We were all, or should have been, taught basic manners for being polite, thoughtful, and helpful (if you need a refresh, read these 16 Forgotten Manners Every Parent Should Teach Their Child, from Reader’s Digest last month). But as a community of people touched by adoption, let’s be sure to also practice positive adoption etiquette.
These tips will not only help you protect your personal adoption story, but help others know how to show their support, raise positive awareness, and change negative stereotypes when it comes to adoption today.
1. Be especially mindful on social media
Don’t friend or tag your child’s birth mother on social media, without her permission. Also, never share identifying information about the birth family without their consent. Before sharing anything about your adoption, check your privacy settings first to see who has access to the information you post. Do you really want the general public to know sensitive information about your adoption process? It’s wise to modify your privacy settings to restrict the people who will see any adoption details you share.
In addition, avoid posting photos of a child who is not legally yours yet. Once a post has been shared, it can live forever in one form or another. So assume that nothing you post is truly private. Whether it’s captured in a screenshot or reposted by well-intentioned friends and family members, your information can quickly be seen by a wider audience than you’d intended.
It’s best to avoid complaining about or criticizing the adoption process, professionals, or people involved in your own, or someone else’s adoption. On social media sites, you should assume that nothing you share is truly private — once it’s been posted, it can live forever.
So, if you think you’ll talk about your adoption with anyone in your social circle, make sure they know about your social media plan. Information can suddenly open up to a wider audience than you originally planned if they repost what you’ve shared or capture a screenshot.
Remember that everyone in your adoption triad shares a story. So, if you post about your adoption story on social media, you’re also sharing your child’s story and their birth parents’ story. Think about how this could affect everyone involved. For example, you might consider sharing your child’s major milestones with their birth parents before posting to your social networks. Avoid posting emotional messages about other members of the adoption triad. When in doubt, try asking yourself, “What if my child’s birth family saw this?” or “What if my child saw this?” It’s important to always be respectful, even if you think the chances of them seeing it are slim.
2. Keep your story’s details private
This especially holds true for the privacy of the child, and the other people involved in your adoption story.
The way your child came into your family, or why your child’s birth parents chose you, should not be open to discussion. Too often, people speak before thinking when it comes to questions about adoptive and “real” parents or adopted and “real” children.
Adoptive parents get asked many insensitive questions about how their child came to them, like “How much did she cost?” or “Where’s her real mom?” These questions are often in front of young children who are old enough to recognize that people find their family “different” than other parents and children. Most adoptive parents are eager ambassadors for adoption on their time, not at the beck and call of strangers.
“In my experience, the best way adoptive parents can answer inappropriate questions is to be direct and keep it short. I feel that as adoptive parents, it’s our job is to cherish and lovingly raise our children, not give the details of our adoption stories to strangers,” says Mardie Caldwell, adoptive mother and Founder of Lifetime Adoption.
3. Talk about adoption positively
When you talk about adoption, make sure to use positive adoption language, such as “placed” and not “gave up.” Certain phrases like “gave up” can imply that families formed through adoption are inferior.
The terms used in positive adoption language are intended to shift people’s focus away from the incorrect notion that adoption is unnatural, or that children are possessions to be bought or given away. Instead, positive adoption language attempts to respect the relationship between the adopted child and adoptive parents, as well as the life that the birth parents have provided all of them.
4. The details of your adoption are not everyone’s right to know or ask about
Details about your adoption, such as adoption fees and search criteria, belong to your family. No one has the right to know how much you paid to adopt your child, the events leading up to the adoption, or the names of the birth parents. We can all practice good adoption etiquette by refraining from asking others nosy questions about the private details of their adoption.
5. Don’t make assumptions
Never assume that adoption is always a last-resort choice, both for adoptive parents or birth mothers. Just as adoption isn’t a cure for infertility, an adopted child is not a generic replacement for a longed-for biological child.
6. Keep the advice to yourself, unless asked
Don’t suggest foster care, international adoption, or more fertility efforts, because “you’ve heard” newborn adoption in the US is too hard, or too expensive, or not fair “because there are other ways.” Giving unsolicited advice is almost always unwelcome, especially if you’re trying to practice good adoption etiquette.
7. Ask people who are thinking about adoption how you can support them
In addition, it’s OK to ask them how they are doing or if they’ve made a decision or progress. Don’t over-ask or push them to share if they’ve indicated they are not ready to talk about it, YET ALSO be available to show support, so they don’t feel as if you disapprove or have forgotten it’s on their mind.
8. Self-check your own adoption understanding
You can do this by observing what your initial response is when you hear adoption mentioned. If you immediately think “it’s so expensive,” “Oh, I would love to be around all those babies!” “it’s so sad that there are so many waiting children,” or “I don’t know how anyone could give up a child,” then you need to learn more about the people and the process involved with adoption today.
9. Be kind and gracious to adoption professionals.
Adoption is a highly emotionally-charged process. So, the support staff, attorneys, social workers, and others involved in adoption work are in a constant state of balancing the needs of birth parents, adopting families, and the children so that each is supported well and the process is protected for the best interest of all involved. It’s positive adoption etiquette to be kind and courteous to the professionals helping you adopt!
Linda Rotz, CWCM-S, CWCM-Trainer, ACC, is the Director of Adoption Services at Lifetime. Linda has worked in the field of adoption for 20 years within the child welfare/foster care system in Florida. She has degrees in Mass Communications and Human Development, and completed graduate studies in social work.
Due to her extensive expertise, Linda was called upon to write adoption procedures and training materials in Florida. She is certified as an Adoption Specialist, Child Welfare Case Manager Supervisor and Child Welfare Trainer in the state of Florida.