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Do Say/Don’t Say

Well, we have been officially registered with our chosen country for our adoption since Aug. 5, 2010. With only 7 months of “waiting” under our belts, we are by no means old pros at this. Many have waited much longer and our wait is yet not close to over (as far as we know).  We are so new to this whole adoption scene and we have had only very limited exposure to other adoptive families, although we’re working to change that. I often feel like I have no idea what I’m doing and yet, I’m the one who is most often giving out information to my friends and family!

I am quickly learning that, like anyone who makes a less conventional lifestyle choice, I do sometimes have to dispel myths or educate people about the realities of adoption. While adoptive families are not that unusual, I do notice that there are certain remarks that people sometimes make that cause my blood pressure to rise just a smidge. I know that most people mean well and try not to let it get to me, but I thought this is a forum where I can get out some of the things that have been irking me and perhaps give some constructive suggestions for people who are interacting with those in the process of adoption.

As I said above, I am not even close to an expert on this topic. I will share my thoughts and I will preface this by saying that this is my personal take on this subject and many people may feel differently than I do. I also don’t want my “real-life” friends and family to feel they can’t ask us questions or talk to us about the adoption because that’s the last thing I want to communicate!

So, with all those disclaimers, here are Shannon’s Tips on Things to Say/Things Not to Say To Prospective Adoptive Parents:

Don’t say “They drag the process out so that they can milk every last penny out of you,” or otherwise imply that we are being scammed by corrupt governments or people. Yes, everyone is aware there is corruption in some places and some people have occasionally been taken advantage of by unscrupulous individuals. This does not mean that anyone having to do with intercountry adoption is corrupt and out to make a buck. Accusing us of adopting from a country whose government is unethical presumes first of all that we have not done our homework and/or are allowing ourselves to be maniuplated or taken advatage of. But more importantly, it presumes that we are taking part in something unethical and that we are contributing to the “sale” of children. We are not purchasing a child. The Hague Convention was designed to prevent this and most families adopt from Hague Convention countries. We are and will continue to be strongly opposed to the practice of selling children and it is very difficult in Canada to adopt from a non-Hague Convention country for this reason.

Do ask us what the costs associated with our adoption are used for. It does not go to the hands of the “foreign government” as has been suggested to me by many people who lack concrete information. It does not go into the hands of con artists or people who are taking advantage of prospective adoptive families. There are specific purposes for each cost and we have a detailed breakdown of where every penny goes. Do take the time to talk to us and ask how we can be sure we are not taken advantage of and what we know about corruption in the adoption process. It is not as simple as Child A in Country B just needs to make their way to Family C in Country D and what’s the problem? Which leads me to…

Don’t disparage the paperwork and process which is part of adoption. It exists for a purpose. Yes, it’s true that biological parents don’t need to go through this process in order to have their children. I think we can all agree adopting is a different. We appreciate that you think we will make great parents, but the rest of the world doesn’t know us as well as you do and in order to be sure that each child is going from a safe environment to a safe environment, the paperwork and processes are necessary. They are in place to protect the child that will some day be a part of our family and even though we sometimes get tired of the red tape, we understand that this process keeps OUR (soon-to-be) child safe. Your negative comments will not help us to keep a positive attitude when we are working through this process.

Do ask us about the purpose for the paperwork/process. There might not be a lot you can do to help with paperwork but offer to be a reference or offer to babysit (if there are other children in the home) so that parents can devote the time needed to filling out forms, driving around to collect documentation or see professionals to get forms signed. There is a lot running around to get all the paperwork together in the beginning of the process and a little support goes a long way! The best thing you can do is to have a constructive attitude and help us to feel that the paperwork we are doing is important, rather than meaningless busywork.

Don’t ask us why we didn’t adopt one of the many children in our own country who need homes. This feels like an accusation, a judgement of our choice to adopt internationally. There are many reasons people that people make the choice to adopt either domestically or internationally. Some people have connections to certain parts of the world through family or friends, some people simply have an opportunity to adopt fall into their laps (either domestically or abroad), some people make choices based on financial, cultural, religious or other personal reasons. But more often than not it comes down to where a particular person or couple or family’s passion lies. Don’t assume we haven’t thought about domestic adoption or made an informed and thoughtful decision.

Therefore, do ask why we feel passionately about international adoption, or the country of our choice.

Don’t be the expert. Please understand that every single country works differently, has a different process, different requirements for prospective parents to meet (including everything from your history of mental and other types of illness to your body mass index to your ability to have children, age, length of marriage, sexual orientation, religion, family size etc.) and different documentation requirements. Just because you know someone who adopted from X doesn’t mean it will help me adopting from Y. Just because someone had a bad experience adopting from W doesn’t mean the same will happen to us adopting from V. Don’t offer advice unless you are asked or you have specific knowledge pertaining to a certain area (ie. you work for immigration Canada and know something about getting passports/etc.).

Do ask me questions without judging based on things you’ve heard from others. Do ask what specific requirements or steps we are required to meet in our particular process and how that might differ from other countries.


Don’t accuse the country that we are adopting from of being unreasonable or having unfair expectations. We believe in promoting respect for our child’s country and, again, you are implying that we haven’t done our research. We have spent countless hours trying to figure out this process and we believe it is the right of the other country to create their own definition of a “good” family. While this may be hard to accept when it does not fall within our own personal definitions of what makes a good family, it is their right to do so and we believe that they are doing what they believe is in the best interest of our child.

Do ask how things are going with the process, but be prepared for me to say “no, nothing has changed, we’re still waiting.” I know this is not the same for everyone, nor can I guarantee that I will continue to feel this way if we end up waiting for longer than anticipated. But it is nice to know that people have not forgotten that we are “expecting”. I find it nice to talk about the future when our child will be home with us.

Wow, that got long, didn’t it? I hope I haven’t scared people out of talking to adoptive families in waiting! I think it all boils down to one thing…ask, don’t tell!  Most people are able to judge when a person simply wants to make themselves feel knowledgeable by sharing a gruesome story about someone they know who had problems adopting and someone who genuinely cares for you and is interested in what you are experiencing. If you ask sincere questions, rather than make judgements, you are unlikely to go wrong. I have been lucky to have a lot of caring people in my life who have been very supportive of our adoption plans.

2 Responses

  1. Becky Littlechilds Says:

    Great post Shannon! A lot of this wouldn’t have occurred to me.

  2. Lori Says:

    Oh, Shannon, again your succinct writing of your thoughts is brilliant. I found this most informative. I would love to hear every detail there is to tell about what you are learning about your child’s country. The things you have shared so far have been interesting to me.