Adoption... And After

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Empowering Your Adopted Child
In my five year old's short life, she has been called "flat nose" and "watermelon head." You see, she and my two year old son are Asian. I have two older daughters as well. One is biological and the other is adopted. The adopted one has been told by neighborhood children when she was younger that they only played with her because she was adopted and they felt sorry for her.

Dealing with these predicaments, along with the many comments of others, is a reality of adoption, especially if your adopted children don't look like you. When you hold your precious child for the first time, the insensitivity and ignorance of others is far from your mind, but it must be faced. You must be prepared and you must carefully prepare your child as well.

Some of the more amusing comments we have heard are: "Are they related?" "Where did you get them?" "How much did they cost?" "Are you the baby-sitter?" Or, my favorite, "Are you their real mom?" I like to respond, "No, I'm a latex model of a real mom. So lifelike!"

A young child cannot defend themselves. They rely on you, their parent, to field these insensitive comments. Sometimes a gentle reminder will suffice, especially if the remark comes from a relative or friend. Often humor is effective. Sometimes, however, righteous indignation is the only appropriate response.

Adoptive parents have two tasks: To educate others who really want to know about adoption and to empower our children to deal with comments and remarks. We educate others with our words, our actions and reactions. If a comment or remark expresses genuine interest in learning about adoption, I will chat with someone until their questions are answered. Part of being an adoptive parent is that you become an advocate for adoption. It is inevitable. When someone has serious questions about how we adopted, I like nothing better than to share our wonderful story of God's grace.

The other part of our role is to empower our children. They have the right to choose whether they will answer intrusive questions. They can formulate the answers which seem the most appropriate to them. But they need our coaching.

When our children are very young, it is crucial for us to use positive adoption language, a phrase coined by Pat Johnston, founder of Perspectives Press. Our child is our child, and should not constantly be referred to as our adopted child. Birth parents are biological parents. They should not be referred to as "real parents." You are the real parents. A birth mother does not "give up her child." Rather, she makes an adoption plan. The way we talk about adoption and the words we use express our respect and admiration for all of the parties involved in the adoption process.

For older children, school-age and above, the most helpful thing you can do is role-play with them. Other children can be especially cruel. Give your child the strength and ammunition to deal with them. Arm them with a few well-turned phrases, such as, "My real parents are the ones who are raising me." Or, "My birth parents wanted a better life for me."

You may not be able to circumvent all the painful situations in your adopted child's life, but you can give him pointers to bolster his courage and confidence.
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