Navigating intrusive questions and curiosities surrounding adoption may be challenging for the entire family, but it’s especially challenging for the adoptee. Adoptees need parents and siblings that are willing to partner with and support them in learning how to address and tactfully engage these oftentimes intrusive questions and interests. One of the best ways this can be done is having siblings as allies.
Many adoptees, especially transracial adoptees, often feel pressure and obligation to share their story and talk about their adoption simply because they do not look like their family. This can reinforce preexisting feelings of isolation and disconnection. Adoptees have the right to create boundaries of what they are comfortable sharing about their adoption, and parents and siblings have an obligation to uphold those boundaries as allies.
Families should have conversations about what being an ally looks like to adoptees in their home. This means that adopted children get to set boundaries about what they are comfortable sharing and siblings can learn how to tactfully navigate and respond when people ask questions. It is important to understand that adopted children do not owe others their story and may need help learning how to set and uphold boundaries.
Tips for nurturing siblings as allies:
1.) Establish boundaries. Parents should talk with their adopted children about what feels comfortable to share and what feels off limits when people ask them questions about their adoption. Establish what topics are in and out of bounds and what questions they feel safe answering.
Next, share these predetermined boundaries with any siblings so they can help the adoptee hold them. Adoptees can’t always hold boundaries alone, so they need to know their siblings are in their corner and ready to step in and provide support when needed.
2.) Practice responses. As a family, come up with kind but firm responses on how to steer away from unsafe questions and conversations when they arise. For the adoptee, responses can be as simple as saying, “I’m not comfortable sharing or talking about that,” or “I’d appreciate it if you didn’t ask me questions about my adoption.” When siblings are asked intrusive questions about their adopted sibling, they can shut down a conversation with a response such as, “That’s not my story to share.” Providing your children with language so they can stand up and empower one another is essential and preparing for these conversations ahead of time is paramount.
3.) Model it. More is caught than taught. Children are constantly listening and learning, so you can set an example by modeling how to navigate questions about your child’s adoption without oversharing their story and respecting their privacy when you are asked questions in front of your child.
4.) Correct it. Adoptive parents and siblings have the responsibility to correct others that use inappropriate or insensitive language surrounding the topic of adoption. Education should not fall on the adoptee alone, it should be shared with parents and siblings as well.
When siblings and parents are allies, some of the challenges that come with adoption can feel less heavy and hard to navigate for the adoptee. Being adopted can sometimes feel like an isolating experience and setting and upholding boundaries can feel exhausting. Partnering with, supporting, and sharing that burden can make such a difference in how you care for and love adoptees well.
By: Ramya Gruneisen