All Families are Not Created Equally

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All families symbolize loving and caring for each other. How those families are created, however, represents many approaches-birth children, foster children, adopted children, single parents, step parents, foster parents.

In particular, there are an increasing number of adoptive families and single-parent families by choice. Both singles and couples are choosing to expand their families by adopting children of many ages, both domestically and internationally.

As friends, neighbors, teachers, rabbis, and ministers to these families, we often fail to consider how our actions and language impact the daily lives of adoptive families. As the single parent of an adoptive daughter, these topics are extremely relevant to me, as well as thousands of other families who live in Middle Tennessee.

If you have grown up and/or are currently part of a "traditional" family structure-mom, dad, and two biological children, the following list, may seem insignificant to you. However, each of the items on this list may represent a smack to a child's sense of belonging and self esteem if they live in a non-traditional family.


When doing multi-cultural programs, assume that some children may be born in other countries, even if they don't look it.

Realize that some children may be born in other countries, even if their parents were born in America.

Permission slips and take-home sheets should not be written so as to assume that every child lives with a "mother and father."

Don't assume that every child has a picture of themselves as a baby.

Understand that questions like, "How do you think your parents felt the moment they held you--the newborn baby--in their arms?" are challenging for children to answer if their birth parents and their forever parents are different.

Realize that family-related projects i.e. oral histories and family trees are complicated for children in "non-traditional" families.

While mother-daughter, mother-son, father-son, and father-daughter activities promote admirable bonding opportunities, some children will be-or will feel-unable to participate because they don't have the "required" parent.

The words you use, are important. Just as we now say "disabled" instead of "handicapped," the language of adoption has changed. Instead of using "real parent," use "birth parent." Instead of "is adopted," use "was adopted." Positive adoption language helps negate the myth that adoption is second best.

Your doctor, favorite singer, postal worker, neighbor, student, or daughter's best friend just may be adopted. Realizing that their family is equal to yours, even though it was created differently is important. One way to validate that is to re-consider your daily interactions with adoptive families, especially with the children.

Credits: Susan Ward

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