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National Adoption Awareness Month is in full swing. As a reminder, the purpose of #NAAM is to raise awareness of the many foster children who need permanent families. When it comes to adoption, adoptees are the experts. They live adoption 24/7, 365 days a year for their entire lives. For those of us who have built families through adoption, we also have an opportunity to increase awareness of #AdoptionMatters— within our own families. We can listen to the experts within our families— our kids.
Awareness arises from information. How can we as Intentional Parents acquire the most accurate information about our own children’s thoughts, feelings, concerns, and worries about adoption? By not imposing our thoughts, beliefs, expectations, and needs, by not overriding their lived experience as adoptees. By engaging in honest conversations with our kids. For these conversations to occur, we must first create an understanding of openness and welcome between ourselves and our kids. This rapport arises from repeated interactions that affirm our interest in their positions and our respecting their voices.
Then we listen—deeply—truly listen—without interruption, without trying to minimize or invalidate their words, without “yes…but” comments. We resist responses that try to highlight only the benefits of adoption. We affirm the reality that the loss of their first families is a painful one that affects them for their lifetime. We accept that adoption is not a once-and-done event but rather a lifelong journey. This is the essence of Adoption-attunement.
During #NAAM, our kids will certainly be exposed to references about adoption. How does this make them feel? What thoughts preoccupy them? What are teachers, friends, neighbors saying to them? The only way we can know for sure is to ask them. Yet opening these conversations can be awkward. Kids may feel conflicted: they may want to talk and be uncomfortable about doing so. They may fear that their words will offend us or be unwelcome.
Ideally, we have built a family habit of truth-telling and truth-welcoming that will reassure our kids that we welcome the full range of their thoughts and feelings about adoption and they know that we realize that some of those thoughts and feelings can be messy, negative and uncomfortable to share. We must convince them that we are strong enough to hear it all, especially when the information is uncomfortable or painful.
How do we initiate these important conversations? If we hear #NAAM messages while we are together, we can ask them what they think about what they just heard. We can also ask “Hey, I was wondering if…” questions like
If people have been mentioning adoption to them?
If people have been telling them how they “ought” to feel or think about being adopted?
If there were things they wished they could say to us (parents,) to strangers who think they understand adoption better than out kids who actually are living adoption.?
If you wish you could tell us something about adoption that you fear we are hesitant to know?
Is there something we are getting “wrong” about adoption that would help us understand better?
If this kind of direct questioning lands flat, books always offer a way of opening conversations. Ensure that your family library includes books that speak to adoption complexity as well as highlighting parental joy and any benefits to adoptees. Ask questions like,
What does this book get right? Wrong?
What did this book overlook?
Have you had similar experiences, conversations or confrontations?
Listen to our podcasts on Adoption-attuned Parenting.
Read Adoption-attuned book reviews
by GIFT coach, Gayle H. Swift,
on her blog "Writing to Connect"