What to Say When You Hear: We're Adopting
November is National Adoption Month. To mark the occasion, the first MomSpeak of the month comes from Kelly Raudenbush, who founded the adoption advocacy Sparrow Fund after adopting her daughter from China. Here, she shares advice about how to greet the news that a friend or family member has decided to adopt.
I have the joy of hearing a lot of “We’re Adopting!” and “We’re adopting again!” announcements. And each one gets me pretty excited. One more child with a forever family; One less orphan in the world. It’s a pretty beautiful thing, folks.
Some of you may not hear that announcement as often and may not always know how to respond when you do. So next time you hear someone say, “We’re going to adopt” . . .
Please demonstrate excitement. It’s a good thing! It’s not a consolation prize that a couple is settling for because they “cannot have children of their own.” If the couple has experienced infertility, they have made the decision now to invest themselves in becoming a family through adoption. Do some cartwheels and jump up and down.
Please don’t offer the infamous cliché – “Oh, now I’m sure you will get pregnant!” or “Oh, good! Seems like as soon as someone decides to adopt, they get pregnant.” Not true and a downright not good thing to say. Just don’t. Please.
Please don’t freak them out. Just like how you don’t tell a newly pregnant woman about the woman you know who just miscarried or the tragic story of a baby lost at birth, please don’t hear the word “adoption” and proceed to share some stories about a tragic story you heard on the news or someone you know who waited forever or a birth mother who changed her mind after a month or whatever. Couples starting out in the adventure of adoption likely already have a bit of fear in them — as all new parents do — and you don’t need to grow that fear.
Please respect their child’s home country. While we have a passion for China, I recognize that not all adoptive families may have a particular passion for their child’s home country if they are adopting internationally. But even if they don’t, please do not insult the people of that country or the child’s birth family for the choice they made. Feel free to ask questions if you do not understand the culture and why there are orphans there available for adoption. But in so doing, do not make judgmental or negative remarks about the people particularly in front of biological and/or adopted children. And part of respecting their child’s home country includes not critiquing their choice of programs (i.e., “Why wouldn’t you just adopt from here?” or something along those lines). Simply encourage.
Please be intentional with your verbiage. While not all adoptive parents are sensitive about what words people use, it’s always better to be cautious and respectful with your words. Their child is their child, not like their own child. Use the terms birth mother and birth father, not real mother and father. The adoptive family is very much the child’s real family.
Please don’t make saints of the adoptive family. There are many more families now making the choice to adopt to grow their families for reasons other than infertility. Amen! But don’t praise the family by telling them how lucky the child is to have them or how wonderful they are to rescue this child. It can be pretty uncomfortable. And, that type of praise actually can be harmful if said in the presence of their children — biological and/or adopted children. Instead, simply encourage them for following God’s call for their family. That’s enough.
Celebrate! The typical baby shower won’t work to celebrate the arrival or pending arrival of an adopted baby, toddler or older child. Think creatively! Consider getting girlfriends together for a Nesting Party during which you can help your friend paint the child’s room or even simply clean her house. If the family doesn’t know the age or gender of the child who will be coming home, consider having a book party simply to grow their children’s library. Gifts for new parents can be superhelpful and needed. But, perhaps more than the gifts, simply the attention given to the family (okay, fine, mother) and the message sent that friends and family are rallying around this child can mean a whole lot more than gifts and last a whole lot longer.
Assure them you will care for them after the fact. In our circles — and I hope in most — when a family brings home a newborn, their church and/or neighbors help through providing meals, babysitting for other children, grocery runs, etc. This is not simply because a woman is recovering from childbirth; it’s because a family has just completely changed their dynamics, and it takes a while to get your bearings. Adopting a child is no different. In fact, having brought home biological newborns and one toddler via adoption, I think I needed care more after our adoption than after recovering from labor and delivery. Please don’t equate labor with need for care. Adoptive moms need that care, too.
Kelly Raudenbush is a mother to four children and cofounder of The Sparrow Fund, a nonprofit committed to encouraging and equipping adoptive families. Learn more about her family's adoption story, how she's been changed by it and what life for as a parent to four children with all sorts of unique needs and gifts at My Overthinking.