We’re All Adopted: Overcoming the Stigma

I came across this reflection on the stigma surrounding adoption. It’s pretty heart-breaking. The writer, an adoptee herself and an adoptive mother, talks to kids about adoption a lot.

Here’s what 10-year-old “Sam” said when she asked him what he thought it meant to be adopted:

“Well, being adopted is when the kids that nobody wants are put into an orphanage and then if the kid is really good, someone rich will pick them and buy them to have in their family.”

Ouch.

She writes about five themes that continually come up about adopted children:

  1. Adopted children are unwanted.
  2. Adopted children can become more desirable when they exhibit good behavior, i.e. being the perfect child.
  3. Adopted children are thought of as a commodity; they are a good that is exchanged in a transaction typically received by someone considered rich or well-to-do.
  4. Adopted children are disposable; their permanence in their adoptive family is always conditional.
  5. Adopted children deserve pity, because they are the kids who no one wants.

That’s even more heart-breaking. Help me in overcoming, shattering and in any way possible breaking these myths about adopted children. Kids (and all of us) need to hear the truth.

1. Adopted children are wanted, loved and needed. There’s a myth that birth mothers place their children for adoption because they don’t want the child. That’s just not true. In many cases they want to keep the child more than anything, but circumstances have conspired against them and made it difficult or impossible to make that choice. In many cases it is for the deep love of their child that they place them for adoption, knowing that an adoptive family can care for them better. That’s a horrible position for birth parents to be in.

But kids placed for adoption are not unwanted. Their families are unable to care for them. It has nothing to do with the value of the child. It has everything to do with the circumstances.

This is where we need to be careful with the very language we used to talk about adoption. Standard and insensitive language would say that a birth mother ‘gives up’ her child for adoption. That implies a birth mother has given up on her child and they are indeed unwanted. Language is pretty powerful. That’s why the proper language is that a birth mother ‘chooses adoption’ or ‘makes an adoption plan’. A child ‘is adopted’. That’s also why we use terms like ‘birth parents’ instead of ‘natural parents’ or ‘real parents’. (Note: It’s hard to keep up with the language. I originally wrote that a child is ‘placed for adoption’ as the proper language, but my wife corrected me. Thankfully, grace and forgiveness is common.)

2. The worth and value of an adopted child (or any child) has nothing to do with behavior. Children are inherently valuable. People are inherently valuable. “Good” children are no more deserving of loving parents than “bad” children. The idea that a child is adopted through good behavior—and conversely not adopted because of bad behavior—is gut-wrenching. Kids are adopted because they need families, not because they somehow earned a spot through good behavior.

3. Adopted children are not bought, the process is not a transaction, and adoptive parents are not all rich. The tremendous cost of adoption fuels this perception and it’s just a difficult one to get away from. Adoption requires a lot of red tape (for good reason), and that makes it an expensive process. Most of the people I know who have adopted are far from rich. Yes, as Americans we are certainly wealthy in comparison to the rest of the world. But we’re not six-figure families with four-car garages living in gated communities. Almost everyone I know who has adopted has relied on friends, family and strangers to help them raise the needed money. I don’t know anyone who just wrote a check for their adoption and paid for it in full.

4. Adopted children are in their adoptive families forever. Let me be clear on this—there is nothing temporary or conditional about the place of an adopted child in a family. Lexi and Milo are different in many ways: Lexi is a girl, Milo is a boy. Lexi is white, Milo is black. Lexi never crawled, Milo crawls over things. Lexi is loud, Milo is—wait, they’re both loud. Lexi is biological, Milo is adopted. But for all their differences, they have many similarities. They are both loved deeply. They are both amazing kids. They are both going to be embarrassed of their geeky dad. Milo has the same chance of being removed from our family as Lexi does: None. Nothing Milo or Lexi can do will cause us to love them less or to lose their place in our family. They can do many things that will cause us to lose our sanity, our patience or what have you, but those behavior choices are day to day things that will change. Our love for our children does nothing but grow and stretch and deepen over time. That’s as true for adopted children as it is for biological children. Children are children.

5. Adopted children deserve no more pity than other children. Pity is a strange thing. At times it seems natural, but other times it seems condescending and patronizing. I can say with certainty that children don’t want to be patronized. Children in need should be helped because it’s the right thing to do, not because they’re cute or sad or pitiful. But for all the negative reactions to pity, I am reminded of Gandalf’s comment to Frodo in the Lord of the Rings that pity is what stayed Bilbo’s hand and kept him from killing Gollum. Gandalf rightly sensed that Gollum still had a part to play in the final outcome. In that sense pity has value. But that’s also a pretty clear example of the negative connotation of pity—adopted children should not be pitied like Gollum.

We’re All Adopted
Adoption is a beautiful and powerful thing. Let’s shatter these misconceptions that somehow adopted children are unwanted or they are loved conditionally.

It bothered me that some kids have these ideas about adoption, so I asked Lexi what she thought adoption meant. She didn’t know. We talked a little about adoption. We talked about Milo being in Ethiopia and the nannies who took care of him.

“What’s a nanny?” Lexi asked.

“You know that picture of the woman holding Milo as a baby?”

“Yeah?”

“She was Milo’s nanny. She took care of him until we came to Ethiopia to get him.”

Lexi nodded: “She’s my sister.”

I smiled. “She is?” Lexi nodded and I couldn’t disagree with her. In a way, she’s right.

Then she told me we’re all adopted: “Momma’s adopted. Daddy’s adopted. Milo’s adopted. Lexi’s adopted.”

“We are?”

“Yep.”

She’s right. We are all adopted.

3 thoughts on “We’re All Adopted: Overcoming the Stigma”

  1. great post. These things can be tough to navigate at times.
    We adopted through the county, so there is a whole other element to navigate. I’m trying to find different language than ‘ward of the state’ and ‘parental rights terminated’ but I still find it difficult in explaining that side of it to other adults.

  2. Milo has the same chance of being removed from our family as Lexi does: None. Nothing Milo or Lexi can do will cause us to love them less or to lose their place in our family.

    I think this is my favorite part of this post. Beautiful. Just…beautiful.

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