I recently read the post Six Comments about Adoption That Can Be Offensive focused on helping individuals recognize insensitivity when talking about adoption/fostering. Although I appreciated the intent of this post–highlighting what can be offensive–after I read it I felt like I might screw anything up I’d say to an adoptive or fostering family.
Even so, there are some basic foundations I think the two posts in that series were getting at, encouraging us to be intentional in our wording to value the adoptive/fostered child’s worth, declaring they have equal family placement/identity, and to being sensitive to the challenges of working with a child coming from a broken situation (by that at minimum I are referring to the fact that the birth parents aren’t able to raise the child).
Still, many things that came up in the “possibly offensive” category seemed like everyday conversation pieces I might have with anyone. For example, if I meet a new woman at playgroup I will probably ask her about her family’s story. I will ask her about where her family is from. I will ask about her children, their ages, and comment on whether they look like her or not while mentioning how cute they are. I will probably ask her whether she plans to have more kids and more likely than not, a parenting conversation will ensue at some point when one of our children steals a toy from the another child.
This is a normal conversation with someone who hasn’t adopted. Should I totally change the way I have a conversation with someone who has adopted? That seems dangerous, like when two people of different cultures are interacting, but pretend there are no cultural differences whatsoever. That usual backfires when someone becomes offended when it could have been prevented by addressing confusion and differences out in the open from the beginning and with grace.
So with adoption/fostering, wouldn’t his follow the same principle? Is it better to have it out in the open?
Can I say “I notice your daughter is black and you are white. Is your husband black? Or did you adopt your little girl? If so, where from?” I know some people might find that offensive, but I am not sure I understand why. My children sometimes look like they have an Asian set to their eyes. I have been often asked if they were Asian. My children were tow-headed when little. Most people assumed they weren’t mine on first glance. This seems factual to me, not offensive.
You see, adoptive families don’t generally adopt/foster in isolation, but they will likely already be in a community or will be looking for one. And we need them to be in our community, not just an adoptive-parents only club (though I am sure there is an important place for this support network in their lives). We need to see adoption played-out and experience at least second or third-hand how it fits into normal life. We won’t consider it ourselves, or be part of its beauty unless we are having relationships and conversations with adoptive families, within grasp of a vision for it.
Like everything else, adoption/fostering as an example lived-out both honestly and in plain view is vital for our own growth and for adhering to God’s movement of placing the lonely in families.
Although some people really do say mean an insensitive things, I would be surprised if any of us who are actually reading this post on the Average Advocate would be purposefully trying to say anything that isn’t well-meaning. And as I am considering adopting or fostering in the future I hope to learn from people’s stories. I might ask a lot of questions and potentially come across as offensive.
So if we are going forward with good intent and as learners, I thought guidance on what we can say and ask about in a respectful way would be helpful. Considering I am asking some of my friends who are adoptive/fostering parents for good questions and conversations points. If you have adopted/fostered or know someone who has, please ask them to share with me too! Leave a comment below or contact me directly here.
Thanks for you feedback!
Stay-tuned for the coming post– Comments and Questions About Adoption That Are Not Offensive.