Most folks probably mean well when they talk about adoption, so when they say things that make us say “they said WHAT about adoption?!?” we have to step back and remind ourselves that this is really just a teachable moment.

(And it’s a reminder of how essential good adoption education truly is?)

But we have to admit: sometimes, the things people say leave us scratching our heads afterwards– or pulling our hair out in frustration.

This is not to say that folks shouldn’t ask questions. Asking questions and learning about adoption is an essential part of any adoption process.

Yet as you’ll notice below, the insensitive things people say about adoption are not normally questions asked in good faith. These are statements which typically reveal misconceptions or biases that need to be examined and dispelled, if the public perception of adoption is ever to truly be changed for the better. So let’s talk about the things people say about adoption which tend to give us pause.

We hear some of the nicest of people say things like this… (Brace yourselves. You may be triggered by what is to follow, and if so, we truly empathize, because it hits us hard, too.)

“Blood is thicker than water.”

Guess what? This doesn’t mean that genetics bond people best. The actual saying is from the Bible, and what it says is “the blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb.” What it really means is that people who make lifelong vows in times of personal sacrifice (like on a battlefield) are more-deeply bonded for life than those who share nothing more than simple genetic links. This speaks volumes about the lasting importance of open adoption family ties, doesn’t it?

“I could never give my child away”

Adopting parents sometimes think they’re saying this in a tribute to a birthmother’s selflessness, but they need to know it does not come off as kind. Just because you cannot imagine ever being in such a desperate place doesn’t mean you could never be there or have to do that, if your child’s welfare depended on it. Most birthparents we know never ever imagined it either.

“I don’t want the adoptive parents to ever tell my child he/she is adopted.”

We get it: the placing parents don’t want the child to feel unwanted or to seek them out with questions, anymore than the adoptive parents want the child to ever feel rejected or deprived. Yet whenever prospective birthparents at Abrazo tell us this, we tell them asking the adoptive parents to lie or keep this secret is NOT an option. Adoptees deserve to know their own truth, and adults planning adoptions need to honor their right to know it, as well.

“People who are adopted are damaged goods.”

We’ve heard it said that every adoptee is the product of a special needs adoption, since nobody gets adopted without there having been some special needs involved– but that’s a very different concept than the old eugenics argument that claimed all children born out of wedlock (who therefore most often became foundlings and adoptees) were deficient by birth, by virtue of their gene pool. Adopted kids may have varying backgrounds and incomplete genetic histories, but they absolutely possess the same amazing potential as every other kid on the face of the planet. (Cue mic drop.)

“I’m going to remind my adopted kid how much adoption costs if s/he misbehaves.”

This is about as ridiculous as thinking that a child will consider the pains of childbirth before acting out. And trying to guilt any kid into behaving says a lot more about the parent’s inadequacies than those of the child, frankly.

“I don’t think anyone/I can truly love any child that isn’t born to them/me.”

The interesting thing is that prospective birthparents sometimes say this to justify not choosing adoption, just as infertile couples sometimes say this to justify not choosing adoption, too, but both are wrong. Just as people learn to love a partner who obviously isn’t a biological relative of theirs, parents can truly learn to love a child that isn’t their biological relative, as well.

“Once the adoption is finalized, your family will be no different than any other family.”

This is something that both adoption professionals and judges tell adoptive parents, and while it may lend comfort to nervous adopters, it simply is misleading. From a legal perspective, a family who adopts has most of the same rights as others (except for the right to access their child’s original birth certificate, which is permanently sealed by the courts in most states.) Yet parenting an adopted child is different than parenting biological offspring in some ways, and we do adopting parents a disservice when we fail to prepare them for this truth in advance of placement.

“Putting a child up for adoption is really selfish.”

There are two big problems with this statement: it’s not true, and the language is archaic. Nobody has put a child up for adoption since the Orphan Trains last ran, since that phrase originated in the era in which folks bid on orphans hoisted into the air at train stations across the US in the 1900s. And to endure the risks of pregnancy and childbirth and then sacrifice your own joy and well-being to enable a child born to you to grow up with all the advantages of an adoptive home is anything but selfish… please and thank you!

“We always wanted to have a black baby.”

We purposely left this one for last, because it’s the one that makes us most uneasy. Like the well-intentioned folks who want to assure others that “we’re colorblind, we don’t see race,” this tends to be something white people say to imply their support for children of color, but in truth, what it asserts most of all is simply white privilege. Transracial adoption certainly deserves public support, yet those who pursue it must always be mindful of an adoptee’s needs to grow up in families that do recognize and acknowledge racial differences, and in communities where there are others who look like them. Ethnic children should not be reduced to fashion accessories, and racial inequalities cannot be resolved by mere assimilation.

We could go on (and on,) but we won’t. (You’re welcome.)

You get the idea, right? There are a lot of misconceptions about adoption even today, and it’s going to take all of us to educate the society around us.

Maybe you yourself have said one or more of these things before, and you’re feeling secretly uncomfortable right now, remembering it? Don’t feel badly, but please learn from that discomfort, and grow in your understanding. That’s the whole point of adoption education… it makes us smarter, and that makes our society kinder to those who have been impacted by adoption.

And the next time someone around you says something that makes your head snap and your brain go “they said WHAT about adoption?!?” swallow hard, take a deep breath and then gently help set them straight, please.

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