If you don’t have much experience with adoption, you may have been guilty of unknowingly spreading misconceptions about adoption and the people who were adopted. How can you fix it? Take some time to educate yourself and listen. Adoptees (and everyone in the adoption triad) will thank you for it.
Let’s start with these five things adoptees want you to know:
1. Adoptees Have Different Experiences with Adoption
There are so many different ways to be an adoptee, and it can color a person’s relationship with their adoption in different ways. There are foster care adoptees, international adoptees, transracial adoptees, domestic adoptees, open and closed adoptees from very different eras, combinations of these, and even more ways to have been adopted.
That means that a person’s experiences with adoption will be different from one adoptee to the next, and likewise, their emotions will vary. Some adoptees have overwhelmingly positive feelings about their adoption, while others have primarily negative emotions. Most adoptees fall somewhere in between.
People tend to default to domestic infant adoptions when talking about adoption, because it’s such a common family-building method today, but please don’t forget to acknowledge all adoptees and all experiences.
2. Adoptees Grow Up
For people who have never been touched by adoption, their image of adoption usually involves a baby or a young child. But that baby grows up, and that adult still has a relationship with adoption.
This means that you should always consider the lasting effects on a person when you speak about adoption. People both inside and outside the adoption triad need to learn how to speak about adoption (and teach their children about adoption!) so that they don’t accidentally say something damaging to a young adoptee that could affect them into adulthood.
3. Adoptees Experience Joy and Loss
Adoption is a joyful thing: adoptees gain a family. Adoption is a painful thing: adoptees lose a family. Adoption is both of these things, and adoptees want you to acknowledge that.
Always remember that everyone involved in an adoption had to lose something precious in order to gain something precious before you inadvertently say something harmful like, “Your child is lucky to have you,” to an adoptive parent. An adoptee will hear it and know you don’t understand that they feel both joy and loss.
4. Adoptees Worry about Hurting their Parents’ Feelings
Many adoptees avoid talking about their adoption, searching for birth family (or they worry about birth parent visits if they have an open adoption), asking questions or otherwise expressing an interest in their personal history for fear of hurting their (adoptive) parents’ feelings. Adoptees love their parents, but some have a deep-rooted fear that their parents will abandon them if they do something wrong, even if their parents have always been very reassuring to the contrary. And nobody wants to hurt the feelings of a loved one.
However, adoptees want you to know that if they express an interest in their adoption or birth family, it does not mean that they love their family any less, or that they feel their family is somehow lacking.
5. Adoptees Want to Be Heard
Many of the resources, articles and conversations out there are aimed at birth and adoptive parents. This makes sense to some degree — adoptees start out as babies or children and aren’t always initially involved in the wider conversation. But that brings us back to #2… adoptees grow up. When they do, many would like to be included, considered and listened to in the adoption discourse.
Not all adult adoptees feel the need to talk about their adoption much, and that’s fine. For others, it’s a more front-and-center part of their identity, and that’s fine, too. But if any adoptee wishes to talk, those within the adoption community should immediately make room for them to be heard and feel seen.
Whether you’re a member of the adoption triad, or you’re someone who’s never had much experience with adoption, adoptees (and therefore the entire adoption community) can benefit from you learning how to speak about their adoption with respect and kindness!
Check back at the Considering Adoption Blog soon to find out what birth mothers want you to know and what adoptive parents want you to know.