“I used to joke and tease you, even try to make you mad, by telling you you were adopted. But I’m glad you’re not adopted, I’m glad we are real brothers.”

My jaw dropped. I stopped mid-click. It was a wedding toast. I was the photographer of a wedding for a lovely couple; I was being paid to be present. The best man was the groom’s brother and was doing his best to make the crowd laugh for the first half of his toast; this string of sentences was in the second half, his serious section of the toast.

My gut churned. I wanted to leave. I looked around the room, wondering if there were any families of adoption among the 200+ people present supporting the union of this couple. I wondered about the conversations they would be having after this statement; maybe a seven year old would dare to ask her mama while they were in the bathroom during the reception, maybe a ten year old would ask his dad about the comment on their drive home, maybe a five year old would silently wonder about the words carelessly spewed, questioning his validity of belonging, maybe a 16 year old would hear this statement yet again and feel it solidify in her identity that adoption is less than. I imagined parents having to once again attempt to undo what society was telling their children. What their friends were telling their children.

This phrase and statement isn’t a joke. Adoption isn’t a joke. Adoption doesn’t make a family less valid.

Allowing our children to use “you must be adopted” or “you’re adopted” to a sibling as a weapon is one of the most detrimental things we allow our children to do.

Using “you’re adopted” as an insult is powerful in the worst of ways. It perpetuates the incredibly false stigma and lie too many children of adoption believe: they do not belong, they are less than, they aren’t real family.

My friend, a black male who was raised by white parents who adopted him (and kind of sucked as parents in general), shared how this ongoing insult affected him growing up:

“I contemplated, as a child, why? Why was I adopted? Why didn’t I deserve the same childhood as everyone else? Why was I not worth the love of my biological parents? Did they do this because they really loved me or simply because I was unwanted? Your children will wonder and when they do…be honest with them. Tell them how much you love them, make sure they know the love you feel for them is real.”

Most, if not all, children of adoption already battle or will battle these valid questions of deep loss: Why am I not with my biological family? Was I unwanted? Am I worthy to be loved? Am I valuable? Is my [adoptive] family my real family? Am I loved less by my parents because we don’t share blood/DNA/biology?

When I think about this toast and the years of ignorance growing up where we as kids joked about so-and-so being adopted because they clearly didn’t belong, it fires me up to transform the false stigmas. When I think about my son internalizing this careless statement as a joke or weapon, my heart aches; I hate knowing thousands of kids are deeply hurt by this all too common joke/insult/statement.

My son by adoption isn’t less a Brenner than my son by biology.

Help make this world a safer space for hearts of adoption: sit down and talk with your children about adoption and how it is an absolutely valid and real way to make a family. Teach your kids the best terms to use so they aren’t unknowingly perpetuating real pain their friends are grappling with.

I believe in the power of loving well. I believe in the power of listening well. This is my mama’s heart cry for you to help make this world better and safer for all of us.