I have learned a lot about adoption in the last three years of my delving into this world. One of those years was spent in the process of adopting, two years (almost) have been spent parenting adopted children. I have read many books and gone through two different adoption education classes. (By the way, I am NOT claiming to be an expert!)
There are things I have learned that I think would be useful for others to know. You don’t have to be an adoptive family, I am talking about the public in general – information for anyone who knows someone who has adopted, is thinking of adopting, or even a perfect stranger you meet at the store who has adopted.
One thing I recently learned is that adopted kids don’t want to be asked where they are from. This question makes them feel “different” from the new home country they are trying to fit into. This can remind them that they stick out like a sore thumb and do not belong.
Don’t judge the behavior of an adopted child or how you “see” the parents dealing with it. There will be issues that are being dealt with in the adoptive family – possibly for years – that are way more complex than the typical misbehavior of a biological child. These kids are processing grief – loss of birth family, loss of country of origin, loss of caretakers and friends – and those are at the less extreme end. Internationally adopted children may have suffered abuse of many types, malnutrition or starving, or have a survivor mentality from institution or street life. Their “home” life – if they have memory of one before the orphanage – was probably dysfunctional at best.
Do not ask the child school or learning questions. Have you ever been asked a question you think you should know the answer to, but you don’t? You feel ashamed that you don’t know what someone obviously thinks you should. Think about how that might make a child feel who already feels overwhelmed with all they are trying to learn.
You can ask what they are learning in school or what they like about school, but don’t ask them to read something, to do a math problem in their head, or how many minutes are in an hour. 🙂 As parents, we are working hard every day to give our children confidence in their monumental victories in learning a new culture, language, customs, and family life. Add to that learning to read, write, and memorize facts such as how many hours there are in a day. It is a LOT! We spend years teaching our biological children things they don’t even realize they are learning BEFORE they even attend school. These adopted kids did not have that advantage.
I read that they believe it takes about five years to master a new language. This is a statistic they are finding in public schools in relation to ESL students. Our adopted kids learn communicative language fairly fast and sometimes we see that and expect everything else to come as quickly. The child’s background in education can vary widely and that has an immense impact on how quickly they will catch up in school. Emotional issues can also play a part.
Something else about language. A child, newly arrived in the U.S. may not speak much English, but it is possible that they understand quite a bit. So, don’t assume you can talk about things in front of the child because they “won’t understand”.
I recently watched the movie “Pollyanna” with the girls. It is funny how my ears are very attuned to adoption issues now. There is an exchange early in the movie where a lady tells Pollyanna how grateful she should be for a home and that someone has taken her in. That comment made me shudder.
I have had people tell me how lucky my girls are. I even had someone ask me if the girls knew how thankful they ought to be. Let’s just say that none of these sentiments ought to be said in hearing of an adopted child.
I am sure at some point in their life they will feel grateful. That realization will not happen instantaneously, however. You and I cannot even imagine the upheaval and grief that these children feel from the losses they have suffered in their lives. We aren’t adopting them so that they will express gratitude to us. We are adopting them out of a desire to make a small dent in the suffering of orphaned children in this world. In this act though, we are given some of the greatest blessings we could never even imagine. In other words, WE are the lucky ones. 🙂
So many of these things I am learning I would NEVER have thought about if I hadn’t been in this world of adoption. I am not scolding anyone or trying to make anyone feel bad. I really want to educate you so that you will be aware.
My encouragement to you would be to give love and support to your friends who have adopted. Sprinkle your conversation and interaction with lots of understanding and grace. Smile at families you see in a store that have different colors represented. Don’t give extra notice to the obviously adopted child, but give all children in that family equal attention. If you have questions about adoption, ask the parents when the kids are not around.
I am sure there is a ton more that I am not thinking of. If you are an adoptive parent, please feel free to add to this! If you are on the other side, please feel free to ask questions. I appreciate your input.
Thanks for reading. Lori