Changing a few words can change everything

Welcome back, dear friends and readers. Eric here again. I’m on a roll from last week and our continuing meme of “With friends like this, who needs enemies?” So let’s pick up where we left off (about adoption. We also talked about carburetors and duct tape, but I’ll leave those mostly alone today.)

I believe when we left off, I said something like “And why, you might ask is ‘You can always just adopt’ the absolute, top-of-the-pile #1 frustrating ‘advice’ you can get from a ‘friend’?” (I also made sure to say that adopting itself is absolutely something that many couples – including us – can and do consider as part of this process. I am NOT saying that considering adoption shouldn’t be part of the process or can be its own potentially wonderful experience. I am saying, as I did last week, that there are a number of things deeply and profoundly wrong with this particularly offhand and glib grenade of a statement that too often gets lobbed over the fence by your seemingly clueless buddies.) Now since “You can always just adopt” is a very short statement and words matter, let’s break it down just a little to understand how something so lightweight can be such a frustrating thing to hear, and such a bad idea to say.

“You can always just adopt.”

YOU: I love any advice, especially advice I didn’t ask for, that begins with “You can…” or “You should…” I could rant for an entire post just on this (and may in the future), but for now let’s just put that in the category of “Easy for you to say, pal. You have NO idea what we’re going through.” Also, of course, adoption is a Very. Personal. Decision. Don’t ASS-U-ME what might be good for someone else – someone with different values, beliefs, thoughts, feelings and circumstances as you. Their decision process is just as valid as yours (and you are not in their shoes).

CAN: Factually wrong. There is no “you CAN adopt.” The truth is you MAY be able to adopt. You may not. People who have never wanted to, or had to, consider adoption as a way to grow their family have no idea – and I mean a thousand miles from a clue – how wrong this statement is. Adopting requires a deeper background check, a more stable relationship, better finances, more completely offensive and inappropriate questions, and more people crawling up your personal life with a microscope than getting a Top Secret clearance from the United States government. Not kidding. I know both processes and trust me, trying to adopt is the more invasive of the two, and the reasons you can be turned down are far more plentiful for the former than the latter.

ALWAYS: Factually wrong. And presumptuous. And offensive. And depressing. You cannot “always” adopt. Depending on where you live, from where you hope to adopt etc., again you can MAYBE adopt. If you’re under a certain age, if you’re no more than a certain number of years older than the child you hope to adopt, if you meet certain conditions, if the interviewer likes your house and judges you worthy, etc. etc. ad nauseum.

JUST: Oh baby. Here’s another whole post. There’s no “just” in choosing to adopt. “Just” take an average of 1-2 years of your life and (where we live at least) up to $50,000 per child to “just” adopt. And “just” accept that you will spend the rest of your life raising a child who will present all the challenges of raising any child, plus the challenges unique to bonding with a child you didn’t conceive, didn’t see born, and who may be anywhere from days to years old before you ever met.

ADOPT: Oh right. There’s adopting itself. If you do so domestically here in the US at least, it’s all “open” and everyone knows all parties involved, which may produce a variety of questions as the child grows up. Foreign/closed adoption means the child does NOT get to know or have contact with their biological parents. Who thinks this is any better when those hormonal, identity-seeking teenage years hits? Definitely no challenges to come in either of those scenarios (sarcasm).

And let’s not forget that, no matter how much you may love them, and they you, adoption fundamentally means not your blood, not your genes, no grandma’s face or daddy’s eyes or the Johnson family gait. Oh, and no matter how wonderful it can be, you cannot escape the moral and emotional weight and questions you must work through based on this fact – adoption fundamentally means “I’m going across town or around the world to find a child that someone else gave birth to, and I’m legally taking them away from her (and the child’s family and place of origin) forever.” (Oh, and in the U.S., that birth mother has the right to change her mind!) NOTHING complicated here. Easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy…

To sum up then, there is nothing either easy, or accurate, about the statement, “You can always just adopt.” (It is closely followed by its well-meaning but equally idiotic cousin, “Have you thought about adoption?” Uhhh… “Why no, that never occurred to us. Tell me more of this, what did you call it, ‘adoption’, thing…” (OF COURSE WE’VE THOUGHT ABOUT IT!) Again, words matter, and tiny, but sympathetic, little changes can make a huge difference.

Here’s a very simple example. “Do you think adoption would be an option that could work for you if having your own doesn’t pan out?” This clearly understands we’ve thought about it, and opens the door to discussing WHY we might feel it would or wouldn’t be something we are interested in. It also recognizes the uncertainty inherent in the IVF/infertility treatment process, and all the adjacent fear and stress that induces.

I know sensitivity, empathy and, you know, having a clue, aren’t really guys’ strong suit. Still, for the fellas out there dealing with wanting a family and struggling to have one, I’ll say again: Just try to remember your friends mean well – they just have no idea that the offhand remarks they make can be helpful or hurtful, a balm or a burn, with the change of just a few words.

So help them help you, give just a little guidance about things that push your buttons or could be said just a little better. Try offering a little “coaching” (guys dig sports, they get that) instead of “talking about your feelings” (guys hate that). Put stuff into a sports metaphor and it’ll sit a lot better in the male brain. It’s almost as good as handing them a roll of duct tape…

– Eric

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