Are “Adopt-A-Family” Programs Offensive To The Adoption Triad?

This time of year every church and school seem to have up a "Giving Tree."

Karen White December 12, 2016
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This time of year every church and school seem to have up a “Giving Tree.” You know, the ones where you choose a child or family to ‘adopt’ for the holidays and purchase gifts and necessities for those in need. While the concept is noble, it can stir up mixed feeling by those in the adoption triad. It seems that every adoptive parent has felt a twinge when someone announces they are adopting, or have adopted, only to find out they mean a puppy, or a family for Christmas. And how will your adopted child feel? Will they be confused or will it make them feel different from their peers?

I asked my 8-year-old son how he felt about ‘adopt-a-famliy’ programs and he looked at me like I grew a second head. He was baffled as to why I would even worry about that. In his mind to ‘adopt’ means to help someone in need. So whether it be a child, or a highway, or a pet, if there is a need then he does not see the term changing his experience in any way.

But in the adoption community this can be a hotly debated subject. Some feel that it diminishes an adoptees experience. Saying you can ‘adopt a family’ belittles the experience of those who actually were adopted and puts them in a place of being lesser–of always being in need of help. Since ‘adopt-a-person/place/thing’ program usually are in reference to something new, it also implies that one who is adopted is young. Some adult adoptees may feel that because they were adopted that they are always seen as a child. They may feel as though they aren’t allowed to have opinions and feelings like their non-adopted counterparts.

Others feel it cheapens the institution of adoption and some even go as far as suggesting these terms can be psychologically damaging to adopted children. There has been a push since the ‘adopt-a’ program creation in the 80’s to coin a new word for adopted children. Personally, I don’t disagree with using the term, but it does make me cringe a little bit. But truth of the matter is that as broad as the English language is, we don’t have another good term for it. Changing Adopt-a-family to Sponsor-a-family could then upset those in addiction recovery.  There is just no right or wrong when it comes down to it.

Often we take discussions that are close to our heart personally. If as an adoptee, ‘adopt-a’ programs are hurtful then suggest a name change. As adoptive parents all we can do is explain adoption when it come up in context and hope to educate others using positive adoption language.

What do you think about “Adopt-A-Family” programs and those like it? Let us know in the comments!

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Karen White

Karen White is the self-proclaimed leading authority on being "that mom." You know the one. The PTO Vice President, room mom, baseball team mom, AND leader of well-behaved kids (OK, the well-behaved part may be stretching it . . . like really stretching . . .) When she isn’t threatening to tackle one of her boys on the ball field if they don’t run faster, or convincing her 4-year-old daughter that everything doesn’t HAVE to sparkle, she is also a wife and stay-at-home mom of three. One of the three happens to have been adopted, but good luck figuring out which one it is, since they all have pasty white skin, blond hair, and blue eyes.


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