How To Talk To People Who Don’t Get It

Ok, I have to get this off my chest. When speaking to an adoptive parent, please don’t ask if we see Nick’s real parents, or how his mother is. Chris and I are just fine. I am an open book as far as speaking about our adoption, because we are so lucky and blessed. And God knows we love our birth mother like family, but the term is birth parents. Chris and I are Nick’s real parents. Sorry, but its a little offensive, and it drives me nuts, and I’ve been hearing it a lot lately. Please and Thank you!

Michele Fried
By Michele Fried

The responses to this mom’s post were wonderful and supportive. Clearly she is Nick’s mommy and clearly the questions these parents receive are not meant to be insensitive at all, but even these minor dialogues are exhausting and we can see how one can feel offended by them.

But, what about our family and close friends? We often expect more. Yet some of us are realizing (even years after adopting) that they don’t “get it” like we thought. This becomes particularly painful when your view was that they are “touched by adoption” because you adopted or because you thought you were a particularly “close” family or a particularly “accepting” family.

As an adoptive mom myself I know that friends and family who say insensitive things are usually motivated by concern for us, their loved ones, of getting hurt or making a mistake. But they often see something scary or foreign when we don’t see it the same way at all. It can begin to make us feel that our friends and family are unsupportive, even though they say the contrary. So, how do you talk to friends and family who appear not to “get it”?

First let’s remember that our friends and family react not only to our decision to adopt, but to many life decisions, from continuing education decisions, to dating, marriage, what profession we choose, whether we should move, and any other big decisions that may affect the rest of our lives! For friends and family who are truly motivated out of love, then education is the key.

  • Tell them about adoption.
  • Tell them the facts about adoption.
  • Tell them the myths about adoption.
  • Sign them up for adoption newsletters.
  • Buy them books on adoption.
  • Invite them to an adoption event.
  • Tell them you researched the adoption process.
  • Tell them about the required education you were required to have.
  • Tell them how much you love the child you have never even met yet!
  • Tell them how happy you will be when you adopt.
  • Tell them to be happy for you.
  • Tell them you are asking for their love and support even if it is not a choice they would make for themselves or for you.

It is rare that it doesn’t go well but sometimes there are other people, often extended family members who may be motivated by other reasons and who remain unsupportive. Those individuals tend to refuse to educate themselves about adoption and quite honestly on anything that is contrary to their own beliefs. This will no doubt feel like a challenge, as you want your child to be accepted by everyone in your life. If you attempted all of the suggestions listed above, but still have a particularly closed-minded relative who absolutely refuses to accept your child as part of the family then sadly, you will be forced to make some painful decisions.

  • But first try some of these additional suggestions:
  • Stay as non-confrontational as possible.
  • Be respectful but very direct and clear.
  • Do not be unrealistic about your expectations.
  • Explain that they do not have to like the fact that you are adopting.
  • Explain that they don’t have to love your child.
  • Explain that they must treat your child with respect.

Provide rules such as:

  • You will be polite.
  •  You will not refer to the child as an “adopted” child.
  • You will not exclude the child from receiving cards or gifts on occasions in which you would provide a card or gift for other children in the family.
  • You will include the child in extended family photos.

If a family member refuses to agree to the rules you set forth, then you know what you need to do. You will need to limit or possibly cut off contact once you bring your child home. It is not advisable to wait to do this when a child becomes older as no matter the age of the child, it is unhealthy for even an infant to be in a situation like this. Now if this sounds extreme to you and you have not yet adopted, then you do need to question how healthy it is to put a child in this situation before you continue with your adoption plans.

Even if you get to a situation where you do have to have this direct conversation with a family member, it tends to be emotional but often goes well. Sometimes some people just need more time to get used to experiences they have never encountered.

If you have a friend who is reacting this way, please ask yourself why is this person called a friend and why is this person in your life?

As for family, we ask for unconditional love and this means being respectful. It does not mean agreeing to what they want you to do or what they want for you. You are asking for respect.

When we make the choice to become parents, our first responsibility is to our children. Your job is not only to love and care for your child but to protect your child.