“You know your Mom’s not your real mom,” he quipped casually.
My heart nearly tripped as the words rounded the corner from the room where my older kids were playing with a friend.
“You’re adopted,” he continued. “Your mom’s not your real mom.”
“We’re not adopted,” my daughter countered, “just our brother.”
I cried from outside the door. I couldn’t speak in the moment, but deep inside I planned out a whole Mama bear list of things to talk to my big kids about later. I was grateful the comment had no power to threaten their identity, but equally panicked over the reality that those same words might knock my then peanut-of-a-boy over one day.
We’ve always been honest with him about his story precisely so he can own his beginnings and identity. It’s part of who he is, the messy and the miracle, the painful and the prayed-for. He is just starting to understand that his story is different from his big siblings. Most recently he’s started understanding that babies grow inside their Mommies. He got upset one day when I was telling him about the mom he grew inside of, insisting he’d been in mine instead. Even though I don’t want him to hurt, I also don’t want to cover the hard parts of his story to protect him, because it will just delay the wound.
But I want him to know at the same time that he is absolutely ours and fiercely loved. And I wanted my big kids to know to know the same: that I was just as much their brother’s mom as theirs. No doubt ever. After their friend left, I told them they should stand up for their brother if they ever heard kids say something like that. Ever. It was an important reminder to them and to me to be prepared.
Yet my heart ached over the million imaginary ways my little son might feel out of place, hurt, or unloved because someone else didn’t understand his story.
Still, their friend’s tone had been matter-of-fact, not malicious. He wasn’t taunting; I believe he was just processing in his own child-like way something that was foreign to him. So though I was broken by the conversation, I was also thankful to my friend for even trying to explain adoption to her son. It’s not easy.
What a bizarre cocktail of emotions erupted from one moment. Welcome to the world of adoption.
People always seem to have something to say, don’t they? Even under everyday scenarios, someone will be there to tell you to put another layer of clothes on your kid or ask you why you haven’t started your baby on solid foods yet. Maybe as humans we can’t help ourselves.
But whenever your story is a little bit off the beaten path, people tend to say things that range from comical to extremely hurtful because they just don’t know enough about your story. Certainly there are some who are just hurtful- who don’t want to even listen. But I believe most people don’t intend to hurt- they just haven’t had enough experience with adoption so it’s like a foreign language to them, and they need to learn a few common phrases to help them on their journey.
Once a friend of mine was going through a hard situation that I’d never experienced. I ended up looking up stories and comments from people online who had similar circumstances. I was so grateful because I’m sure I would have said something absolutely hurtful without meaning to if I hadn’t tried to understand.
And today if YOU are reading this post as we head into Thanksgiving, you’re taking a step towards understanding adoption and I’m so thankful for you. WE’RE thankful for you, because my friends have some of their own hard and hurtful stories as well. I hope you’ll listen and learn a little bit about what it’s like to adopt and some simple well-meaning phrases that don’t come across the way you might think. Some stories are painful to hear, but in sharing maybe we find healing.
Yes adoption is a many-layered wonder of loss and love. Not all stories are easy or simple to share. But I’m hoping that as we bring it into the open and talk more, our adopted children will grow up being confident of who they are, without fear that their story is wrong because it’s different.
(Maybe we’re doing OK because our kid so far has no shortage of confidence in being himself.)
Friends Share Their Adoption Stories…
*What people said to them that made them uncomfortable, and how they talk about adoption with their own kids.*
Pamela: (International Adoption- Ethiopia) People often talk romantically about adoption and how “lucky” our kids are to be in our family. I am always uncomfortable with that talk because it seems to gloss over all the loss the children have experienced in their short lives.
Also, I get annoyed when people think that threats of punishment or consequences will be effective on kids from trauma… they have lost their culture, language, birth family, and anything familiar; what could you take from them that is more valuable than those? My children are much more motivated by knowing you love and care about them as a person.
Since our children were older and of different race it is obvious that were adopted. I have always been comfortable telling their adoption story. I believe that when I keep silent the children might get the idea I am ashamed or uncomfortable with their life story. I even spoke to their school about adoption in 2nd grade so their friends could learn their story. Our children did nothing wrong to deserve their difficult start and I want then to hear that message over and over.
Terry: (International Adoption- Korea) A Hispanic woman made Chinese eyes asking if daddy was Chinese, Other questions, “is he black”, “what is he”, and he has “horse hair”; “chinky chinky chinaman- go back to where you came from” from 5th graders to my Kindergartener on the bus to/from school. Also great was my mom asking for me to give him back so I could get a white one…… lovely.
We celebrate anniversaries – no gifts.. We would show the movie “here comes D” or “E’s arrival” which led to their stories. Dad and I got married and started [a family]…Because we wanted children to fill out our family, we brought you into the family. You joined us on this day, so it’s your anniversary of becoming part of [our] family! The kids, especially E, really enjoyed their videos. They heard pet names used by the adoption staff and could see who was there not only when at the airport, but later at our home.
Caroline: (Foster-to-Adopt) When I first brought her home somebody asked me, “Where did you get that?” …uh… I’m going to chalk it up to social awkwardness?
I do really appreciate when parents are willing to take the time to explain adoption to their children. My cousins got a book about adoption from the library and read it with their children, and it really helped them to understand that our daughter belonged to our family.
I plan to be open and honest about it [her adoption story], and always allow her to ask questions and talk about it. We will show her pictures and tell her about her birth mom and about how we met her and brought her home, and about her adoption day. We will read books to her that explain adoption at an age-appropriate level.
Lisa: (Private US Adoption) I think for some people it has been hard for them to understand having a semi open relationship with the birth mother. They see it as once you adopt that’s it so why are we having any relations with the birth mother. This has been hard to explain and for them to understand.
Briana: (Foster-to-Adopt) “Why would anyone want to give her up.” This is not true, her mom wanted her very badly but was very sick with addiction and could not provide the care she needed.
I haven’t shared much yet because she is still very little. I do have a shadow box of her outfit she came to us in and some cards sent. I will be open and honest and tell her what is appropriate when she asks.