Adoption 101 - 10 Things Not to Say to Adoptive Parents

If you’re in the adoption world at all, you’ve probably see the following article recently: 10 Things Not to Say to Adoptive Parents - Especially in Front of Their Kids

If you haven’t read this article (originally written in November 2011), you’ll get to read it now... along with some commentary! :)

For this session of Adoption 101, I’m going to include the original article written by Tracy Hahn-Burkett.

Here’s a quick bio on her (taken from her blog):  I'm a writer living in northern New England with my Caucasian and Korean, Jewish and not Jewish, formed-by-adoption-and-biology family. I've got a husband, a ten-year-old son, a six-year-old daughter and a very old cat.

This week, a member of my orphan outreach group (Amy) also wrote her responses to Miss Tracy’s article.  You can read her original response here on her blog.  I’m going to work it into this session of Adoption 101 though, because I believe that Amy sheds a lot of insight on the issues presented by Tracy.  Amy mentioned that Tracy seems sarcastic, and I’d even add bitter.  Amy offers answers in a much softer tone.

Here’s a little background info on Amy:  She and her husband began the adoption process when her biological son, Preston, was 9-years-old.  Just over a year ago, they brought home a 9-year-old Chinese daughter, Shaling.  

Also, you’ll be able to read my responses to Tracy’s article along the way (because, after all, it is my blog!)

So, let’s get started!

10 Things Not to Say to Adoptive Parents by Tracy Hahn-Burkett (with commentary by Amy Reynolds and Ginger Newingham)

1: "IS IT DIFFICULT TO LOVE A CHILD WHO ISN'T YOUR OWN?"

Tracy: My children are my own — both of them. Yes, I know what you mean. And I repeat: Both of my children are "my own." 

Amy: I fully endorse Hahn-Burkett's response to this one. I tend to brush this one aside, knowing full well that the person asking the question doesn't mean any harm. However, the truth is that it IS harmful, especially if asked in front of either of my kids. If you are curious as to how I got my kids, asking if I have any biological children would be far more appropriate.

Ginger: Having only an adopted son (for now) will probably keep this question at bay.  I appreciate Tracy and Amy's experiences of having biological AND adopted children. 

2: "I COULD NEVER LOVE SOMEONE WHO DOESN'T SHARE MY BIOLOGY."

Tracy: I’m sorry your heart is so limited. And presumably your spouse doesn’t share your biology, so I’m sorry for him or her, too.

Amy: Yes, you could! Brock & I are not a level above anyone else. We are certainly not going to be nominated for sainthood. And we are far from being featured in any parenting magazine. If folks as common as us are capable of loving and raising a child, then I know there are hundreds of thousands (if not millions) more out there that are just as capable.

Ginger: Christ has called us to love everyone.  I’m sure that there are moments when EVERY parent (bio, adopted, foster) doesn’t feel love toward their child.  Those are the moments when we are called to demonstrate love, despite our feelings.  It’s no different with an orphan.  In fact, in the Bible, God talks a lot about how we should care for and love orphans (James 1:27, Isaiah 1:17, Deuteronomy 10:18, Psalm 82:3-4, Exodus 22:22-24, Psalm 68:5-6, Psalm 146:9, Hosea 14:3... must I go on?) 

3: "SHE/HE'S SO LUCKY."

Tracy: If there are adoptive parents who haven’t heard this one, I don’t know them. Yes, my adopted child is lucky, just like her brother who was born to me — just like any kid blessed with a good family. Moreover, my husband and I are lucky to have her as a daughter. My daughter is not lucky, however, by virtue of having been adopted or because she’s been adopted by an American family. Her life story will always be one that begins with wrenching loss of family, country, language, culture, and all things related to the place and people from whence she came. She will have to figure out how to incorporate all of this into her identity at some point, no matter how much we love her.

Amy: I confess. Brock & I both loathe this one. Maybe loathe is too strong of a word, but I know I have to take a silent deep breath and show restraint. And I know Brock has shared feeling the same way with me. Oh, we're not stupid. We know Shaling is fortunate to have a family, but so is Preston, yet no one seems to imply that he should have an overwhelming sense of gratefulness about it. In fact, depending on your point of view, Preston may be luckier than Shaling. Shaling has had to deal with relearning everything she had been taught for 9 years -- her language, her culture, new foods, friends, etc. Her life story will always begin with the loss of family. We love her so much, but we cannot erase that. Furthermore, we aren't being facetious when we respond that we are the lucky ones. She comes with some parenting challenges, but those pale in comparison to the love, joy, and pride she has given us. In the same way, Preston has his own set of parenting challenges, but we are so fortunate to have this sweet, wonderful boy in our lives.

Ginger: I have a slightly different response than Tracy and Amy.  I actually agree that N. is lucky (or blessed).  I’ve read the statistics.  I know that 80-90% of Bulgarian boys who grow up in an orphanage will go on to lead a life of crime.  I’ve read the suicide rate among orphans in a Eastern European country.  Now, I can’t guarantee that N. will stay out of trouble as a Newingham (if his dad’s record proves anything...) but I do know that he has a fighting chance here.  He has hundreds (if not thousands) of people praying for him.  He has a local church and parents who love him.  I’m just blessed that God is choosing to give N. a different path than many orphan boys over the age of five.  He’s giving N. a family.  I’m also blessed that N.’s going to be in OUR family.  

4: "THAT'S GREAT; IT'S SO MUCH EASIER THAN HAVING THE CHILD YOURSELF."

Tracy: Clearly, you have never adopted a child. What, exactly, is easy about it? Is it the hundreds of questions prospective adoptive parents have to answer along the path to adoption, questions that go to the heart of what kind of people they are and dissect every aspect of their lives? Is it committing to a lifetime of knowing that at anytime from toddlerhood through adulthood, your child may come to you with wrenching questions about his or her origins and your answers may be unsatisfactory? Is it knowing that the very fact that your child is yours means that somewhere a woman will probably grieve every day of her life for the child she could not raise? Is it missing the early months, sometimes years, of your child’s life? Is it telling your child when he or she asks to see baby pictures, "Sorry, I don’t have any"? I could go on, but you get the point.

Ginger:  Ok, this statement absolutely cracks me up.  No, I don’t have stretch marks.  And, you’re right, I didn’t have to go through the pain of labor and delivery, but I’m not sure I’d classify adoption as “easier” than having a biological child.  

We’ve been through three miscarriages, one failed adoption, and we’re FINALLY nearing the end of this adoption journey with N.  We first saw N.’s referral picture over a year ago, and I still don’t have an EXACT date when he will be in my arms again.  At least in pregnancy you receive a due date.  In adoption, it always feels as if there is no light at the end of the tunnel.  

But, I do understand that I won’t have to lose any baby weight, and for that, I am grateful.  Although chasing around a hyper-active five-year-old will probably be a workout plan with marketable results...

5: "SHE'S JUST LIKE A LITTLE CHINA DOLL!"

Tracy: Yes, thank you, I think she’s cute, too. But she is not Chinese and she’s a human being, so please don’t characterize her as an inanimate stereotype. And if you’re going to gush and coo over her, please consider that blond-haired, blue-eyed boy standing right next to her. He’s my kid, too. He’s pretty cute, too. And he can hear you.

Ginger: I think Tracy overreacts on this one.  I guess that I’ve possibly even said this to newly adoptive families in our orphan outreach group.  Your kid is cute.  Get over it.  I give you all permission to call N. a China Doll (although it would make no sense...)

6: "HER 'REAL' MOTHER WAS PROBABLY A PROSTITUTE."

Tracy: I’m her "real" mother, and so far as I can recall, I have never been a prostitute.

Ginger:  Again, I understand why Tracy is becoming defensive, but I think that people who are uneducated about adoption often use the word “real” in place of “biological.”  It’s not offensive to me.  I know that I share my son with another woman.  (Actually a couple women, if you count his beautiful caregivers.)  

And, by the way, if anyone says this to me, here’s how I’ll respond: “Yup, she sure was.  Wanna join me in praying for her and N.’s seven biological siblings?”

7: "WHAT KIND OF A PERSON WOULD GIVE UP SUCH A BEAUTIFUL, SWEET CHILD?"

Tracy: This comment is often accompanied by a clucking of the tongue. In general, the kind of person whose options are limited in ways you have never even had to imagine. Birthmothers are not bad, immoral people. Very few, if any, birthmothers who relinquish their children do so lightly. For most, it is a searing, heartbreaking decision that will haunt them forever. Also, please understand that when you say things about my child’s birthmother, you are commenting about the woman who gave my daughter life and whose genes remain an inseparable part of her — forever.

Amy: While I realize that for most of of us it is unfathomable to consider giving up a birth child, it is important to understand that when you ask this question in front of Shaling, you are criticizing the very woman who gave her life and whose heredity will remain a part of her forever. The cold, hard truth is that a woman that would do this probably made the most heart-wrenching, self-less decision she ever had to make in her entire life. This was not just a casual, "oh, I think I'll drop my kid off at the bus station" sort of thing. She was probably a wonderful person with a pitifully poor economic lot in life that feared she could not provide any sort of healthy life for her daughter. Think about how desperate she must have been to suspect that her daughter was better off with strangers. If there were any possible way for me to find her and let her know how much Shaling is loved, how smart she is, how beautiful she has become, etc., I would do it in a heartbeat.

Ginger: We've ministered to a birthmother here in the US.  We've talked women out of abortions.  We know women who have chosen adoption plans for their children.  We've provided financial support to single mothers.  I'll tell you what type of women would make this choice - beautiful, desperate, and sorrowful women.  I fully believe that N.'s biological mother is the same way.  We haven't, and probably won't meet her.  I have, however, spent time with the orphanage director who spoke of N. as though he were her son.  She wanted to provide everything for him, but knew her resources were limited.  She desired for N. to be given a life that she could not provide.  She was absolutely beautiful, desperate and sorrowful.  

8: "PEOPLE WHO ADOPT CHILDREN FROM OTHER COUNTRIES JUST WANT AN 'EXOTIC' CHILD."

Tracy: Alternatives: "People who adopt children from other countries just don't want black babies" or "People who adopt children from other countries are shirking their responsibility to adopt at home." 

Very few parents who choose international adoption do so because they don’t like "dark" kids or because they want an "exotic" child. The systems of international and domestic adoption differ in fundamental ways, and most parents who choose to adopt educate themselves thoroughly and then pick the program that is best for them.

Amy: My skin bristles as I am made to feel defensive... as if I am unpatriotic or something. Our personal story is that we actually pursued a few domestic adoptions and hit dead ends. We never set out to adopt internationally. We actually wondered if we were simply meant to be a family of 3. Then, due to my being included in a mass email about a severed adoption of an unrelated child, I was asked if we would consider adopting an 8-year-old girl from China. Voilà! We were on our way to getting Shaling. I don't mean to get too preachy, but God doesn't have borders. Whether you believe it was God calling us, fate, or something else, we were meant to be Shaling's family. Since when did it matter from which country an orphan in need of a family came? Finally, there are certain pluses & minuses when comparing international and domestic adoptions. Anyone considering adoption should read up on the requirements, costs, and experiences of both before making a decision that will best fit them.

Ginger: Amen, Amy, Amen.  God has no borders.  

Oh, and domestic adoption just didn’t work out for us.  And, I’d say we gave it a pretty darn good effort...

I hate when people question our patriotism because of our adoption.  All God’s orphans are welcome in my home.  And they should all be welcome in your hearts.  

9: ANYTHING IN CHINESE — ADDRESSED TO THE ASIAN ADOPTED CHILD

Tracy: This happened to me when my daughter was a year old. A woman in an elevator said something to my daughter in Chinese, and by the time I figured out what had just taken place, the woman was gone (thereby robbing me of my opportunity to deliver any sort of snarky reply). My daughter is American, has lived in this country since infancy, and the language she understands is English. Why would you assume anything else?

Ginger: (in response to Tracy) Uh, maybe cuz she looks Chinese? 

Whatever.  If people try to speak to N. in other languages, it will probably just be funny.  He has a major language delay... I don’t care what language you’re speaking, he’s probably not going to be answering for a while!

10: "HOW MUCH DID SHE COST?"

Tracy: Another one we’ve all heard, generally more than once. But my child is not a melon; I did not pick her up at the store. She cost me nothing. I did, however, spend quite a bit on adoption fees to support the process and travel costs, just as I spent quite a bit on medical care, etc., in conjunction with the conception and birth of my biological son. If you truly want to learn more about the financial aspect of either process, I will be happy to discuss that with you. If you’re only interested in knowing in order to pass judgment, it’s none of your business.

Amy: Not one red cent. Shaling didn't cost us a thing, just as there was no price tag associated with Preston at the hospital. Now, the process of adoption came with some mighty hefty fees, just as mine & Preston's medical care did. If you are truly pursuing adoption, I will be thrilled to share with you a spreadsheet I kept of all of our expenses. I will tell you up front that the heftiest of the costs were the travel, the orphanage fee, & paperwork processing fees. And yet, added up, those costs don't come close to touching how much we would have spent in child care, food, clothes, medical care, etc., if we had had Shaling in our own care those first 9 years of her life. We were very fortunate to have generous friends & family members that helped us out as we did some fundraising to put a dent in our adoption costs. We also had fortunate timing in that we adopted at a time when we were able to claim a sizable adoption credit on our federal tax return.

Ginger: Adoption can be super expensive, but if God is leading your family, He will provide.  We went into this process vowing to not have debt when our child arrived home.  God has honored this vow and given us clarity, planning, time (really would have liked this to move quicker... but thanks God for giving us time to save money), and a ton of generous friends.  I believe that Satan uses the expense of adoption to guarantee that there will still be orphans tomorrow.  If you are faithful, God will help you overcome Satan and remove even just one orphan from his grasp.  

Take that, Satan.

I hope this article and Amy and I’s commentary were helpful and informative.  If nothing else, please understand that adoption is a subject that is near and dear to an adoptive mother’s heart.  The topic should be approached tactfully and lovingly.  We, of course, like to talk about our kids and answer questions about adoption, but we desire respect and understanding.

Thanks to Amy Reynolds for allowing me to share her opinions and for weighing in on this topic.  Please keep her family in prayer as her daughter has been home for a year, but transitions take a very long time.

Until next time, class dismissed!

An Unlikely Registry

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