I was planning on writing a post on fear, in fact I did, and after prayerful consideration, decided to scrap it and try again later.
So this post is inspired by a sweet little girl we met at the store today and her wonderful mother! And a couple of sermons our pastor has preached along with some special Facebook posting by friends.
So here we go with:
What you need to know about adoption, race and invisible special needs and were always afraid to ask!
How is that for a nice short (NOT) title :)
First about the sweet little girl in the store~~~She was about 3, to young to understand the social cues of our society. She was following Hannah around the store, very obviously staring, Hannah was nervous and sidling up to me. This wonderful mom walked up and got down on her daughter's level and said in a normal voice, "She has very pretty braids, doesn't she?" And to Hannah, "They are beautiful, who did them for you?"
She very wisely interjected into the situation where everyone could hear and be affirmed!
You might be amazed at this fact, but this was only one of a handful of times that this proper technique has been used in the whole 7 years the kids have been home.
The girl was not shamed in her curiosity and Hannah was affirmed for who she was. I would suggest following this up later with more training at home since the opportunity presented itself. Was it the hair or what is the skin color, I will never know, nor do I need to, but I was blessed by the wonderful interaction.
It would be good to note that the beautiful little girl wore glasses and probably had Strambismus, cross eyes, so they probably faced some of the same situations themselves, thereby preparing them for this interaction.
You should also be aware of correct racial terms: Use black, Liberian (in my kids case) or
African-American if you must talk about racial issues. For my friends with beautiful treasures from the various Asian countries, I know they would like you to know that the term "oriental" is incorrect. Use Asian or again the country of orgin.
All this to say, yes be sensitive, yes train your children at home, it is just kind :)
Secondly let me inform about some technical adoption language that you may have wondered about.
Please do not say in front of my children, "You have changed their lives" or
"you are such a blessing to them". This amazing saying from the movie The Blind Side is very true and every adoptive parent would tell you that. My life is blessed beyond words and I have grown in ways so unknown to me by this wonderful experience. We are just "normal" people raising our family that we have been blessed with, we are no-more, no-less spiritual or "good" because of our choice to adopt
This also rolls into part two of this:
All adoption is proceeded by a loss, an unimaginable loss, no matter the age or the country of origin. But in my kids scenario just think about it:
1) They lost their father due to war
2) They lost their childhood due to war and famine--they did not know safety or full tummies.
3) They lost their mother due to circumstances beyond all their control.
4) They lost their country and heritage
--just to name the 4 big ones.
To say they are "LUCKY" or "BLESSED" , though true in some ways, belittles the feelings of loss they may be dealing with, and I assure you they are. It is not "lucky" to loose both of your birth parents. It is not a "blessing" to deal with fear daily due to past trauma.
Find words to affirm who they are and the fact you are glad they are here so you can get to know them!
OK so some of the no-no's of adoption language. Please take this in the spirit it is shared, with love and the desire to inform, not to condemn.
1) REAL/NATURAL PARENTS---To use this term infers the opposite is true--that there are unreal or unnatural parents. I assure you we are all real and natural.
First parents are known as birth parents, or sometimes we may have a name or a special name we call their birth parents. But for most people "birth parents" is fine if you run into a time where you need to use it. Though asking the kids about their birth parents is really something that should only be used in very close and special situations.
2) ADOPTIVE PARENT--Though this is a technical term for us, it does differentiate our kid into two categories Birth vs. Adoptive. We are seeking unity in our family and all our kids are just that our kids, our treasures, our blessing, our passions--We see no difference and we would prefer it if others did not also. We are just their Mom and Dad.
3) Inform your kids to hold their curiosity about anyone different. We have fielded some of the most intrusive questions. Most kids can go through life without having to bare their most frightening moments, and to be honest, if you child asks mine what his most scary thing in his life was, is he really going to understand the fear a child has when he is running from machine gun fire?
This is a picture taken in the city where my kids were born!
4) My kids have been informed that they have the right NOT to answer questions about themselves if they so desire. Their stories are their own, so if they choose not to answer your adoption or racial question, please do not be offended, instead know they are choosing privacy.
5) Have fun learning geography with your family! Know your countries and continents, so when you hear of a new place you might know where it is, or for goodness sakes, go home and pull out a map and find out. It is true my kids are "African" but more than that, they are very proudly Liberian. Look at this beautiful country, with a beautiful heritage. Remember Africa is a continent and Liberia is a country:) The same with Asia and Europe!
Finally I wanted to share about invisible special needs. My Hannah has various special needs due to her in-utero and early malnutrition because of the war in their country. To look at my treasure you would not know it--hence, "invisible".
Hannah is one that learns, relates, and behaves differently---but she has the most special kind heart that you could every meet.
The first thing I would like you to know, is that I know my child and I love my child, so when I share things that are meant for you to understand her better, please don't shrug them off as an over-protective mom! I do know what she needs and what will help her. Your help would be appreciated, your judgement just makes us want to withdrawal, which Hannah is a champ at.
Second, help your children to understand that all special needs are not visible. Let them know that some children just need some extra encouragement. Sometimes they may have to explain the game more than once. They need to know that laughing at mistakes can be very painful to a child who is already sensitive to their peer. All that to say, just open dialogue with your kids and see where it goes.
Third, please feel free to gently let Hannah or us know if her behaviour is "off" a little. Maybe their is some training we can work on at home to help her correct it and she can grow from your insight. We are not against "gentle" information being passed.
So hopefully you found this informative and not TOO preachy. I ask that you prayerfully consider what area you can grow in. I know it is an area I am constantly prayerful about, as to how to be an ambassador for our lives, that our lived out before many, that we may reflect the One who lovingly adopts us. May we all grow more and more into the glorious image of our Loving Heavenly Father.