As an adoptee, talking about adoption can bring mixed emotions. Some adoptees are very open and are happiest talking about their adoption often. Others prefer to talk about it with only a select few people, and rarely.
If you find yourself in a situation where you do want to tell someone about your adoption, it can be a little overwhelming to know where to start or what to say. Here are a few ways to approach talking to others about being adopted to make it easier on both of you:
How to Talk to New People About Being an Adoptee
Explaining adoption to classmates, coworkers, new friends or significant others can feel awkward. More often than not, someone else unknowingly says something about adoption rather than you initiating the conversation yourself. Sometimes the topic comes up because someone else is speaking as an adoptive parent, birth parent, or even a fellow adoptee. Unfortunately, adoptees often encounter the topic because someone who is ignorant about adoption has said something insensitive or inaccurate.
Regardless of how the opportunity to talk about adoption presents itself, you may or may not feel compelled to explain that you’re an adoptee. There are many reasons why you might want to speak up, like:
- Feeling the urge to educate someone about adoption, or correct a misconception someone is inadvertently spreading.
- Wanting to share your story with someone you know who has also had experiences with adoption.
- Wanting to act as an advocate.
- A desire to get closer to someone by sharing an important part of your history and identity.
There are also many reasons why you might choose to keep your adoption story to yourself. The choice is entirely up to you.
You can respond however you feel is appropriate, but these general tips may help you handle that first conversation about adoption:
- Reassure them that it’s ok to not know anything about adoption — now they know a little more.
- If they said something out of ignorance that hurt you, assure them you understand it wasn’t meant maliciously, but reaffirm that you’d like them to be more aware in the future.
- Correct them gently (but firmly) if they use incorrect adoption terminology.
- If they ask a question that you’re not comfortable answering or that you feel is insensitive, let them know that as clearly but as kindly as possible, and then don’t answer anything you don’t want to.
As you’ve likely experienced, people may react with surprise or pity, or they may seem uncomfortable. It can help to let people know how you feel, or perhaps how you’d like them to feel. Unless they’re an adoptee themselves, people are often unsure how to react to being told about your adoption, so you can help by closing it with a simplified statement of your emotions, whatever they are, like:
- “I really don’t think about it too much.”
- “It’s been hard at times, but it’s something I’m working through.”
- “It’s something that’s important to me and my family.”
As always, be prepared for questions, and decide whether or not you want to answer them. And again, remember that you can tell people about your adoption story if, when and how you want. It’s not your responsibility to educate people about adoption, so if you don’t want to — you don’t have to.
How to Talk to Your Biological Child About Adoption
If you’re an adult adoptee raising biological children, the subject of your adoption may initially be a confusing topic to broach. Maybe your children have asked you a question about adoption — whether about your own adoption or about adoption in general. Or maybe a situation has come up where you feel it’s appropriate to explain your adoption story to your children.
As a parent, you decide when to talk to your kids about your adoption. It’s their family history, but it’s also your first-hand experience.
- “What is adoption?”
- “Why don’t you and Grandma look alike?”
- “Why were you placed for adoption?”
- “Will you place me for adoption?”
- “Why did Grandma/Grandpa adopt you?”
- “Where are your other mom and dad?”
- “Do your other mom and dad miss you?”
- “Are you going to adopt a baby?”
- “Are you happy/sad that you were adopted?”
- “My friend at school was adopted and they talk to their first mom and dad. Is that what it was like for you?”
Parents often have to explain complicated things to their children. Your past experiences doing this with your own child will likely help guide your conversation. As you would with any complicated discussion with your child, try to keep things simple and positive, and reassure them that your family is still the same and loves one another.
Sharing Your Adoption Story Is Your Choice, Not Your Obligation
Don’t feel like sharing certain details with someone? Don’t feel like sharing your adoption story at all? That’s perfectly fine.
If you’re worried about finding a way out of that particular topic of conversation, here are a few ready-to-go phrases you can use, depending on the situation and what you feel works best for you:
- “Do you mind if we change the subject? Adoption is a sensitive issue for me and I don’t feel like talking about it.”
- “I was adopted, but I don’t really feel like going into it right now.”
- “Maybe we can talk about that another time.”
- “That’s really personal, so I prefer to keep that private. Thanks for understanding.”
You can talk about your adoption with who you want, when you want. There’s no “rule” for when or how much you “need” to tell a person if it’s not relevant.
Some people feel very comfortable educating about adoption, or are happy to advocate for openness in adoption by sharing their own story or experiences. Others are dealing with negative emotions as a result of their adoption experiences and prefer to do so privately. Some adoptees are vocal, others are not.
You are never obligated to talk about adoption, so don’t feel bad about letting others know if and when you don’t feel like sharing something.