Orphan Sunday was yesterday, November 4th. As an adoptive parent I look forward to this day because it brings exposure to the plight of the orphan and the need for Christian adoptive parents. It also brings me to a point of reflection on our experiences regarding adoption, race and how our church family has responded to our growing family.
As a whole, our church family has been incredibly supportive through purchasing fundraiser items, praying during our LONG waits and just plain encouraging us. However, I will be completely honest in sharing that we have heard just as many thoughtless comments within the church as we have outside the church.
When I became the recipient of comments like “oh, he’s not too dark” or “are you worried your own kids will catch something from him?” it became very apparent that while the church supports adoption, there is a huge lack of understanding on how to “talk adoption.” I started arming myself with rhetoric to respond with when asked these uncomfortable and offensive questions. It was my desire to respond quickly and succinctly without putting the other person off. While I wanted to protect my child I also wanted to use the opportunity to educate. Stop the cycle so to say. I found myself hearing the words “don’t be offended” or “you don’t have to be sensitive, you know what I mean” in response to my clever and educational responses.
May I please take an angry momma moment here? Please do not speak about my child in a quasi-negative or weird way and then become offended when you feel that I’m being sensitive. Now… on to the solution for all of this.
We NEED to talk about adoption. We need to talk early and often! We have many adopted children in our congregation. They have precious sensitive little souls and many of them are from very hard places. There are appropriate ways to inquire about our children and there are ways that can be damaging. For instance, a very popular statement I get when being introduced is this, “Hey, meet Erica, she adopted Liam from Ethiopia, she has two of her own and now they are adopting from China, that’s great isn’t it?” Not a bad intro right? Well, there is a small, but huge issue in the middle of this statement: of her own. You may be reading this thinking, well; you know what they meant when they said that! Sure. They meant biological. So please say biological. When someone singles out one of my children as being my own while categorizing my children who were adopted differently that sets the tone for their life. It makes them feel different, and not a good different. Bottom line, all of my children are mine. They came to be in various ways, but they are all mine equally.
My biggest fear in confronting incorrect adoption lingo is that people will get so nervous about saying the right thing that they will stop asking questions and talking about adoption altogether! Don’t stop talking; just educate yourself please. To help out here are some phrases that will help you talk to your friends and fellow church members who are building their families through adoption.
1. “Do you know anything about his/her real mom?”
Instead try: “Do you have information about your child’s birth family.” (note: this should only be asked if you know the person well, and if the children are not present)
2. “Do you have children of your own?”
Instead try: “Do you have biological children as well?”
3. “Where did you get him?”
Instead try: “Where is your son from originally, he is gorgeous!”
4. “This is our friends son Josiah, he is adopted.” (Just don’t say this.)
Explanation, kids are not currently adopted, they were adopted and now they are part of a family. So just introduce them as “Josiah.” If he wants to talk about his adoption, he will.
5. “She is such a fortunate child, she was an orphan and now you have taken her into your family.”
Instead try: “Wow, your family is so blessed, we are excited for you.”
The last thing I will mention in regard to discussing adoption is this: those of us who have chosen transracial adoption know our children have a different skin color. We love this about our family! It’s not weird, it’s special, we even talk about our differences! These kind of differences are the “good different.” We love celebrating who are children are! Celebrate with us!
For more tips and terminology check out the Focus on the Family adoption resources page.
So yes, we adoptive parents are defensive and sensitive about how you choose to talk about our children. You would be too. I promise.
We simply ask that you take the time to learn how to best make conversation about our family or perhaps wait to have that conversation until you feel comfortable enough to try out your new terminology.
I say all of this with love and a desire for our church to become a safe and nurturing environment for the many adoptive families who are already in our church and have yet to come.
Adoptive Mom and Orphan Care Coordinator at LHBC