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Adoption's Verbal Land Mines

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When it comes to my kids (adopted and biological), it's best to keep your "expert" (insert sarcasm here) opinions to yourself!

annoyed woman in office

Guest blogger Maggie Vink: There are times when the right thing to say is obvious. When someone asks if their jeans make them look fat, for example, you respond with a decisive, "No!" When someone brings home a newborn baby that looks more like a cabbage than a Cabbage Patch Kid, you say, "He's adorable." But there are other times when the right thing to say is elusive. Adoptive families seem to be a magnet for those verbal land mines. I should know: I'm an adoptive mom myself.

I swore off dating when my 10-year-old son first came home. But last spring I decided I was ready to dip my toes back into the dating pool. While I'm glad to be out there again, I was surprised to find that the pool is so full of frogs. Recently, I was involved with a frog (er ... man) who was a medical miracle: He still managed to walk and talk while having a foot permanently inserted in his mouth.

He told me about a coworker of his who had adopted internationally and was now pregnant. Knowing his tendency to say the wrong things, I casually mentioned that I hoped nobody would say things like, "You must be excited to have a baby of your own," or, "So many people get pregnant after adopting." Neither of those statements are terribly welcomed. After all, adopted children are our own, too. And the whole pregnant-after-adopting baloney is just annoying.

Mr. Foot-in-Mouth assured me that nobody he worked with would say anything like that. However, he said that they were all concerned for their pregnant coworker -- concerned because families usually like their natural children more than their adopted children.

Even now, weeks after I first heard it, that sentence still gives me a little bit of a gag reflex.

First, there's the use of the word "natural." That's a common misstep, and it doesn't really offend me. When someone makes that error in words, it's usually just an innocent lack of understanding. So I always take the chance to explain that adopted children are 100 percent natural -- I have yet to meet a child made of plastic -- and that "biological" is probably what they meant to say.

However, I was a taken aback by his matter-of-fact approach when saying that children by birth are liked better than children by adoption. I stayed calm and respectful even though my inner snarkiness wanted to come out and play. I told him that I know of numerous families that have both adopted and biological children, and they love each child. There are no gold, silver and bronze medals for love: Parents have enough room in their hearts for all of their kids. I also explained that stating things like that can perpetuate the myth that adoption is somehow second best, when for all the families I know, it's nothing short of a miraculous gift.

I fully expected him to realize how hurtful his statements were and to retract them. Instead, this turned out to be his frog-who-will-never-be-a-prince moment. He stood by his words and said that his coworkers knew of some families who liked their biological children better, so changing his mind would be the same as calling his coworkers liars.

When I was in the process of adopting, my adoption agency talked to me about the offensive things people were likely to say after I adopted. They were right: I've heard it all, from "How much did your son cost?" to "Is it hard to love a child that isn't yours?" I've tried to respond to every one of those verbal land mines with education, not anger. But education isn't foolproof. Even after I pointed out the land mine to this guy, he still chose to do cartwheels on it. So much for my date to the movies. Goodbye, Mr. Land Mine. Kaboom!

5 comments so far | Post a comment now
Black Iris March 12, 2010, 4:50 AM

Sometimes getting mad is educational. I think it’s okay, too, when you love someone who is adopted.

There are innocent mistakes and then there’s being a jerk. Insisting that some families like their biological children better is being a jerk.

There is a silver lining - you didn’t have to waste time dating a guy who couldn’t love your son.

Angela March 12, 2010, 5:08 AM

I have one biological son and have never adopted but when he was born I was devastated to find that I was not overwhelmed with maternal love and joy. I thought he was adorable and wanted to live up to my responsibility to him but real bonding occurred very gradually over those first few weeks as I learned to feed, comfort, and care for him. The pregnancy and birth had little to do with it so giving birth really only reinforced my belief that love isn’t about biology.

Maggie March 12, 2010, 8:34 AM

Thank you both for your comments. And Angela, I know exactly what you mean. When I first met my son I expected to fall head over heels with maternal love. But it took time. Love grows… and it’s certainly not just about biology.

Sandra March 12, 2010, 9:48 PM

I am an adoptive mom and one of my favorite quotes in life is “a mother’s love is not constrained by blood lines.” I believe it to be very true. My son does not have my blood and DNA link, but I love him with every fiber of my being. Thank you for your comments. With so much hatred being spewed out there, it is refreshing to see a post filled with great comments that hasn’t been completely ripped apart by others.

Ten Tees January 8, 2011, 4:02 PM

Interesting article! Enjoyable reading. I’ve got one opinion to offer about funny shirts.

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