Last week we discussed the toxic effects of “Black Box” conversations: words that are so destructive that parents must commit to never speaking them. This week we want to focus on the conversations that others express within hearing distance of our children.
Adopted families—especially families who look obviously different from one another—often face intrusive questions. Whether motivated by curiosity, disapproval, or genuine interest in learning more, people may initiate conversations without considering how welcome or inappropriate the timing. Comments like, “She’s so darling. It’s hard to believe her parents didn’t want her.” Or, “I admire you so much. I could never adopt.” (The obvious but unspoken message is that adoption is less than desirable, something only to be undertaken by heroes or those who have no other choice.)
Consider the effect such hurtful comments have on our children. Be assertive in setting boundaries with others. Step in immediately to cut short any conversation that is inappropriate or hurtful. While our natural inclination is to be polite and avoid a confrontation with a rude, unthinking, or judgmental person, we must be vigorous in holding safe boundaries for our children. Vigilance is essential. Hurtful words, once spoken cannot be erased. They take an especially raw toll on kids with trauma histories.
Their self-esteem bruises easily and shame is a familiar stalker, so we must hold those boundaries firmly. By model boundary setting and show them how to engage or end conversations with respect and confidence. Children will learn how to do the same. In essence, you will have given them permission to use their Voice and the skill to do so effectively. On the other hand, if we listen to toxic conversations in silence, our children will infer that we accept what is being spoken.
In addition to holding firm conversation boundaries, it is important to use mindful language. Words carry an overt meaning, and an implied meaning. Both influence the communication and the feelings that arise in the listener and the speaker. It is important to educate family, friends, teachers, and even strangers. Raise their “AQ” (Adoption-attunement Quotient.) When people understand better, there is less judgment and more empathy. Everyone benefits.