Friday, February 27, 2009

How to Be an ADOPTION ADVOCATE...Tried and true tips for families...

As an employee of Heart to Heart, I advocate for our clients. But as an adoptive mother, and when I am not in the office (which is a good part of the time!), I notice that my professional skills cross over into my dealings with friends, neighbors, and others in my community.

I am an adoption advocate.

You don’t have to be an adoption professional to take on this role. Every time you educate or
enlighten someone, you are advocating adoption. Think of adoption advocacy as a slow, evolving process rather than a list of projects that you should tackle all at once. First-time parents may be so swamped that they can only think about the next feeding and diaper change. Take your time and do only what feels comfortable and right for you and your family. And I’m guessing that, if you’re like me, the longer you’re an adoptive parent, the more you’ll want to persuade the world that adoption is the most amazing way to build a family. Here are some good ways to positively influence and educate those around you on the wonderful world of adoption.

When a store clerk asks, “Where’s his real mom?" I just answer with the appropriate language as part of my answer. "His birth mother is from Atlanta."
When your nosy (but probably well meaning) neighbor asks, “Why was she given up for adoption?” I usually say something along the lines of, "Her birthparents made an adoption plan knowing that was the best option for her." Or "She was placed with our family because it was best for everyone - especially our lucky family!" You don’t have to chastise anyone for their incorrect terminology, or get defensive and offended, but you will notice that others will begin to copy the terms you use.
When a friend of mine was preparing documents for a private adoption several years ago, (before I knew about Heart to Heart) her adoption agency gave her sample paperwork
for her to amend and file with the court. The samples contained the words “natural mother and father.” When she asked her attorney about it, she was told that the court in this particular jurisdiction, this was very traditional, and still used such terms. Not settling for “its-always-been-done-this-way,” her attorney changed all paperwork to read to “birth mother and birth father.” The judge finalized the adoption with those changes. You can edit medical or school information forms—or any other document needing an update— the very same way.

WRITE A LETTER TO THE EDITOR ABOUT INAPPROPRIATE TERMS used in print, (letter to the editor of the local paper, or community circulars) and perhaps send along the adoption stylebook created by the Accurate Adoption Reporting group. (This stylebook contains guidelines and appropriate language for journalists to follow when writing about adoption issues. You’ll find it in Adoptive Families Jan/Feb 02, http://www.adoptivefamilies/. com/articles.php?aid=405.)

Adoptive parents should have the same benefits as parents who give birth. If your employer does not have equitable leave benefits or reimbursement for adoption fees, write a letter to the CEO or president urging changes to your company’s policy.
Discuss adoption with your child’s teacher. Ask about assignments that could be potentially sticky. Use it as an opportunity to educate the teacher about adoption. Talk to the school’s principal or school psychologist, if need be. Offer to lead a discussion group on adoption issues for the faculty. Make an adoption presentation to your child’s class. This type of open communication is a great vehicle to clear up some misconceptions. (I have had many of my daughter's classmates - and parents - say "Oh you're Meg's mom...?") And be open to further or repeated discussions on adoption as your child progresses through school. At six or seven, your child is probably thrilled to have you talk to her class. At 15, she may not want the attention. And be sensitive to not create a chasm where there isn't one. Most children are accepting of different types of families, and most are blind to color. (we need to take a hint from these types of children!)
As always, do not be accusatory or defensive. Most people do not make comments or ask questions to be hurtful; they just need to be educated. Keep the lines of communication open. Word will spread that you are a willing and open person to discuss adoption with, and that's how the education will find its way into our society.
Be prepared for nosy questions in the grocery aisle. People seem to love asking our kids, “Where did you come from?” “Is she your real mother?” and “Why did your real mother give you away?” Even "You're lucky you were taken into such a nice family." (This one really bothers if by adopting, we are taking in a stray.) If you are prepared, you will be able to answer (or refuse to answer) with confidence in a way that lets the questioner (and your child) know that you are proud to be an adoptive parent.
Discuss it openly as a family. Have everyone in the family practice appropriately vague answers. A frequent question I am asked is, “How much do you know about Meg and Halle’s birthparents?” People want all the imagined juicy details, including medical histories and personal dramas, but I do not go there. Ever. My usual response is “We know enough that we were comfortable with our decision to adopt them.” If I am asked a question that catches me off guard (and yes, 8 years later, it still happens) my response is either "Gee, I am surprised you would ask that..." or "Why would you ask me that?" It puts the question right back on the person who asked, either shutting them down, or making them reflect on why do they want to know that? Sometimes, it is an innocent and legitimate question that came out wrong, and once we clear that up, I am happy to answer truthfully. But if not, I leave it at that.

Teach your child that it’s OK not to answer intrusive questions. “That’s private” is a perfectly acceptable answer, and not quite as abrupt as "That's none of your business!" (although, admitedly, it's tempting to say with some people...). Our children’s histories are theirs alone, and we need to help them maintain their privacy. If they choose to share details one day, it's their choice. Don't make that choice for them by giving information to Mrs. Kravitz down the street who will share the most intimate parts of your child's life over the fence in a gossip session.
And we'll help! Heart to Heart is happy to bring a presentation to your group any time. Call or email Shelly (801 860 4334) or to schedule. Unfortunately, being a non profit organization, we are only able to do these presentations on a local level. But even without our help, you, as adoptive parents, can educate your community group, book club, church, or other organizations.
Arrange a display at your public library (Ask the librarian to create a display for National Adoption Month. Organize a book drive and donate adoption books) Write a story for your local paper about an adoptive family or adoption event in your area, or write an editorial on an adoption-related issue. If you're not a writer, you can always offer yourself as an "expert" to be quoted in their stories about adoption, transracial families, etc.

Let your senator or representative know where you stand on adoption related legislation. (Every member of the U.S. Congress has his or her own Web site, complete with mailing address, numbers to call, and, in most cases, an e-mail form that makes getting in touch convenient.)

Adoptive families are an increasingly organized, vocal, and powerful interest group—and politicians are taking notice! Be part of the positive movement!


  1. shelly I love this information! I have been doing some things that are not so appropriate and I will be better! Hey I am new at this! Hallie is adorable! thanks alissa

  2. Thanks for this information. As a single, mother adopting I have often found that it's important to change the adoption paperwork (like the one's that say "wife" /"husband"

    Thanks for all the information.....It's really helpful