Ahem *steps on soapbox* I have gathered you here today to discuss one of my biggest, major peeves. Let me start by telling you I love animals. Young me thought she was going to be a veterinarian, zoologist, or marine biologist for a significant portion of her life. I have four dogs, two goldfish, and a turtle. We are even, occasionally, home to several dozen tadpoles. My problem is not with loving animals profusely. My problem is the way people talk about adoption.
I once had a whole conversation with a woman who I thought was talking to me about human foster care and adoption and it wasn’t until she said something about vet bills that it clicked. She then proceeded to tell me that pet adoption and fostering was a more noble endeavor because the dogs and cats want to be adopted (apparently) unlike the actual children who need homes.
No. Absolutely not. I did not go through hours of training, background checks, fingerprinting, and home renovation to be compared to someone who signed some paperwork and took in a few stray dogs. Again, I love dogs. I have adopted them from the shelter and helped with supply drives.
The process to adopt a human is long and emotional. I’m not mad about people feeling good they adopted a dog. I don’t want them to have the wrong impression that adopting a dog is like adopting a person. This is a troubling and pervasive idea.
While we’re on things I shouldn’t have to say but do:
- My foster kids are not public property. I’ve heard several families discuss how people asked if they could adopt their foster kids. No. You cannot. That’s a weird thing to ask, by the way.
- I will not tell you my kids’ tragic backstory. No one is entitled to know my kids’ very worst days. How might you feel if a stranger asked you about your scariest memories out of nowhere? You’d probably feel bad. Don’t do that.
- CPS doesn’t steal children. There is a process involved in removing a child from an unsafe place. In fact, some families are investigated multiple times before there is evidence enough to remove the kids.
- Adoptive parents don’t owe you their story. If they want to share, cool. If not? Leave it alone.
- Don’t ask foster and adopted kids about their families. Most of the time the kids are even more confused than the parents about what circumstances led them to where they are today. Asking, “Is your case almost finished?” Or, “Will your foster parents be adopting you soon?” can cause a great deal of confusion and worry. You’d think this is obvious, but it’s actually a thing I’ve had to deal with.
- Please, please, please. Don’t ask me in front of my kids if I’m adopting more kids. I don’t know. I mean, never say never, but probably not. But, if you ask me when my girls are around I will get hounded half to death with them hoping for another baby. As they say “ain’t nobody got time for that.”
- While we’re on the topic of things not to say in front of my kids. Sometimes parents need to vent to other parents who understand their struggle. The people I confide in are carefully chosen. Don’t ask me how I’m doing and expect a full answer when the kid who was causing me grief and anxiety is right next to me. As much as I appreciate your concern, I appreciate it more that I don’t have to lie to you to keep my kid from feeling bad.
- Do not pick up kids without their parent’s permission. Again, being adopted from the state does not make them communal property. There is something called attachment disorder. Sometimes kids who have never met you before want to be held by you and will say “I love you.” The thing is, that’s a coping mechanism. They learned early how to be cute to strangers so the strangers would help them or, at the very least, not hurt them. One of my daughters will make other adults feel so special until they get to know her a bit and then she’ll flip 180 and be rude and insulting. If you think that’s confusing, imagine living with those habits. It isn’t the compliment you think it is if my kid just met you and she wants you to hold her.
- We are not superheroes. Foster and adoptive parents are not superheroes. Would we like to be? Absolutely yes. I could make good use of super speed, the ability to see through walls, and the power of flight. Unfortunately, I’m just me. And while I try my best to be a good mom, I know I’m failing sometimes. I know you’re trying to be sweet. It makes me feel uncomfortable thinking someone else thinks I’m extraordinary by doing what I do. It makes me nervous because attributing our life to being superhuman releases the obligation of help from everyone around us. If I’m a superhero, I don’t need help. I have had people say, “Well, you just seemed like you had it under control;” so they didn’t offer much-needed help. Some of that’s on me, but not all of it.
So there are some things that I wish I didn’t have to say but, ultimately, need to sometimes. I know much of the time these questions are born out of a sincere feeling to care about families. I know no one is trying to ruin my day when they ask how I manage to do it all. It is so easy to feel all alone and strange.
I hope that if you have questions you feel like you can ask them. Just choose appropriate times and methods. In front of my kids in the parking lot at church is probably not the best place for a sincere conversation about foster care and adoption. Likewise, probably avoid situations where you need a quick answer because I can talk about this stuff for a long time. But if you take nothing else away from this please remember that pet adoption isn’t the same as kid adoption.
Christina Gochnauer is a foster and adoptive mom of 5. She has a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Letourneau University. She currently resides in Texas with her husband of 16 years, her children ages 3, 3.5, 4.5, 11, and 12, and her three dogs. She is passionate about using her voice to speak out for children from “hard places” in her church and community.