How’d that Baby Get so Brown? Tips for Talking About Adoption
Written By Savvy Auntie Staff Writers
By Elisabeth O’Toole, www.InOnAdoption.com
Elisabeth O’Toole is a mother of three children through adoption and a speaker and writer on adoption topics. She is also the author of the book, In On It: What Adoptive Parents Would Like You To Know About Adoption. A Guide for Relatives and Friends (FIG Press, 2011). For more information and to read an excerpt from In On It, please visit www.InOnAdoption.com.
One morning several years ago, my mother took my newly-adopted daughter out for a walk through her neighborhood. As they headed down the block, my mother’s neighbor approached them going the other way. As she passed, this neighbor looked down at my daughter, then up at my mother, and asked my mother, “How’d that baby get so brown?”
Later that day, my mother shared this experience with me, saying with frustration, “I was speechless. What on earth do you say when people say things like that? How can I respond to those kinds of comments?”
My mother’s experience was eye-opening for me. When my husband and I decided to adopt, we knew it was likely we’d sometimes find ourselves on the receiving end of questions and comments about our children and adoption. What we hadn’t realized was that other people, people close to us and to our children, also sometimes find themselves speaking on behalf of adoption and on behalf of our children.
If you are an aunt or a close friend of an adoptive family, you, too, may find yourself fielding unexpected adoption questions or comments when picking up your niece or nephew at school or while walking with them through the shopping mall. Here are a few suggestions to help you feel more prepared:
-Discuss with the child’s parents the kinds of questions people often ask about adoption (“How much did she cost?” “What is she?” “Is she adopted?” “Why did they adopt?”). Ask them how they’d like you to respond.
-A good rule of thumb is to remember that your most important audience is always the child. Frame your words for the child’s ears, not necessarily those of the stranger in the grocery store who’s asking you questions.
-Understand the family’s boundaries around privacy – especially that of the child. Remember that much of a child’s personal history is private – not a secret, but private – and the child’s to manage when they’re old enough to do so.
-Educate yourself about contemporary adoption. Seek out the adoption experiences of others, including adoptive parents, birth parents, and adult adoptees. Read blogs and books that offer insight and information into some of the particular joys and challenges of adoption.
-Act as an ambassador for adoption in your own words and attitude. Use positive adoption language. Share the extended family’s pleasure and gratitude for the child’s adoption.
-If you have children yourself, help them feel comfortable and secure about the concept of adoption. Remind them that their cousin is a real and permanent member of the family, no matter how they arrived into it, and that adoption is just another way of forming a family.
-Over time, your niece or nephew may themselves come to you with questions or to express some of their feelings around adoption. In fact, it’s not at all unusual for adoptees to worry about hurting their parents’ feelings by discussing their adoption in ways that are not wholly positive. You may be a safe place for them to turn to process these emotions. Be ready to talk to them about adoption, too.
Published: June 4, 2013