Thinking About Adoption
Talking about Options
Should I Place
Types of Adoption
Through an Agency
Baby of Color
The Do's and Don't for Grown-ups
Cross-Cultural Adoption: The Do's
and Don'ts for Grown-Ups
By Amy Coughlin and Caryn Abramowitz
Authors of Cross-Cultural Adoption: How to Answer Questions from Family,
Friends, and Community
Do treat her like any other kid. It may be difficult and take a while for
adopted children to feel like they belong within their extended families.
Treating these children like they're "nothing special" can go a long way
toward making them feel at home and comfortable within the group.
Avoid the temptation to spoil her because she didn't have everything that
the other kids had in the first few months or years of her life. The most
valuable gifts you can offer these children are patience, routine, and
consistency -- and most of all, unexaggerated expressions of love and
Do support her when curious strangers ask questions. When curious (and
sometimes thoughtless) strangers ask questions or feel the need to comment
on the circumstances of the adoption, do not let them lead you into
uncomfortable territory. Instead, gently steer them back to more suitable
small talk or respond in such a way that shifts the conversation to positive
adoption language that in turn lets the child know that you are on her side.
Do respect her privacy. Adopted children have the same need for and the
right to privacy as you do. They do not want their entire life story being
told to strangers. If she hears you discussing the intimate details of her
origins, she will likely feel embarrassed. Until the child is old enough to
decide for herself how much information she would like to share regarding
her background, please respect her privacy.
Do treat prospective adoptive parents the same as expectant parents.
Adopting a child is just as exciting for soon-to-be parents as being
pregnant. They feel the same way all expectant parents do -- overjoyed,
overwhelmed, nervous, impatient, and most of all, excited. Don't be afraid
to ask adopting parents about these feelings. After all, adoption is neither
a secret nor a source of embarrassment or shame.
Do acknowledge and celebrate the differences. One of the best things you can
do to show your support as well as your love for the adopted child in your
life is to learn a bit about the culture and history of her birth country.
Read a couple of books, especially travel books. Even if you have no plans
to travel there, there is no better way to get the feeling of another
Don't introduce her as adopted. The pain this inflicts on the child is
obvious. The child is made to feel inferior, like she will never be
considered a real part of the family. The rule is simple: Don't ever, ever
Don't say how "lucky" she is. After hearing this enough times, the child can
be made to feel like a lifelong charity case, rather than the cherished
child she is. Yes, she is lucky, but so is any child who has a supportive,
loving family. And we parents are lucky, too, to have been able to create
this loving, supportive family.
Don't assume adoption is a second choice. The reasons people choose to adopt
are as varied and unique as the people themselves. While it is true that
many choose adoption because of infertility, it is also true that many
choose adoption for a myriad of other reasons as well. Many people choose to
adopt not because they are out of other options, but rather because they
believe that adoption is the best choice for them.
Don't jump to conclusions about the birth mother. Often thought of as weak,
irresponsible, cheap, and worthless, birth mothers often suffer a lifetime
of pain far greater than that of childbirth. Please don't jump to the wrong
conclusion that these women are any different than you and me or that they
love their children any less.
Most cross-cultural adoptive families know little or nothing about the
circumstances that led their child's birth mother to relinquish her child.
What they do know is that they love their children's birth mothers because
they are a part of their children and it is because of them that their
beloved children are who they are.
Don't tell us we're sure to have "our own" now. She is our own. Those
parents who choose adoption because of infertility do not secretly harbor
lifelong yearnings for a biological child. Having "our own" is now
irrelevant; the child we have is the one we want and it is inconceivable
that we could love or want any child more. Like all parents, we have the
Copyright © 2004 Amy Coughlin and Caryn Abramowitz
Amy Coughlin is an adoptive mom, a lawyer, teacher, and writer. She lives in
Center City, Philadelphia, with her husband, Rich, and their two daughters,
Audrey and Natalie.
Caryn Abramowitz is a freelance writer and editor. She is a lawyer by trade
and the author of many legal and other types of articles in a variety of
publications. She lives in Philadelphia with her husband, Andy, and their
They are the authors of Cross-Cultural Adoption: How to Answer Questions
from Family, Friends, and Community published by LifeLine Press; September
2004; $18.95US/$26.95CAN; 0-89526-092-1
For more information, please visit www.writtenvoices.com.