This morning I sat with a group of adoptive and foster moms, chatting about our kids and sleep training and tantrums. Inevitably, the conversation turned to what we say when strangers or friends make comments they don't realize can be offensive. It helps to have a place to vent, because there are actually quite a few ways you don't realize your shaming adoptive moms. Even the most well-intentioned comment can turn into a hurtful remark if you don't stop and really think things through.
I don't think most people wake up in the morning with the intention of shaming adoptive moms. In fact, I would go so far as to say adoptive moms aren't a typical target for shaming or judgment. But because adoption is comparatively less common than most other ways of starting a family, there are things that many people don't know how to say politely or ask respectfully. I've heard many of them in the nearly two years since I became an adoptive mom, and I'm sure I'll hear more of them in the many years to come.
Rather than taking offense, I try to remember that sometimes the job of an adoptive mom is to educate others so that other adoptive moms and/or parents aren't surprise when they end up feeling shamed, especially when they least expect it. So, with that in mind, here are just a few ways you might actually be shaming the adoptive mom in your life:
When You Assume Every Mom Is Breastfeeding
Before you judge a person's choice to breastfeed or not, consider the fact that they might not have the choice at all. While it's not impossible to breastfeed a baby, not every adoptive mom has the option (and not every adopted baby looks all that different from their adoptive parents). Try to keep this in mind when you're harping on the benefits of breastfeeding to someone who really had no choice in the matter.
When You Ask What "Mix" An Adoptive Parent's Child Is
I'm not the reigning authority figure and how one should ask about another person's ethnicity, but I'm pretty sure speaking about a human as if they're a breed of dog isn't the way to go. Perhaps just wait to talk about an adopted child's ethnicity when the subject has been brought up by the parent, and definitely use words like "ethnicity" or "heritage" instead of "mix." My child isn't a dog I picked up from the pound.
When You Say You Could Never Adopt
Maybe you couldn't, and not everyone is suited to adopt. But telling me you could never adopt reminds me that you aren't in, and will probably never be in, the position of having to turn to adoption in order to start your family.
When You Ask How Long An Adoptive Parent Has "Had" Their Child
Someone asked me the other day in a store, point blank, "How long have you had her?" First of all, what if I'm her nanny? Or her aunt? Or what if I gave birth to her even though she doesn't have the same skin color as I do?
Furthermore, she's not a possession. "Have" or "had" are not the correct words one should use when describing the relationship between a mother and a child. And make no mistake, I am my child's mother.
When You Inquire About A Child's "Real" Parents
It's not inherently shaming to ask about my child's biological parents, but please remember to call them that. My partner and I are her parents, even her "real parents" if you must, and her biological parents are her biological and/or birth parents. The words you use? Yeah, they matter.
When You Joke About Giving Your Kid Up For Adoption
For obvious reasons, this belittles the importance and nuance of adoption in my family, and it belittles the enormous and difficult choice my daughter's birth mother made in placing her for adoption.
When You Pretend It's Not A Thing
Sometimes having a conversation with another mom means feeling a little left out, because adoptive moms don't have anything to add when typical pregnancy or birth stories arise. But we do have our own version of birth stories and most of us would love to add them to the discussion, even though they're a little unconventional.
When You Comment On How Lucky An Adoptive Mom's Kids Are
It's the most common and most grating thing adoptive parents hear on a regular basis. People don't say it out of malice, but I don't know any adoptive moms who want to be commended for rescuing their poor baby. Instead, they just want to be treated like regular moms.