Author Archives: Becca Whitson

The Importance of a Family Code Word

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Last month, our family went on a small trip, which included a very emotional, adoption-related event for one of our kids. In processing the event with him beforehand, I could tell it would be difficult, although meaningful, for him. The possibility of him becoming flooded with emotion was huge.

I told him the day before that we could have a secret code word that would let me know he was feeling overwhelmed and needed a change of scenery. He loved the idea and chose the word himself (I’ll use “butterfinger” as the example for this post). We went over it again the following morning, and he seemed to feel a sense of relief to be able to say one word to me or Matt, without his siblings or anyone else knowing, and we would help him get out of the situation immediately. We even practiced it, so he would see how easy it would be to say, “I wish I had a Butterfinger,” and we responded accordingly.

He didn’t use his code word that day. And I think knowing he could was part of the reason he didn’t need to.

He felt safe.

Since then we’ve had similar talks with our older child as well but for different reasons. At someone else’s house and feel uncomfortable for any reason? Call us and use the code word. We’ll come get you and talk about it later. Embarrassed to call us to get you out of an unhealthy situation because your buddies are there? Use the code word. We’ll figure it out.

We want our kids to feel safe- emotionally, physically, and spiritually. For us, part of that means the ability to communicate with us in a way that is private and reassuring to them.

There are many uses for a family code word:

1. To communicate emotional flooding in a public setting and privately express the need to get a breather. This is especially helpful with kids who struggle with anxiety- generalized or specific to certain triggers- or with kids who are in the midst of a very emotional time (e.g. at a funeral).

2. To let a parent know you need to get out of an unsafe situation. For us, this includes a general feeling of discomfort, even if they can’t explain why. We want them to learn to trust their “gut” and to know we trust them to make good decisions.

3. To let a parent know when you need help, even if you’ve created the problem yourself. As our kids get into adolescence, their freedom will increase. And so will the temptations around them. They will mess up. But if we can help them feel safe in coming to us, even in their sin (especially in their sin), we have a much better chance of decreasing their shame and helping them run to Jesus in the midst of it.

I bet there are many more ways we’ll use our code word(s) as our kids get older. Has your family ever used secret words? What worked for you?

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Matt and Becca write about marriage, parenting, and life through the lens of a married couple, parenting team, and pastor and professional counselor. They share hope and restoration by giving a glimpse into their lives- the failures, the successes, and the brokenness and beauty of everyday. You can read more of their writing at WhitsonLife.

But What About Our Other Kids?

“But what about our other kids?”

 

I hear that question all the time. I’ve asked it myself. And honestly, I think that’s part of being a good parent. We want what’s best for our kids, and we wonder what adding children to our families through foster care or adoption would be like for them.

 

Although I can’t speak for all families or children, I want to tell you a little about our experiences over the last two years. Although our youngest son was adopted, we received him as an infant, and our oldest was only two. As far as we can tell, the adjustment for everyone in that case was much like if I’d given birth for a second time. Over the last year, however, things have been very different.

 

When our 4 ½- year old daughter came to our family in November of 2016, she’d been in several families and had experienced things our boys never have. She comes from a place of hurt, just as many children in this country and around the world do. We didn’t know what it would be like for the boys to have a new sister with a different background, different race, and different behaviors. And those were legitimate concerns.

 

It’s been rough. They have struggled to love her, and at times, to even be kind to her. They’ve felt jealous and angry by the amount of attention she has required from us. They’ve been annoyed and confused by some of her behaviors, and I’ve heard several times, “I just wish it could be like it was before.”

 

I’ve had days where I’ve felt like I was in a constant counseling session… with my own children. I went from one room to the next listening and empathizing and talking and praying. But we’ve seen the light.

 

Do they still fight? Yes, like most kids probably do. Do they still get jealous? Absolutely. Sibling rivalry is alive and well. But now, they function as three siblings, not as two brothers and a stranger who moved in one Friday.

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I was looking at Project Zero’s website a few months ago, and my kids came to sit by me. They saw a sibling group of five and another of two and asked about them. I explained that the kids needed a family, and do you know what they said?

“We can do that! Let’s go get them.” Then they tried to convince me that having two (or five!) more kids wouldn’t be a big deal at all. Bless ‘em.

 

God is working in their hearts.

 

Last year, our oldest son brought home an assignment from school that God used to show me He’s already redeeming our daughter’s pain and the difficulties we’ve all experienced through these years.

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Matt and Becca write about marriage, parenting, and life through the lens of a married couple, parenting team, and pastor and professional counselor. They share hope and restoration by giving a glimpse into their lives- the failures, the successes, and the brokenness and beauty of everyday. You can read more of their writing at WhitsonLife.

For When We’re Afraid of the Dark

Two of our three kids are terrified of the dark. Monsters, zombies, and anxiety live in the dark. They have night lights, lamps in the bathrooms, and open doors for their comfort.

Our son will walk into our pitch-black room in the middle of the night to tell us his left pinky nail is too long, but we dare not ask him to take his dirty laundry down the hall if the lights are off.

Why?

He walks into our dark room with confidence because he knows we’re already there.

He’s not walking away from us into darkness. He’s bravely walking through the darkness to be with us.

How do we teach him to face his fears when we can’t be there? We teach him that God is always with him. Our boy can walk through any darkness because He’s already there. Hebrews 13:6 is written on a huge chalkboard in our kitchen, and we say it everyday. He’s heard it enough in the last two weeks that he has it memorized without really trying.

When he starts to look at the dark hallway with fear in his eyes, I say, “And so we say with confidence…” and he finishes it as he walks toward the light switch.

I’ve been saying it to myself a lot lately as well. Maybe you need to hear it too. So much of parenting is riddled with fear. When our newly-adopted child lies as easily as he breathes, we panic that he’ll be a criminal as an adult. When our new daughter wants to hug everyone she meets, we fear that she’ll be kidnapped. We write the worst-case scenario, and it can often cause us to react in the least-helpful way possible. Instead of calm reassurance, we panic. Our fear often looks like anger. The last thing our kids need.

What fear do you need to face with confidence today?

God is already there.

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Matt and Becca write about marriage, parenting, and life through the lens of a married couple, parenting team, and pastor and professional counselor. They share hope and restoration by giving a glimpse into their lives- the failures, the successes, and the brokenness and beauty of everyday. You can read more of their writing at WhitsonLife.

 

 

What I Wish I’d Known Last Summer

We drove to Florida in July for our first big adventure as a family of five. Last summer was the height of our meltdowns. I say “our” because I’m pretty sure we all cried on the floor a few times, some more than others. Vacation was just not an option. But this summer? Oh, what a difference a year (and a lot of prayers and hard work) can make.

 

I had my heart set on taking Riah to the beach for her first time, and I might have been more excited than she was. We got her hair cornrowed professionally the day before, which only added to her excitement (and mine- it was so cute!). We got on the road, and our kids did really well for quite a while. Then our road trip was extended by a traffic situation, and it’s possible Matt said the words “Never again.”

 

We pulled in around dusk, threw our stuff in the condo, and rushed out to the beach. Watching our three kids run out into the water was unforgettable. The boys hadn’t been in several years. And Riah? Well she loved the ocean from the moment she saw it. A girl after my own heart.

 

We stood, looking out at the water, her brown toes wiggling in the sand and beads clicking as she swung her hair around. Then for a moment she was still.

She looked up at me and said, “Thank you for bringing me here.

 

I suppose a girl who loves language and writing should be able to describe moments like that in a way that others can understand, but I really can’t. I’m still processing it myself. So much so, in fact, that I’m a little teary while I type this.

 

That week we caught crabs and jellyfish, played in the water, went to a museum, and fell in love with baby powder’s magical sand-removing powers. Overall, the week was restorative and as relaxing as a trip can be with three kids. Our memories helped bond us even more as a family, and I’m so grateful for the time we had there. We’re already thinking of plans for next summer.

 

On the way home, we avoided the traffic and were all in better moods after a week in the sun. We had some dance parties, ate snacks, and threatened their lives if they asked to stop to pee again. Good times.

 

About halfway home, Matt requested some worship music, so I put on All Sons & Daughters and we had a little church in my Tahoe. No matter what’s going on around me, when I hear the first chord of “Great Are You Lord,” everything stops.

I watched God’s creation speed past us out the window, thought back to the breathtaking views I’d had all week, closed my eyes, and took a deep breath. My people were in the car with me, and it felt like everything was right with the world.

 

If someone could have told me in November of 2013 that everything would be as good as it is now, I would have had so much more hope. My darkest days of those next nine months wouldn’t have seemed so hopeless. The questions of “What am I doing wrong?” and “Will things ever seem ‘normal’ again?” would have been a little quieter. My fears for our daughter wouldn’t have seemed as life-altering, and my concerns for our sons would have dissipated a bit more quickly.

But no one could have given me that. There were no guarantees that things would get easier. No promises that it would get better. That she would adjust like she has. That she would begin to trust us rather than push us. No one could have known.

 

I’m not sure the changes in our family from one summer to the next had really hit me until that drive home. I thought back to the previous summer- the hardest of my life- and wondered how we survived it. Riah’s fears and hurts spilled out all over me every day in various ways, and the rest of the family was left to endure the process and deal with what was left of me at the end of the day. I didn’t have much left to give.

 

And now? Well, we have our moments, and I still fight my own fears at times. But more than anything, I see the heart of a kind-hearted, compassionate, smart, loving girl. And I get to be her mom.

 

I turned around in the car to see our baby girl in the seat singing her heart out. And just as I turned around, she sang the second part of the verse.

 

You give hope.

You restore

Every heart that is broken.

And great are You, Lord.

 

I reached back and held her hand, praising God for healing her precious heart and restoring mine. Then I prayed.

 

“Thank You for bringing me here.”

 

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Matt and Becca write about marriage, parenting, and life through the lens of a married couple, parenting team, and pastor and professional counselor. They share hope and restoration by giving a glimpse into their lives- the failures, the successes, and the brokenness and beauty of everyday. You can read more of their writing at WhitsonLife.

 

Why You Should Never Adopt An Older Child…And Why We Did Anyway

“Whatever you do, don’t adopt from foster care. That’s scary stuff.”

Ten years ago, when adoption became more than a hypothetical thought for us, a good friend tried to warn me. She’d been a social work major, and she’d come away scared. I believed her.

Two years later, we adopted a healthy, white newborn through an agency and brought him home from the hospital.

When I felt like we’d adopt again several years ago, and we were not ready to start over with an infant, I talked to another friend about the possibilities we’d considered. Foster care, special needs, HIV-positive. All words that concerned her.

“Why would you put yourself in that position? Why would you ask for that?”

Two years later, we adopted a four-and-a-half-year-old little girl with trauma history who had spent years in foster care.

Thinking back, her concerns were legitimate.

Why would we put ourselves in a position to care for a child with HIV or other special needs? Why would we volunteer to parent a child whose history could mean difficult behaviors and emotional baggage that might last for a lifetime? Why would we get on the adoption roller coaster again?

I have two answers that may seem simplistic at first glance.

First, because kids are worth it. All of them. They’re worth the fears and inconvenience and changes to their new families. They’re worth changing your parenting style to address their needs. They’re worth therapy appointments and grocery bills. They’re worth your tears on the bathroom floor as you question what in the world you’ve done and if it will ever get better. They are worth it.

Second, obedience is worth it. James 1:27 says, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” I don’t take that verse to mean everyone is called to foster or adopt. But for us, that’s exactly what it meant. Through His Word, circumstances, prayer, and other people, God made it clear to us over the course of years that this was His plan for our family. To do anything differently would have been disobedience. I know this is different for non-believers, but for us, knowing that we were being obedient was what kept us going on the hardest days. And it was enough.

Why did we volunteer to love and pour our hearts into hurting children? (And yes, children from infant adoption can hurt just as much as older children). Why do our foster parent friends take in filthy, hungry children in the middle of the night? Why do they stay up with screaming babies who were born addicted to meth? Or love teenage foster kids whose behaviors are difficult to say the least, even knowing that love is not enough to heal their hurts?

Because they’re worth it.

And although obedience is costly, it’s worth it too.

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Matt and Becca write about marriage, parenting, and life through the lens of a married couple, parenting team, and pastor and professional counselor. They share hope and restoration by giving a glimpse into their lives- the failures, the successes, and the brokenness and beauty of everyday. You can read more of their writing at WhitsonLife.

 

What I Learned from My Daughter’s Tantrums

 

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I’d never seen a more independent four-year-old. When K came home, she could literally do everything for herself. She dressed and bathed herself, brushed her teeth, got herself a snack. For a while, we were relieved and grateful. These are the things we’ve taught our boys to do for themselves because we want them to be independent and confident. She fit right in. But then it hit us.

She was independent because that’s how she’d survived.

Based on attachment parenting research, we started to re-parent her. We started saying things like, “I know you can brush your teeth, but I would love to take care of you. May I brush your teeth for you tonight?” A little at a time, she started to let her guard down and let go of some control. Later it became, “Can I help with your PJ’s tonight?” to which she would respond, “Because you want to take care of me?” She was getting it.

Now, we are in the trenches of dependence. At this point, we’ve created some dependence on us so she can develop out of it into healthy independence. If we say, “Go brush your teeth,” she often says, “I can’t!” It’s not a particularly fun stage, as we value independence. But we know it’s going to be worth it in the long run.

There’s something we’ve noticed about her since she’s started depending on us: she’s at rest. When we are patient and meet her needs, she is happy and peaceful. Her guard is down. She accepts help consistently now, which means losing the thing she held onto more than anything- control. And she’s happier than ever. It seems counter-intuitive for someone who holds onto it so tightly, but there’s comfort when she lets go of control.

Like many things in life, children show us the way. K has taught me so much already, and this is no different. She had no control over her environment before she was with us, so now she holds onto any sliver of control with white knuckles. I often feel powerless in my circumstances, so I scramble to control something, anything. How much of my life have I complicated by fighting God for control? More than I’d like to admit. Our baby girl literally goes from kicking and screaming to peaceful and calm when she surrenders and lets us meet her needs. And much like a four-year-old, I fight and fight until I finally surrender. Then I rest in the comfort of having God meet my needs. I always wish I’d done it sooner.

She is getting more and more comfortable with releasing control, and she’s starting to realize it feels good to be taken care of. I’m thirty years older than she is, and I just wish I had learned as quickly as she has.

Where do you fight to release control? What would happen if you surrendered?

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Matt and Becca write about marriage, parenting, and life through the lens of a married couple, parenting team, and pastor and professional counselor. They share hope and restoration by giving a glimpse into their lives- the failures, the successes, and the brokenness and beauty of everyday. You can read more of their writing at WhitsonLife.

 

The Day I Fell Apart

The Day I Fell Apart

Something triggered her fear, and she snapped. I will never call them “fits” because that would imply she could control them. And she cannot.

We’ve learned how to handle her meltdowns over the last year. We restrain her safely, usually while rocking her back and forth and telling her in a quiet voice about how much we love her, no matter what.

This time, I let go at the wrong time, and her knee hit me square in the chin. I saw stars then told her I’d have to come back in a minute. I went to the bathroom and exploded into sobs. It was as if I’d put my carbonated emotions in a bottle and shaken them for months. Physical pain was the only thing that could release the pressure.

I cried on and off for days. I cried about issues I’d been thinking about for months, and I cried about things so ridiculous that I would laugh while wiping my tears. That’s a sure way to let your family know you’ve completely lost it.

It turns out when you wait a long time to let yourself have a breakdown, it takes a while to recover.

On day three of my incessant crying, Matt left to speak at a church in Kansas for four nights. He felt bad for leaving, and I was dreading single parenting in the midst of the rollercoaster. I prayed that my kids would show me mercy for the week. Bedtimes are very difficult right now for a couple of our kids, and they’re even worse when Matt’s gone. The most challenging part of the day comes when I have the least energy and patience left. So I prayed for my own strength as well.

The days went by, and my kids were amazingly well-behaved. I eventually cried all the tears I’d been storing up. Matt came back home, and things eased back into normal.

When I went to a meeting with my counseling supervisor the next week, I described the whole thing to him. He said, “So you’re saying that when you allowed yourself to fall apart, the whole world didn’t fall apart? You mean when you gave your family the chance, they actually rose to the occasion?” I told him to shut up.

But he was right (I have a love/hate relationship with his rightness). When I see my husband struggle, I feel like I have to stay strong. When my kids are dealing with hard things, I put my own challenges aside. And the pressure builds.

When I let myself be weak and fall apart, balance reigns. They rise to the challenge. I get to have bad days and feel sad. I get to cry for lots of reasons or no reason at all. Being the mom doesn’t make my emotions or difficulties mean less. In fact, I dare say that it’s good for our kids to see me feel all kinds of things and deal with those feelings in healthy ways. (Or, less fun to talk about, to deal with my feelings in unhealthy ways and then apologize to them).

Are you putting your own needs on the back-burner while you help everyone else cope with theirs? I’ve learned that my emotions will eventually make themselves undeniable, and not always at the most convenient time.

Emotional health is a discipline. The circumstances in which I most need to practice good self-care are the same situations in which it’s most difficult to do so. Therefore, I must be disciplined in taking care of myself, even when it feels unnatural. Even when it’s inconvenient.

Have you been storing your emotions away while you tend to everyone around you? It might be time to open up that bottle before it explodes.

 **Disclaimer: The “meltdowns” are very rare now, and we have not always handled them well. If you’re in the middle of that struggle with your hurting child, you’re not alone. And if you’re not handling it with rocking and a quiet voice of grace, you’re not a horrible parent. It takes time and professional help to learn the best ways to help our kids from hard places. If we can help you find help, please let us know. 

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Matt and Becca write about marriage, parenting, and life through the lens of a married couple, parenting team, and pastor and professional counselor. They share hope and restoration by giving a glimpse into their lives- the failures, the successes, and the brokenness and beauty of everyday. You can read more of their writing at WhitsonLife.

 

Why We Don’t Celebrate Gotcha Day

She stood in the middle of Build-a-Bear, clutching her new stuffed bunny, with tears streaming down her face.

We were there to continue the tradition of letting each child choose an animal, stuff it, bathe it, and name it. And each time a child goes through the process, my husband and I sneak off to record our voices onto a little device, which is placed in the animal’s paw. At bedtime, or anytime they just need to hear us say we love them, they can press the stuffed animal’s hand. We loved watching our daughter take great care in making the bunny her own.

Finally, she took “Stuffy” in her arms and pressed the hand. Our recorded voices started, telling her how much we loved her. She looked up at our excited faces and started sobbing.
As much as we wanted to believe her tears were due to her overwhelming happiness, I knew it wasn’t true. We were spending the evening celebrating her one-year anniversary in our family with dinner and a trip to Build-a-Bear. Because Matt and I were going to be out of town on her homecoming anniversary, we went the week before. We wanted some family time before we left anyway, and we loved the idea of leaving our voices at her fingertips while we were gone.
We presented the evening as a celebration of one year as a family of five, not specifically about her. But she’s a smart girl. She knows we are only a family of five because she’s in it. And so the tears came.

For adopted children, sometimes celebrating a new family is a stark reminder of the family they lost. Often, the times we think will be most joyful- birthdays, holidays, “Gotcha Day”- actually bring up the deepest pain.

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So we tread lightly. And when unexpected tears come, we hug harder and don’t try to force words. We love them, we cry with them, and we try to imagine what that pain might feel like. Some have called the loss of one’s biological family a “primal wound,” and from parenting two adopted children, I would have to agree. There’s no way for me to explain the pain that comes from that loss having never lived it. But I witness it often.

For some adoptees, there’s the added pressure of feeling like they need to seem happy about their adoptions 100% of the time because the alternative would be a betrayal to their adoptive family. One of our goals in adoptive parenting is for our kids to know they can be sad or confused or angry about their adoptions, and we will be there with them in it. They can talk to us without worrying if we’ll take their pain personally and make it about us. As we have said repeatedly to them, they can (and do) miss their first families and love us at the same time.
Their grief is not about us.

I was talking with our son the other day about how we can respond when others say things that feel uncomfortable to us. That’s a pretty common experience for any adoptive family, and even more so for a transracial, adoptive family. One example we talked about was what he thinks or can say when someone says he and his sister are lucky to have been adopted into our family. He looked at me with genuine disbelief and said the perfect thing.

“Lucky? But I lost my other family.”

That’s why we don’t celebrate Gotcha Day.
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Every family and every adoptee is different. I can speak only to what works for our family right now (it might be different in a few years even). Every family has to do what’s best for them at the time.

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Matt and Becca write about marriage, parenting, and life through the lens of a married couple, parenting team, and pastor and professional counselor. They share hope and restoration by giving a glimpse into their lives- the failures, the successes, and the brokenness and beauty of everyday. You can read more of their writing at WhitsonLife.

What I Learned From My Daughter’s Tantrums

I’d never seen a more independent four-year-old. When K came home, she could literally do everything for herself. She dressed and bathed herself, brushed her teeth, got herself a snack. For a while, we were relieved and grateful. These are the things we’ve taught our boys to do for themselves because we want them to be independent and confident. She fit right in. But then it hit us.

She was independent because that’s how she’d survived.

Based on attachment parenting research, we started to re-parent her. We started saying things like, “I know you can brush your teeth, but I would love to take care of you. May I brush your teeth for you tonight?” A little at a time, she started to let her guard down and let go of some control. Later it became, “Can I help with your PJ’s tonight?” to which she would respond, “Because you want to take care of me?” She was getting it.

Now, we are in the trenches of dependence. At this point, we’ve created some dependence on us so she can develop out of it into healthy independence. If we say, “Go brush your teeth,” she often says, “I can’t!” It’s not a particularly fun stage, as we value independence. But we know it’s going to be worth it in the long run.

There’s something we’ve noticed about her since she’s started depending on us: she’s at rest. When we are patient and meet her needs, she is happy and peaceful. Her guard is down. She accepts help consistently now, which means losing the thing she held onto more than anything- control. And she’s happier than ever. It seems counter-intuitive for someone who holds onto it so tightly, but there’s comfort when she lets go of control.

Like many things in life, children show us the way. K has taught me so much already, and this is no different. She had no control over her environment before she was with us, so now she holds onto any sliver of control with white knuckles. I often feel powerless in my circumstances, so I scramble to control something, anything. How much of my life have I complicated by fighting God for control? More than I’d like to admit. Our baby girl literally goes from kicking and screaming to peaceful and calm when she surrenders and lets us meet her needs. And much like a four-year-old, I fight and fight until I finally surrender. Then I rest in the comfort of having God meet my needs. I always wish I’d done it sooner.

She is getting more and more comfortable with releasing control, and she’s starting to realize it feels good to be taken care of. I’m thirty years older than she is, and I just wish I had learned as quickly as she has.

Where do you fight to release control? What would happen if you surrendered?

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Becca WhitsonMatt and Becca write about marriage, parenting, and life through the lens of a married couple, parenting team, and pastor and professional counselor. They share hope and restoration by giving a glimpse into their lives- the failures, the successes, and the brokenness and beauty of everyday. You can read more of their writing at WhitsonLife.

Do’s and Don’ts for Talking with Adoptive Families

Adoption always comes with loss. No matter what the situation, at least some part of the adoption triad (birthparents, child, adoptive parents) has experienced loss. Often all three. Because it’s such an emotionally-charged topic, we thought we’d give you some tips on talking with friends and family who are in the adoption process or who have already brought their child home.

  • Don’t compare the adoption process to pregnancy.  Many prospective adoptive parents have been through years of painful infertility, and hearing that their process is like a pregnancy may be hurtful. Sometimes the differences in adoption and pregnancy/childbirth are glaringly obvious for adoptive parents. I remember sitting in the waiting room during Cy’s birth and saying to Matt, “I never thought I’d be in the waiting room waiting for my child to be born.” Few of us picture that or the many other moments that come with adoption.
  • Follow the adoptive parents’ lead to monitor your excitement. If they are ready for baby/child showers before the placement of the child, go for it. If they want to wait until they feel more confident that it will actually happen, please respect that and wait. I can’t tell you how many adoption situations have been presented to us, and we’ve always been very careful about how much information we’ve shared because we know things can change very quickly. The same is true for accepting gifts. We just weren’t comfortable until the revocation period was over.
  • Don’t talk about your own fears unless you’re asked. Even then, please make sure you only share informed opinions. Open adoption can be scary for family and friends who aren’t educated in the realities and benefits of openness. Asking prospective adoptive parents to give you resources or educate you is a great way to get involved in the process. Please remember that children are precious, regardless of their genes. Comments like, “Adoption is scary… you just never know what you’re gonna get” are insensitive and hurtful. Not to mention the fact that we have no idea what our biological children will be like either, right?
  • Treat the homecoming similarly to if they’d just delivered a child. Offer to bring meals, help with older siblings, etc. For older child adoption, check out this post. For infant adoption, remember that they’re just as tired as you were when you brought your biological child home from the hospital. (I’ve done both). And post-adoption depression is just as real and difficult as post-partum depression.
  • Keep your curiosity to yourself. I know this is difficult. We’re naturally curious, especially about situations in which we’re inexperienced. However, the story of a child’s biological family and the reasons that child was placed for adoption are the child’s story. Children should have the freedom to share their stories when they’re ready, if they’re ready. Also, the financial aspect of their adoption is none of your business. Please don’t ask how much it cost, especially in a rude, inaccurate way like, “So how much did he cost?” Adoptive families don’t buy babies. They do, however, pay an agency, attorney, and often help with expenses for the birth family.
  • Please, for the love, don’t tell an infertile, adoptive mom that she’ll probably get pregnant now. Because that happens all the time! First, adoption doesn’t take away the pain of infertility. So your comment may be hurtful. Second, the surprise-pregnancy-immediately-following-adoption thing doesn’t actually happen all the time. Adoptions don’t magically activate ovulation or erase other factors that cause infertility. (Side note: saying “just relax” doesn’t help either).
  • Refrain from comparing an adopted child’s struggles to your biological child’s. Yes, some issues may seem the same, but issues in an adopted child’s life are multi-layered. Saying “all kids do that” or “that’s normal” may seem to you like you’re normalizing the behavior and encouraging the adoptive parent. However, it may be that you don’t understand all of the facets of adoptive families. This is especially true with older child adoption. Their “behavior problems” come with years of history and hurt. Even with infant adoption, families look at issues through different filters than you. When Cy was a preschooler, he’d say very hurtful things in anger. Hearing, “I wish you weren’t my mom” is hard for any mom to hear. But because I have children through birth and adoption, I can say with certainty that hearing a comment like that feels very different when it comes from an adopted child.
  • Treat and talk about the adopted children with respect. Don’t ask adoptive parents if they have (or will have) children of their own. Our adopted children are ours, and they aren’t second-best. Don’t assume all non-white children are from other countries. Asking if a family adopted domestically or internationally is completely fine and much better than assuming.
  • Don’t treat adoptive parents like saints or saviors. They’re neither. For more on this, please read this post.

Use positive adoption language. For instance, people have often said, “Your boys look so much alike, they could be real brothers.” The intent is good, but the delivery is lacking. Our boys are real brothers. They are not biological brothers. And they’ve never entertained the idea that their genes would keep them from being “real” brothers. We’d like to keep it that way. I could go on and on with examples like this. The best thing you can do is to read this short list of positive adoption language compared to common language.

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Becca Whitson

Matt and Becca write about marriage, parenting, and life through the lens of a married couple, parenting team, and pastor and professional counselor. They share hope and restoration by giving a glimpse into their lives- the failures, the successes, and the brokenness and beauty of everyday. You can read more of their writing at WhitsonLife.