Kerstin Lindquist is an adoptive mother and author.
There is this episode of “Friends” when Chandler and Monica are at another couple’s house getting advice about adoption. Chandler ends up accidently telling the couple’s kid that he is adopted, and hysterical fallout ensues.
Years ago, when that episode was just getting to re-runs that scenario didn’t seem so far-fetched. Now almost two decades later, the thought of a twelve-year-old not knowing he is adopted seems ridiculous.
The sad truth is it’s not. In a time when we share more than ever, when we reveal abuse and discrimination and paint the internet red with me too and #truth, there are those in our adoption community that are still keeping their stories a secret.
The problem with a secret is it carries a negative connotation. And if that secret is adoption, that negativity follows. Just the word secret is dark and hidden, as is anything it keeps.
As a family built through adoption there are many aspects of the process that are so painful, they can make you want to color it over and hide it away in the dark.
Infertility, loss, failed matches even shame. The road can be so broken. Before you travel down it you assume there is a destination, an end point. And when you get there you want to forget the past. But there is no end to adoption.
Adoption isn’t a single event; it’s a lifelong process. Which makes it really no different than anything else, except for the fact that what happens next has an assumed cause. A child born to birth parents doesn’t cease to have struggles once safely out of the womb.
But as a culture we just easily accept life’s ups and downs. When they happen to a child, or a family with an adoption story, we tend to look at adoption as the culprit. So, we hide it away.
But the more that we make adoption a common aspect of life, the less it becomes the catalyst. Bringing light to the dark and a voice to the silence can ease past pain and make the future brighter.
I was snuggling with my three-year-old the other evening and I was telling him Jesus loves him, and that he is kind, and smart and silly. He smiled through a giggle and added “and me adopted!?”
The end had a hint of a question but not because he wanted validation that he was in fact adopted but because he was confirming that this aspect of his life fit with the rest of the descriptors I was happily rattling off.
Oh, how my heart burst. I had done one of the most important jobs I have as a mom. I helped him grasp that adoption is a part of the positive adjectives of his beautiful little brown life.
Smart. Loved. Kind. Handsome. Strong. Adopted. We often add in Honduran while we shout with joy over what makes us special (although he tends to say Mexican because he’s heard that word when we celebrate his sister, and occasionally Irish because of his other sister, that one just makes me laugh since he’s so obviously not Irish. We’re getting there, he is, after all three.)
When I talk families through the adoption process, I make sure they leave with the understanding that adoption needs to be a word that is recognized by the child from early on. It needs to be a common, factual word.
You eat dinner – fact. You go to church – fact. You are adopted – fact. Not monumental, just normal. The days of keeping it a secret until the child is old enough to understand, are behind us. There is no understanding. It’s every changing and adoption just is.
Heck, at forty-two and with over a decade in this world, I still don’t totally understand it. Sitting a kid down and explaining to them that they are adopted makes them feel different.
You wouldn’t one day decide you needed to tell your biological ten-year-old that she is Canadian or has long hair. A big reveal automatically makes the recipient feel there is something wrong with that fact for which it was concealed for so long. When all that’s wrong here is often just a parent’s fear.
If you aren’t talking about adoption from the moment you bring your child home, it’s not to protect them. You are likely living in fear. Give yourself some grace. This is not about judging yourself. You’ve been through trauma and loss, everyone who has an adoption story will forever have those two things as a part of their life.
But you need to figure out why you’re scared. Is it because of what others will think? How you will be viewed as a parent? Does it make you feel less-than in society? Or, is it because your road to parenthood was so hard, you just don’t want to remember?
We need to do a better job of making our kids confident in who they are, part of that comes with helping ourselves heal first. This doesn’t just apply to adoption but if that’s a trait you are leaving out, it’s time to tell.
At diaper changing time list positive things about your baby. Use words like kind, smart, loved, happy, cute and make sure you say adopted every time. Make it as common a word as possible.
Watch your tone when you say adopted or adoption. Be careful that it ends on an upbeat and that your mouth forms a smile at the end. No whispers, no frowns, this needs to be a positive word. Imagine it bright and yellow like the sun or blue like the water.
Use imagery to make the word full of light in your own mind, especially if your adoption process was full of darkness and pain. It’s important to change your view of the word so you can help paint their perspective positively.
You do not need to broadcast your child’s adoption if that doesn’t feel genuine or comfortable. But when it comes up with others again notice your voice. Avoid whispering the word or looking downcast as you explain. Your child and others will take cues from your body language and inflection.
Try spontaneously saying it loudly and with exclamation! This automatically makes young children feel excited, safe and happy. We dance party our way through the word adoption in our house, clapping and cheering. When the word comes to mind shout it with celebration.
Kerstin Lindquist is the author of 5 Months Apart, a Story of Infertility, Faith and Grace. A four-time Emmy award-winning journalist and recognizable TV host, her articles on family, fitness and faith can be seen monthly in various publications from Vibrant Life Magazine to Sail Magazine and have been featured on The Today Show. Kerstin lives with her husband and three children in West Chester, Pennsylvania.
Do you have an adoption story to share? Email us any time or find out more about how to share it with our community.
Help us remove the stigma surrounding open adoption. Like us on Facebook.