiting families have a special obligation to be adoption advocates. We must raise awareness of the realities, beauties, and problems surrounding adoption and do our part to be the voice of change in those areas that need improvement. Nevertheless, being an adoption advocate does not mean we blithely promote the dissolution of biological families, but that we accurately represent the needs of the adoption community to others. Together, we can promote the voices of birth mothers and adoptees, help normalize and support adoptive families of all types, foster ethical practices, and champion for safe, loving families for the children who need them. Here are a few of the reasons why you should advocate for adoption!
1. You never know who you might inspire.
When you start talking openly about adoption, you learn that there are many people who are casually interested in the idea of being a foster or adoptive parent. With candidness and advocacy, you might help motivate someone to finally take the next step. I have friends who regularly post the stories of foster children waiting to be; if some of the 100,000 waiting children in the U.S. find a forever family because of such advocacy, it is worth it! Or, maybe your loving example of an open adoption is the assurance a woman needs to consider an adoption plan for her child. You never know who will be touched by your story, and sometimes just sharing the journey with those around you can make a difference in the lives of others. (The caveat here, of course, is that it is important to maintain the privacy of our children. Advocacy should never come at the cost of exploiting their adoption stories).
2. You get to promote the whole triad.
As adoption advocates, we have the powerful opportunity to amplify the voices of birth families and adoptees. Historically, these members of the adoption triad have not been as heard as adoptive and waiting families, and adoption would be better all-around if they were more valued in the narrative. We must not hide from their feelings of loss, of abandonment, of brokenness, of blessing, of family, of love. We cannot dismiss their realities because they might be hard to hear or might make us uncomfortable. Listen, believe, and learn. And then share. Share their stories, share their writings, podcasts, and social media accounts. Encourage other adoptive and waiting families to also seek out these perspectives. Help to dispel stereotypes about birth mothers and adoptees. Call people out when they make adoption jokes. Empathize with the pain of the woman who made you parents and be prepared for feelings of loss in your adopted child(ren). You will be a better person and a better parent for it, and adoption advocacy would be incomplete if it only focused on adoptive parenthood.
3. You can model adoption-positive language.
Who doesn’t love the question, “Are you her *real* mother?” Each time you help someone learn the appropriate vocabulary for adoption, you help adoptive families everywhere. Promoting the use of pro-adoption language, through your own example and by gentle (and sometimes not so gentle) correction, is key in dispelling misunderstandings and creating a safe, understanding environment for your children. Doing so can help empower others to talk and think about adoption differently and gives respect to all members of the adoption triad. Many people are open to using the better words, they just don’t know them. Help them out!
4. You can help normalize families of all sorts.
Whether your family is single-parent, cross-cultural, interracial, and/or has special needs, each of us can help normalize families outside the historical norm. This form of adoption advocacy can come directly from the example and composition of your own family. If you are a part of an interracial triad, your conversations and actions can go so far in raising awareness about the continued struggles of minorities. I remember being impacted by this article about helping white children to be aware of the unique safety issues that black children face. This mother did an excellent job of direct advocacy, and the rest of us can teach our children these hard lessons. All adoptive families regardless of composition, can, of course, model compassionate attitudes towards all children and families. Teach empathy for those with physical limitations and struggles, discuss addiction and mental health with love, model global-mindedness and tolerance for cultural, religious, and sexual diversity. All of this falls under the “just be a good person” category, but I think that, given the incredible diversity of adoption itself, adoptive families have a special calling and opportunity to promote understanding.
5. You can make adoption more ethical.
There are major problems, corruption, and unethical practices in adoption, and this is a truth we must all recognize and fight against. Not only is it our duty to do due diligence when we select adoption agencies, consultants, and/or lawyers, but we must help others understand why that is important. So many hopeful families want a child quickly and without high expenses, but those absolutely cannot be the deciding factors when selecting an adoption path. Women in crisis deserve to be counseled about their real options so that they can make an informed decision to parent or make an adoption plan. Birth families also deserve post-placement support for as long as they may need it. Waiting families should be encouraged to step away from an adoption agency, consultant, or situation that seems questionable or coercive; always think of trying to explain your actions to your future child—will it seem right and fair? At a personal level, waiting families must be careful to not renege on discussions or promises of openness. These are not hurdles to overcome to get a baby; there are lives at stake, and birth families deserve to be given an honest idea of openness from the beginning. Fight for these things in your own adoption(s), and advocate for them at large.
Adoption is also political. Actively promote legislation that fosters ethical and fair practices in foster care, domestic, and international adoptions. Issues like the termination of parental rights, the treatment of birth/putative fathers, access to original birth certificates, adoption tax credits, etc., are just some of the areas where we can exercise our political rights to make adoption better. Write to your legislators and let them know where you stand on these issues and why. Learn about the risk of human trafficking in international adoptions and support charities, agencies, NGOs, and governments that combat this horrific reality through family preservation and/or careful documentation of the children in care. Adoption shapes families forever, and we must do our part to limit the unethical practices that harm birth families and the innocent children involved.