Celebrating Adoption, By Julie Fisher

Shapiro-FisherFamily Picture Fall 2011I am a big believer in the flaunt. It works for me because I have always thought –and taught– that honesty is best, as a first grade teacher, as a school leader, and now as a mom.  It is an important mantra for me.  I only hoped that my daughters would agree. You see, my family is different. And those differences are front and center for all to see. There’s no hiding it. In our family of five, three of us are pale caucasians and two of us have darker skin tones.  These differences exist because two of our three beautiful daughters were adopted from Guatemala.  This is a fact that we do not try to hide.  We are proud of it.  We flaunt it. A few years ago, after we adopted for the first time, a colleague approached me and asked in a hushed tone if it would be okay to ask me and my husband some questions about adoption because she was considering adopting a child. I replied enthusiastically that adoption is one of our favorite topics.  She was relieved to hear that we would be happy to talk about it all day! As it turns out, others talk about it also, whether you want them to or not!  All the reading I had done about adoption cited stories of obtuse strangers approaching others in the mall and asking all sorts of questions.  It turns out this really happens.  Here are some that I’ve gotten:   “Is that your real daughter?” “Where is your daughter from?” “Are you their mother?” “Are they sisters?” The wise words of advice given by adoption professionals are helpful and they teach that you have a choice in how you respond. You can share information openly; you can choose to educate people about adoption; or you can choose to keep your personal information private. I firmly believe that when children are taught openly and honestly about their adoption story, it is possible to help them develop great pride and confidence–just as a biological child learns to tell his or her story by listening to their parents retell the story with happiness and excitement. From the point of their adoption, we spoke honestly and openly with our girls about their births, their early lives and their journey into our family.  Last year in first grade, our 7-year-old daughter gave a presentation to her class about being adopted from Guatemala. She dressed in native garb, showed pictures from her country of birth and told the story of her adoption. For many of the children in her class it was their very first time learning about adoption. The next day the teacher called us and told us there was “a problem.”  Of course, our hearts dropped and we anxiously waited to hear what had occurred.  You could almost hear her smile audibly over the phone when she said that she had heard from a few parents who said that their children came home upset saying that they wish THEY had been adopted like our daughter. Our daughter had shared her story with such pride that others didn’t see anything shameful or embarrassing; in fact, they saw someone who had great pride in her difference and a great ability to share it openly–so much so that they apparently felt envious. I recently read an intriguing quote that aptly summed up the choice you make between hiding your unique story or celebrating it.  Michael Reagan once said, “My adoption was treated as a celebration.”  Can you imagine the difference children feel when their differences are embraced openly and they are proactively taught not to hide their “story” or difference from others? So, yes, our family looks different. We celebrate those differences and we openly share and affirm our unique story of how we became a family.   7 Ways to Celebrate Adoption:

  • Answer questions from your children openly and honestly. Teach them to do the same when they are ready.
  • Use questions and comments from others (even embarrassing ones) as an opportunity to teach about adoption.
  • Celebrate special days such as “Gotcha Day” or “Family Day” or “Coming Home Day.” Cakes are a big hit!
  • Tell the story of how each individual came into your family with openness and respect–and celebration (biological or through adoption, surrogacy, etc.). Include others in your celebration (grandparents, friends, neighbors).
  • Teach children to be proud to share their story with others such as classmates, teachers, and friends.
  •  Teach your children how to respond kindly and firmly to questions or comments that might be negative or hurtful, but most likely just show a lack of understanding of adoption (e.g.“Is that your REAL mom?”).
  • Read books and listen to music that celebrate adoption and reflect your family’s unique story, such as Happy Adoption Day by John McCutcheon or  We Belong Together; A Book About Adoption and Families by Todd Parr.
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