I am not adopted myself, but I am the mother of two biological children and three adopted children. Sharing an adoption story is, of course, a highly personal experience. The answer to whether you should tell your friends you’re adopted will vary from situation to situation, from family to family, and from person to person.
I am mentally preparing myself for this question from my own children. I have put a lot of thought and prayer into what I would say, and the answer is YES.
My husband and I are fierce advocates of adoption, foster care, and orphan care in general. According to this article about orphan statistics, there are 140 MILLION orphans waiting for a forever home worldwide. This hurts my mother’s heart. I look at my own precious children and imagine them languishing in an orphanage or in foster care, possibly being bumped around from home to home. These children are innocent of the circumstances that brought them to this situation, and they are helpless to lift themselves out of a life that no one would choose. Just one of the benefits of telling your friends that you’re adopted is that, by sharing your adoption story, you just might spark in someone else the desire to adopt.
140 million orphans sounds overwhelming. It sounds impossible, and like it is a problem that cannot be solved. And while it may sound cliché to say that even helping one of those many children get adopted will change the world, I believe it is true. I believe that all efforts should be exhausted to get kids into forever homes. And for this reason, I would encourage my adopted children to tell their friends their adoption stories.
We are raising up the next generation, here and now, in our homes, every day. This means we are raising up the next generation of adoptive (and foster homes). I know for myself, I had heard about missionaries working in orphanages as a girl, and it sparked in me the desire to adopt when I grew up. My hope would be that by sharing their adoption stories, my adopted children will put that spark in others’ lives to raise up the next generation of adoptive homes.
Adoption invokes many emotions from people “on the outside”—curiosity, awe, incredulousness. I think that by telling our adoption stories, we demystify adoption and promote it as something attainable and doable. It is not some far off, unachievable goal. It is not an impossibility, and many people need to hear that! It’s will help people who are already in the adoption process too.
People wondering how they will get the money together to complete an international adoption, people who have been waiting many long years for private, domestic adoption, and people waiting and waiting to hear if they can adopt their foster child they have been taking care of for years need this encouragement. If you are a waiting family, here are some ideas for fun and encouraging things to do during this season of waiting. If you are struggling with waiting, check out these tips for surviving.
By sharing adoption stories, adoptees can encourage and embolden those in the trenches to stick it out, to keep going, and to press on towards this goal. Oral stories are so traditional, and so much a part of the heritage of certain cultures. We use stories today to teach our children and draw parallels. Stories DO encourage, inspire, and enlighten. I would encourage anyone considering telling their story to do so with boldness!
Many children of adoption attest to feeling different, and at times, feeling on the outside. I always tell people, at the heart of adoption is loss. While adoption is a beautiful thing, it started out with the severing of natural ties, perhaps the most natural of ties, which is parent to child. This is a loss. Many adoptees carry this loss for a long time in different ways. For some people, telling their story, or finally telling their story, can be a way of stepping into the light and blooming. For anyone asking “Should I tell my friends I am adopted?”, I would say check out JuiciJ’s story, Krysia’s story, and Jeff’s story.
Perhaps one of the most important aspects to consider when someone is asking whether they should tell their friends he or she is adopted is the shame aspect. If this question is coming up, we have to consider if we are afraid to share because of feelings of shame. Shame or embarrassment about our past is a heavy burden to carry.
Shame can stem from so many things: birth parent shaming, shaming of adoptive parents, and shaming of adoptees. Shame steals joy and can contribute to depression and anxiety. Sometimes shame comes out of our own experiences, while sometimes others project shame on to us because of their own beliefs regarding adoption (this would be a good time to mention, adoption shaming is never ok, for any reason). Shame tells us the lie that we are not accepted or valuable and that, not only are our stories not worthy, but they should be squashed. The problem that results is repressing such a huge part of who we are will only lead to more pain and shame.
There is a fear that comes along with shame, and it is the fear of rejection. Human beings will go a long way to avoid feelings of shame and rejection. Ironically, just like a terrible secret, the best medicine is to speak up, and have a voice. An appropriate audience is always necessary, and you will need to be supported and affirmed, but if shame is an issue, the best thing to happen is a dialogue. I think too often in our lives, we carry shame on our shoulders, and we just were not mean to carry that weight. It colors too much of our decisions and plays too much of a roll in our decision making. Shame can drive us away, drive us out, and drive us into isolation. This leads me to the next point: what and how should we share?
Whether you are asking if you should tell your friends that you’re adopted or whether your child, spouse, friend, or relative is, there needs to be a starting point. By now, you can see that I am an advocate for sharing about adoption stories. But how? I think starting small is the key, especially if shame or anxiety are playing a role. This may mean choosing one person to tell first. Perhaps a counselor needs to be involved.
It is fine to write yourself a script. Whose cares if it seems rehearsed? This is YOUR story, which means you own it, and that in turn means you can share it absolutely any which way you want. There really are no rules here. If you want to make a public post on Facebook, you can. If you want to gather your friends together and tell everyone at once, you can. If you want to tell one single person just the bare minimum, that is your right. There is power in using your voice, and here is a chance to do what is right for you.
Think on it, pray on it, seek advice from others if you want. Start a blog, write a series, create a mini book, or just sit at your computer and get it all out. Journal it, ponder it, and think about the points that really matter to you. What do you want people to know most? What do you most want to convey about your story? The only limitation is that you should only share YOUR story. Our stories always touch on other people’s lives, because we are all interconnected. This part is tricky. For example, if I am sharing my story as an adoptive parent, I have to be very careful to not overshare about my children, and I also have to be careful not to overshare about the adoptive parents.
My husband recently spoke at a Christian venue, Mission Vision 2019, and we talked at length about this issue. His topic was “Adoption: Our Love Story.” Our children are 10, 9, 7, 5, and 5 months old. We knew that at least our older children would likely take in the seminar, as they wanted to hear their dad speak (and wouldn’t you know it, they also asked for evaluation forms, so they could give feedback on their dear old dad’s seminar—I wonder what they said?). One thing we talked about was, “If the child we were referring to was in the room, would we still say those things? How would they feel about what I had to say?” Sure enough, our 7-year-old decided to attend the seminar.
Tyler was very elegant and respectful talking about the kids’ adoptions, and I could see Emma taking it in. She knows that she was our foster daughter first, that she came home from the hospital to us, and that we adopted her when she was 18 months old. I was looking at her face when Tyler talked about this part of her story, and I could see her drinking it in—her adoptive dad talking about bringing home this precious baby girl. I knew we had done the right thing to be somewhat reserved and respectful when talking about her story, as there are hard parts.
That does not mean we never talk about them; it means that we are gentle about how we talk about them and when we talk about them. This goes for talking about the birth parents, too. Put yourself in their shoes. Adoptions happen because something did not go according to plan. That may sound harsh, but realistically, adoption is probably never the first choice for any birth parent.
If you pretend to be them for a moment, would you want someone sharing about their unplanned, teen pregnancy? Their addictions issues, domestic violence issues, or homelessness? Their loss of custody, their journey of losing their children to the foster care system? Probably not. Be very, very kind. Think twice, then think again. Before you say it, is it kind? Is it necessary? It is possible at some time that you or I or anyone might overshare about a part of our story, and point out too much about someone else. If that happens, apologize, and mean it.
As we have already said, words and stories are so powerful – once you get something out there, you cannot get it back. You do need to think about the other people in your story, and how your sharing affects their reputation, and their lives. If you aren’t sure if it is appropriate to share, ask. Be clear about what you want to say, why, and to whom. If their answer is no, the answer is NO. No does not mean maybe, sort of, or sometimes, it means do not.
Sometimes there can be a burning inside, a desire to get the hard or tricky parts out, to heal from shame; sometimes these parts absolutely have to be discussed. If that is the case, the best bet is likely a counselor who is held to confidentiality (unless there is a risk of abuse, neglect, or violence). A counselor can listen to every single difficult aspect and help process what to do with the emotions. You can look for a most-trusted friend or family member that you know will not break your confidence. You can also journal every last thing that is in your heart. The beautiful thing about journaling is that you can include photos, sketches, drawings, or anything else that helps you express your feelings.
Adoption should not be a stigma or a shame to anyone. Adoption is a beautiful expression of sacrifice and love and should be celebrated. If you (or someone you know) are wondering whether you should tell your friends you’re adopted, I think you should. I think it might just give you new wings to fly.
Jamie Giesbrecht is a stay at home mama to three adopted and two biological children. When she isn’t homeschooling the kids, she can be found seeking adventure with her family in the Yukon and Northwest Territories, hunting, fishing, camping, or trail-riding the horses to town for some snacks. Her hobbies include cross stitching, sewing jingle dresses for powwow, reading, and horseback riding as often as she can. Jamie married her high school sweetheart and best friend, Tyler, and together they enjoy watching the kids hatch ducklings and chicks, shear sheep, race around the yard on their horses, and raise pigs on their small farm in rural Northeastern British Columbia, Canada. Jamie is passionate about adoption and has been a foster parent on and off and in between adoptions since 2011.