Adoption Insensitivity…it’s no laughing matter

I think what is most offensive to me about this “joke” is how casually it is passed through emails and shared on Facebook with absolutely no regard for the negative message it sends to adoptees.  More frustrating are the responses that follow when someone shares that maybe it is offensive.  The most recent one I read was “get over it, it’s just a joke”.

Really?!?!  Get over it!?!?

The first time I saw this lovely “joke” was actually in an email our 13-year-old daughter received from one of her friends.  I won’t lie about her initial response…she laughed.  She laughed and my heart sank.  Luckily, I was sitting right next to her and was able to ask her a few simple questions.  What message does this send about adoption and adoptees?  Would you send this to your brother?  How do you think he would feel if he received that same email? She was genuinely upset when she realized the implications of this “joke” and even our 13-year-old is mature enough to see the insensitivity in responding with, “get over it”.

This insensitivity to the feelings and experiences of adoptees is so widespread.  JMan’s very first week of school here in the US, he brought home a “Name Story Assignment”.  I found it shoved down in the bottom of his backpack (our son is very organized so my radar went up right away).  Specifically, the paper said,

Name Story Assignment 

Interview members of your family to find out additional details about your name. You can ask questions about why you were named as you were, what other names were considered, and who ended up picking out your name.

In addition to the information that others can tell you about your name, gather your own ideas about your name by writing about these questions:

  • How do you feel about your name?
  • How do others respond to your name?
  • If you could pick out your own names, what would you select?
As I read through the assignment, I could feel my face turning red and a sick feeling in my stomach.  I can only imagine what JMan felt as he read through it at school.  I looked up and asked him, “What do you think about this assignment?”  He answered, “It makes me sad” and started to cry.  I told him that it makes me sad also, that he did not have to do it and I would talk to his teacher about it.  Then he told me that he tried to tell her that he couldn’t do this assignment.  She thought he meant because of his limited English but he was trying to tell her that he couldn’t do it because he can’t ask anyone about his name.  Her response, “Just do your best”.Let me point out that this is a teacher I really like who was fully aware of JMan’s adoption and still sent home a very insensitive assignment.

A friend of mine, who happens to be a teacher called shortly after and I told her about the assignment and was venting about how upset I was.  Her response, “He is going to have to learn to deal with these things”.

Basically…..”Get Over It!”

Yes, JMan does need to learn how to deal with the insensitive comments and attitudes about adoption that are pervasive in our country.  I feel that is part of my job as his mom, to help him learn that valuable lesson. However, I do not believe that my son should have to face these huge feelings and emotions at school in front of his friends.

I called and left his teacher a message about JMan’s feelings toward this assignment.  I was pleasantly surprised to receive a quick call back from his teacher who was in tears about making such a horrible mistake.  She just had never thought about it that way before.

This is why it is extremely important for adoptive parents to be proactive advocates for adoptees and address how adoption related issues are handled in school before the insensitive assignments come home.  I made the mistake of assuming that because JMan’s adoption was common knowledge at his school, I didn’t need to address this.  Now that I am constantly on the look out for adoption insensitivity, it is hard to believe that other people aren’t thinking about it.

Our 11-year-old daughter, Boo, came to me with the same assignment later that evening.  She wanted to ask me the questions but first she said, “When Mrs. G was talking about this assignment I thought about JMan.  Does he have to sit and listen to everyone stories?  That’s not fair to him. I’m afraid it will make him feel sad.”  Like I said before, she is an old soul who loves her brother.

As adoptive parents, I feel it is so important that we educate others (friends, families and schools) about the implications of adoption insensitivity.  At least I’ll be ahead of the game for 7th grade.  One of our daughters just brought home this assignment….

Interview your parents about your birth.  Where were you born? Was your birth earlier or later than your due date? How long was labor?  What was your weight?  What was your length?  Were there any complications with your birth?


I will be calling the school today.  For some reason, I’m not expecting the same response I received from JMan’s teacher.  I did find this resource online, Adoption Basics for Educators.  I am going to request to meet with his 6th grade teachers this Spring to share this resource with them.  Does anyone have any other materials or advice to share?


10 thoughts on “Adoption Insensitivity…it’s no laughing matter

  1. Pingback: Michelle Cusolito: Adoption Insensitivity « NESCBWI Kidlit Reblogger

  2. In a bit of irony – the laughing baby is adopted – it is me, taken in 1959, and that is my cousin Cindy crying (I had just pinched her at her birthday party). We did not create any of the hundreds (thousands – millions?) of internet jokes (including this one) that joke sites have used it on, nor have I complained about the fact that it is a copyrighted and registered image, because it has not been used for commercial purposes that I have found. It is a family treasure, and sits on my credenza – where everyone cracks up when they see it. I think the message below the photo could say anything below it (or nothing at all) and people would laugh outloud. Just wish my dad had lived to see the internet (he died when I was very young). I posted the photograpgh on my FLICKR account and people have been taking it ever since (without asking of course). I guess I just wanted to give the history, point out that I am adopted, and that it is really my cousin and I that are the funny part. No idea who made the original joke. Andy (Andrew Howe)

    • Andy,
      I also read your comment on Allison’s blog. It is a shame that such an adorable and classic photograph has been used in this way. It is true that the picture is funny. I love that I now know the story behind it. When I first saw it I smiled until I read the words at the bottom. Thank you for sharing your story! I wish this amazing photograph was recognized for the moment it captured in time rather than the thoughtless words others added. Thanks again for taking the time to share the history of your family photo. It truly is a treasure.
      Take care,

  3. I can so relate to this post. While not all answers to these hard questions can be found, there is hope of finding some of them. If your son was born at a hospital in Colombia, it is possible to request his birth information. Here is our story:

    I can’t post a link, but go to my blog — Raising Colombian Kids and look under One Family’s Return Trip and read the post — The Best Thing We Did In Bogota. Not sure if this could help you in your son’s particular situation, but perhaps.

  4. What if your son tells his adoption story instead of his birth story? As a birth advocate I wish more people knew their birth stories. Some adopted kids might know their birth stories, but I would think most adopted kids would know their adoption stories. How would your son feel about sharing this? I’m guessing it would depend on his age how ‘different’ it would make him feel.

  5. It breaks my heart that our children face such insensitivities in school. They are emotionally so vulnerable anyway, and all it takes is a little bit of additional thought from the teachers to help them through. Thank you so much for sharing your post on #WASO

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