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adoption counselorThere’s a discussion going on in one of the adoption groups about whether or not Adopt-a-Highway or Adopt-a-Pet language is hurtful to adopted people. The original poster specifically asked to hear from adoptees and responses are mixed. Some adoptees do take offense, some do not. Some feel that there are more important issues to be concerned about like open records and others feel that this is a microaggression that deserves attention and action.

Even though the original poster stated that she wanted to hear from adopted people, she got a lot of adoptive parents weighing in about what they thought of the programs. (I responded, too, to post that my daughter does find the Adopt-a-Highway programs offensive. I should have added but didn’t that she doesn’t mind the language when applied to pets because her dog is one of her favorite people. She gave me permission to share this with the group and with you.)

Of course as adoptive parents we have opinions about things like the language used for highway support programs and shelter dog rescue because we are participating in adoption, as well. But the temptation to let our experience define adoption for everyone in the constellation sometimes gets the best of us. Part of this is because as parents, we get used to making decisions for our kids* — what to eat for lunch, when to clean their rooms, how to dress for winter weather — and then we keep doing it. We think we know what they want or what they should want so we keep stepping up and speaking up.

The problem is that our kids know adoption in an entirely different way than we do and if we speak too fast or get too pushy, we run the risk of silencing them.

We may not be bothered by Adopt-a-Highway but our children might. Or we may find it offensive but our children don’t.

Our kids need to grow up to integrate their adoption experience into the whole of their lives and we can best support them in doing this by giving them room to feel differently than we do about things and space to talk about it. In particular, we need to give them room to have negative feelings about adoption and/or the cultural assumptions about adoption.

I understand the first rush to try to comfort our kids, but unfortunately it can look like dismissal.

“Oh honey! They don’t mean anything by that! It’s just another way to say sponsor a highway. It’s a good thing! They’re taking responsibility to keep this part of the road clean!”

It sounds like comforting but what it does is shut our kids down. What it unintentionally says is: You’re too sensitive. Your hurts are not reasonable. Please do not share them with me because I can’t handle it.

For those of us who take a more activist route, starting a letter campaign to the Adopt-a-Whatever people is less jarring, as long as we allow our children to stay out of it. There are times when kids who are adopted just want to forget about the whole messy thing and this is all right. We can model advocacy and still respect their right to feel differently by making it clear that we are not speaking for them.

We want our children to grow up and be strong, independent and true. We can support this by giving them space to feel their own ways about adoption in general and their adoptions in particular. Sometimes we need help with this. If you want help, hit me up.

* Note: For the purposes of this blog I’m referring to adoptive parents who are currently parenting children. I think it’s important to make this distinction because adoption discussions often assume that adopted people are perpetually children so I want to be clear in this case I’m writing to those who are parenting kids.

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