I am very blessed to have a family that has embraced the world of adoption. My oldest sister is a social worker, my youngest brother is adopted, and another sister has adopted my sweet niece (and is in the process of adopting their second child).
Adoption language is the norm in our family. Oftentimes during family get-togethers, we will talk about therapy, adoption paperwork/process, things we agree or disagree with state laws and legislations, and more. Our children in the family that have been adopted know they are adopted and know their stories pretty well. It’s easy and comfortable to talk with members of my family.
Then, when I venture outside of that safe little bubble, I realize there are a lot of unknowns about foster care and adoption in general. I realize that people want to ask but may not know how to. I have learned over the years the best way is to be open and honest with people outside the adoption community and to get the conversations started—even the uncomfortable ones.
Before anything else, it is important to brush up on your local state laws surrounding adoption and foster care so you are ready to answer questions. Every state has different laws and regulations. I also make sure to have resources they can go to so they can learn more. I am so surprised how many people have thought about adoption before, but that thought gets snuffed out because of many reasons and misconceptions.
Also before jumping into these conversations, I have a quick little adoption pitch I prepared ahead of time to get that fire ignited to encourage others to at least go and do some more research on the topic. Our story is long and complicated like most adoptions, so I’ve practiced a quick story to tell, that peaks some interest while protecting my daughter’s privacy.
When I am in mom groups, or baby showers often talk of pregnancy, birth stories, and memories of sweet babies wrapped in pink and blue are shared. This is a great time to share your adoption experience. I also share sweet memories of rocking my baby to sleep, but I also share about late-night talks with the teenagers I’ve fostered and the heartbreak and joys of foster care and adoption.
I never want to turn the conversation sour or monopolize the conversation, but oftentimes when I start to talk about our journey of fostering 26 children that shaped and changed our lives and ultimately led us to adoption, the questions start pouring in. We decided from the beginning we would be open about foster care and adoption because so often those topics are painted in such a dark light.
It’s also important to keep in mind how much of your child’s story you do want to share. When I talk about our adoption journey I try to tell it from my point of view and my experience as much as possible: not my daughters’. For example, I will share about the home study process, all the paperwork, and court dates. I will share the story of meeting with our daughter’s biological mother and all my emotions about the encounter. I’ll share how my daughter’s big brown eyes chipped away at some walls I had built in my heart.
However, I will not share all the traumatic details behind the scenes, why she was in foster care in the first place, and what she had to overcome to survive. That is her story to tell and only very close family and friends know the full details. An acquaintance or stranger is not privy to that side of the story. I have to think about when my daughter is old enough to understand the whole picture of what brought her to my arms, how much of that story would she want out in the world because it’s her story to tell.
You must also be prepared to answer questions with grace and kindness because an offensive question may be asked out of complete ignorance of the topic and that is not the fault of the person asking. I believe I have the privilege of educating people on what is or isn’t appropriate questions to ask. If I just shut these people down, then they stop asking questions, but if I redirect the question it keeps the conversation going. Here are some questions I’ve been asked and how I answered them.
This was from a seven-year-old whose mom was mortified that she asked this, but it was a great learning opportunity for this little girl.
“Why did your daughter’s mom sell her baby?”
I took a moment to respond so I could answer her question in a way that made sense to her. I explained to her how moms don’t get money when they place their children for adoption. I shared with this little girl that some babies are born to a mommy who doesn’t know how to care for a baby or is unable to care for the baby; placing them up for adoption is really really sad, it hurts that mommy’s heart a lot. But then, that baby found a mommy and daddy who can care for the baby, and that is very happy. My daughter was so blessed to have a new mommy and daddy who were ready and had everything needed to take care of her. So adoption is sad but also so, so happy.
The little girl seemed to accept my answer and ran off and played. Children are usually the ones to ask the most questions and I never want them to turn away without their questions being answered. She could have gone many years thinking that’s how adoption works if I hadn’t answered her question.
This next question, believe it or not, has been asked many many times. It doesn’t offend me personally, but I know many people in the adoption community that cringe when asked this.
“Are you going to have any children of your own?”
Again, remember to be gracious because these questions, most of the time, have the best intentions behind them. My go-to answer is to just kindly remind them that my child is my own, when she was adopted the judge said “it’s as if this child has been biologically born to you.”
My child is an extension of my being. She shares no biological tie with me, but I believe she was entrusted to me by God and the state of Washington. It is best to gently remind a person how personal family planning is. Some people may have adopted after years of infertility or because it’s something they always wanted to do. They may be trying to have more children or are in the process of adoption. If they want someone to know the details of their family planning, let them be the ones to share that very private information.
This is more a statement than a question, and again I have heard this probably a hundred times or more, regarding foster care.
“I couldn’t do what you do, I would get too attached.”
Many foster parents are hurt and offended by this question because it implies that they do not get attached to their children, when in reality—we get so attached. We are often so attached that it feels like a death when those kiddos leave. After sometimes years of praying nightmares away, doctor visits, family vacations together, first days of school, and holidays, it is the most heartbreaking thing to send a child back into the arms of the people who abused them. Yet, that is the right of the biological parent. They get to turn their life around and make better choices so they can reunite and raise their children better than they did before.
How can a foster parent not get attached after completely taking over the parent role? My simple response without going into all of the above is. “Well then you would be a great foster parent, these children didn’t choose to be in foster care, don’t you think they are worth having an advocate that gets too attached?”
That simple answer gets a person thinking rather than shutting them down.
Over the years I have been asked many questions. Sometimes I have met them with humor, other times I have taken the time to educate the person. My biggest takeaway from this is to keep the conversation going, to encourage appropriate questions that are safe to ask around my child, and save the more complicated questions for when she is out of earshot. I have learned to stop being offended by these questions and not be afraid to answer the hard ones, because if we don’t talk to people outside of our community about adoption, how will we ever change society’s perspective on it?
Rachel Luttrull runs The InstaMommas, a Christian blog/podcast with her sister. She studied Early Childhood Education at Eastern Washington University. She is married, and a mom through adoption, and has fostered 26 children, ranging in ages from 0-17. She has a momma’s heart through and through and loves to share her experiences through writing. She currently teaches preschool and enjoys biking, hiking, and anything musical.