My Family’s Adoption Language

Adoption is the lens through which I best understand my faith. I was chosen to be loved on purpose.

Rebekah “RJ” Johnson

I Always Knew

I was adopted as a baby. I went straight from my birth mother’s womb to my parent’s arms.

And I’ve always known this.

There was no awkward moment in my recollection where my parents had a dramatic sit down, fumbling over their words, trying to explain my adoption story. If they did have one of these moments, I don’t remember it because they started telling me about my adoption from the very beginning of my life, repeatedly.

The Tone of the Story

Now, there was a method to how they told my origin story.

“We chose you.”

“You make our family complete.”

Like any other good story we read together, there was always a tone. Yes, the sad parts were sad, but they built the anticipation to the happy ending.

“Your birth mother lived in the Philippines, but she couldn’t take care of you. It was very sad. So she came here to the United States and found us. She asked us if we could be your Mommy and Daddy.”

The pitch of their voices would rise as they would say, “And now you’re our daughter and we are one happy family. We are so glad we chose you! We are all together because of adoption! What a beautiful family we have.”

My parents set the tone from the beginning that my adoption was in fact a story, with a good ending. I was adopted and loved on purpose. They identified the beauty in my story and highlighted it

And they found reason to tell my story simply, and repeatedly.

Making Our Story Conversational

My parents consistently found ways to insert adoption language into our daily conversations. Therefore, I was never confused how I came to be. Through little statements they slipped into our daily talks, I was made comfortable and clear about my adoption into the family. Small moments seemingly out of the blue they would say, “Wow, adopting you was the best thing I’ve ever done! I’m so glad I get to be your mom! You have made me the happiest dad! We have such a beautiful family.” As we were sitting around the dinner table, this type of expression of love became normal for me. So, adoption wasn’t a scary idea. I was adopted…How Cool Is that?!

As an adopted kid, I came to appreciate this later. As I got older and hung out with my friends, I realized that my adoption was was not necessarily “cool” to other people. They were fascinated by the very thing I had adopted (pun completely intended) as my normal. But, by practicing adoption conversation at the dinner table as a family, I was generally prepared for the questions my friends were asking me.

Highlighting the Good in Your Story

I always understood my adoption to be a good thing. My story was a good story that my parents would tell with love in their eyes.

If you are in an adopted family, or about to be an adopted family, I encourage you to find and highlight the good in your adoption story.

Ask yourself, “What makes my family special?” and “What special moments will I always remember?” Is it the moment you held your baby for the first time? Is it the first family meal you had together?

Count your blessings! Find the good in your story! And practice saying those special moments in a positive tone with light and happiness in your voice. Don’t let the hardships take over the story. Find the light in the darkness. Practice verbalizing the hope and the good.

Write these moments down to look back on them together, verbalizing them loudly and proudly.

Keep Finding the Good

Over time, my parents did talk about my adoption less and less, because as I grew older, there was no need for a constant reminder. And as a teenager, I didn’t necessarily want much conversation with my parents, anyway. (Sorry, Mom and Dad! At least we talk and text all the time now!)

As time goes on, we probably won’t talk about the complex details of our family like adoption as much, or at least not in the same ways as we did in younger more innocent years. However, it’s important that we remember the good that has happened in our family, as well as mark new milestones, celebrate birthdays, cheer at graduations, take pictures of new beginnings, and find ways to continue highlighting the good in our ever developing family story.

Our adoption stories aren’t finished once the new family is official and everyone’s questions seem to be answered. Our adoption story develops into something deeper over time, with new rites of passage, bonding between siblings, and strengthening in parenthood. Our adoption story is also living in the glory of our ever developing family story. So we must continue to invest in it.

We have to keep finding and keep talking about the good.

Especially if your family is young, talk about both old and new good things repeatedly. Talk about the good of your adoption story and insert it into conversation so everyone becomes comfortable with your collective family story. By doing this, you set a rapport that you can talk about anything, even difficult things when the time comes.

Especially if your family is seasoned, talk about the good things repeatedly. Life becomes more serious as we near adulthood! We need the good to keep us going. We need to know that we are still in each other’s corners, cheering each other on. We need something good to hold onto in this crazy world! Amen?!

Now for parents of pre-teens/teenagers, I know that from your perspective, talking about the good (or anything for that matter) can feel like spray painting white paint onto an already white wall. No one seems to care, no one really sees any sort of impact. At the end of an evening of trying to have meaningful conversation, everyone goes to their individual rooms and shuts the door…

…BUT though they may not remember what you said, they will remember that you showed the effort. You tried! You kept showing up without giving up. You kept making the investment of good into their life. You kept taking photos. You kept talking at dinner. You kept cheering them on. This tells your family, “I’m still here.” They’ll remember your efforts when it’s most important, and will hold onto your consistent love when the rest of the world proves how inconsistent and unfaithful love can be.

And when it’s time to ask some of the more difficult questions about their adoption story, they will be able to hold onto the good that is their family.

Don’t Delete the Pain in Your Story

As I became older, I found out more of the truth surrounding my birth mother’s life. She left family in the Philippines while pregnant for a chance of raising me here. When her new American husband discovered she was pregnant, he wanted me aborted. My adoption was a rescue. My whole adoption process was long, dramatic, and extremely emotional.

My parents didn’t share these details with me right away. They provided them to me over time as I initiated more questions.

“Well, why was life hard for my birth mother? Why couldn’t she take care of me?”

“Why would her husband want me aborted?”

My parents never made me feel guilty for asking questions and they never said, “I’ll tell you when you’re older.” They used appropriate language considering my age, and gave me the most basic of answers to my questions, and let me ask them further questions if I so desired.

They were upfront yet compassionate with their responses. The tone of their voice was less happy, and appropriately so. They allowed me to think and respond to the information they gave by not fully emoting too much of their own feelings about the people in my story, giving me the space to develop my own feelings.

And at the end of my questions they always closed our talks with an “I love you.” They always brought me back to the good.

For the more difficult moments of your adoption story, don’t shy away from the truth. The way you talk about the truth may differ depending on the age and stage of your family. However, as a family, it’s important to know that you can talk about the bad as well as the good with each other. This develops trust.

A Special Note for Adopted Parents // Self Control Over Emotions

When telling the difficult parts of an adoption story, my parents always spoke of my birth mother in a positive light while also telling the truth of her actions.

They were not so kind in talking about the man she ended up marrying, who desired to have me aborted and put my parents through emotional hell throughout the adoption process. But I didn’t know how they truly felt until I was much older.

This particular man that my birth mother married once left a note on my parents doorstep that read “We’ve changed our minds, we’re keeping the baby”, leaving my mother in tears for weeks. This was information I did not know until a few years ago. The emotions my parents had towards this man were varied between anger and sadness.

Yet, I never fully knew my parents emotions as they kept their language around their emotions brief, if anything to show self control over how they truly felt.

Personally, I believe it’s good for us as people to show our emotions. However, especially regarding difficult adoption processes that may involve other family members, toxic or dangerous individuals, or biological families that continue to choose abusive actions, we have to be careful to put time and language limits on our emotions for the sake of the adopted children involved.

If we emote overly angry against a child’s biological family, that sets the example for them to be angry in any number of directions whether towards their adopted family, biological family, or even friends and relationships outside the family.

If we emote overly depressed or sad regarding an event in a child’s biological family, it can communicate that the adopted child is somehow a burden, or a source of sadness instead of hope.

If you as a parent have a hard time controlling your feelings when talking about certain people or circumstances around your adoption story, that’s perfectly understandable. You don’t have to be a robot! However, these feelings that seem to bubble up faster than you can catch them probably point to places in your heart where further healing is needed before you can more easily communicate them in a healthy way with your child.

Now, don’t let these emotions completely shut you down from talking with your child, because that’s unfair. Do the heart work necessary, but also be clear with yourself and your family about what topics you are OK talking about, and what topics will require more time.

My Practical Tip for Parents: Be clear on your adoption story, the good and the bad, and be unified as a family on simple adjectives and phrases that describe both the good and bad parts of the story. For example, “I was a little frustrated with your birth father. He tried to do the right thing, but he decided that he needed our help. And I loved you so I chose adopt you ” or “It made me sad to see your mom going through such a hard time. She both she and I knew that you would be safe and most loved with us.” And always end with the good, the glory of the story such as an “I love you” or “We chose you.”

These conversations aren’t easy, if you would like further help processing your own story, please leave a comment below as to how the Mosaic Community could further help you learn to talk about your family story and pray for you.

Don’t be Afraid

Eventually, I asked if there was a way to know more of my story. I was an almost-college graduate when my (adopted) mother handed me a post-it note with a phone number that I could use to find my birth mother. I’ll admit, it was scary asking my (adopted) mom for this information. I was scared that this action would make her feel I didn’t appreciate all the love she had given me.

So I commend my (adopted) mom, who I just call “Mom.” Because without hesitation as soon as I asked, she went looking for the information I asked for. I’m grateful that she created a culture in our family where I didn’t have to fear her reaction, but only her heart, because I didn’t want to break it.

Take courage, family. Don’t fear. Have faith that talking about your story with each other is going to create a culture of trust.

Don’t be afraid to talk about the good in your story, because the adopted ones in your family need to hear it. We need to know that there’s no shame in our story. We need to know that we are loved.

Don’t be afraid to talk about the bad in your story, because eventually the adopted ones in your family will grow out of fairy tales. And we’ll need to know we have safety within our family to process more of the truth.

Don’t be afraid to keep bringing each other back to the good, and remembering your family story with a positive and happy light, because we need light in the darkness. We need to see the glory in our story.

And finally, trust that your decision to be an adopted family was and is still good. You know that adoption was the right decision for your family, so trust that the faith that brought you through your adoption process is still with you as you talk with your family. Put your faith in front of your fear and trust that your story is still good.

My Mosaic

In my Mosaic Story, adoption is a unique center-piece.

From my heart I’ll tell you that I believe adoption to be a beautiful representation of how God adopts us into His family as sons and daughters. He chooses to love us on purpose. That is the good of both my family adoption, and my adoption into God’s family through Jesus. I’m loved on purpose.

From my hands that want to help you, I say the important thing for any person in an adopted family (adoptee, adopter, sibling of adopted sibling…etc) is to remember the good in your family story, and live in thanksgiving of that good, completely. Talk about that good, give thanks for that good, write about that good, share that good. Camp in that good. Because that good is glorious.

Your story may may have some brokenness, but it’s a beautiful, purposeful, and good piece of your life’s mosaic.

I Love You All On Purpose, RJ

2 thoughts on “My Family’s Adoption Language

  1. Well said Rebekah” The Mosaic Woman. “You are a Powerful Force! You are a Mighty Force! And your Words will have a positive impact on all those that are fortunate enough to hear them! 👏
    I couldn’t be prouder to be your Mother-In-Law ❤️ And I LOVE YOU ON PURPOSE!!! 😄

    Liked by 1 person

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