It’s Time to Finish Off the Adoption Stigma

The other day I saw the following photo on Pinterest:

You’ve seen or heard this type of adoption humor before. It’s a fairly common joke in movies, sitcoms, and online memes.

I’m writing today as someone who is not at all sensitive or ashamed of the fact that I’m adopted to say that this type of humor needs to stop. Especially in mass media.

I’m not proposing this for me. I’m proposing it for every adopted child out there and every family that has an adopted child.

This type of humor pervades the misconception that adoption is a stigma. The stigma has diminished over time, but it’s still lurking out there in the form of this type of “humor.” Plain and simple, adoption is not at all a bad thing or something to be ashamed of.

Circumstances vary from person to person, but in every adoption, at least one or both parties involved are acting out of love. Most biological parents who put their child up for adoption do it out of love so that their child can have a better life than the one that they can offer. I know that some adopted kids struggle with the idea that someone gave up on them early on in life, but even those kids have adoptive parents (or as I like to call them, parents) on the receiving end who choose to love them as their own. That’s such a powerful choice to make.

Can you comprehend how selfless those choices are? Those acts of love are absolutely nothing to be ashamed of.

You might look at these memes and think that everyone knows they’re just jokes. The thing is, though, kids don’t know they’re jokes—kids can sense when there’s a greater truth or message behind a joke. Humor can be a wonderful way to break down barriers, but only if everyone is in on the joke.

Plus, not all adopted kids have parents like mine who didn’t put a stigma on adoption. I’ve always known that I was adopted—there was never a special sit-down chat where my parent’s “broke the news” to me. If you’ve gotten to the point where you’re “breaking the news,” you’re essentially telling the kid that adoption is a secret that you have to hide as long as possible.

Here’s an example: I watched a movie called Kung Fu Panda 2 a few months ago. In the movie, the titular panda goes on a quest for his “real” parents (another ridiculous concept, in my opinion. An adopted child’s real parents are the ones who raised him and parented him. Rather, the correct term is biological parents). The panda’s father is a stork who has hidden the adoption for his son’s entire life. A number of jokes are made about the panda not realizing that he’s adopted.

Kung Fu Panda 2 is a kids movie. Somehow the writers of this movie thought that it would be a good idea to convey the idea that adoption is a dirty little secret that you should hide from your child, and that if you’re an adopted child, you should be ashamed (as the panda is when he finds out). Eventually the movie gets around to the idea that the panda is grateful for the life his father gave him, which was a nice touch, but that’s literally at the very end of two Kung Fu Panda movies rife with adoption humor.

This topic is close to home for me because I know how…well, how normal it can be to be raised in a household where being adopted is openly discussed and shared (my brother and sister aren’t adopted). This stigma doesn’t have to persist. If we stop making adoption jokes, the stigma will go away.

If this message resonates with you, I’d invite you to share this post. Share it with anyone: family, friends, adoptive parents, adopted friends, and the writers of Kung Fu Panda 2. Let’s all choose to stop making nonsensical jokes about adoption so that we can remove all stigma or shame from adoption forever. Let’s all make adoption seem like the very normal, loving act that it is. I’m sure you know some adopted kids—do it for them.

How have the people in your life approached adoption? How have you?

21 thoughts on “It’s Time to Finish Off the Adoption Stigma”

  1. Jamey, in my family, one of my brother’s used to gloat that he was adopted and therefore he implied with his adoption that he had a ‘better set of genes’ AND that he was ‘wanted’. I never thought about it — but is that why we never joked about it with you?

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  2. Nice article, Jamey. To Mom and Dad’s credit, I didn’t realize it was unusual or even worth mentioning to have an adopted sibling until I was in middle school. People talk about being color blind, but there’s something to be said for being “birth-blind.”

    PS–I’m Jamey’s sister

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  3. Not just for adopted children and their families, Jamey, but for the unborn children who might not even make it to birth because of this stigma!

    Having personal experience with pretty much every angle of adoption – except the one most people think of: having adopted a child myself – I can say that it’s an intricate topic. And that it shouldn’t be kept underground!

    My “status” as a birth mom has gone largely unknown except to my immediate family – who never talked about it – until, of course, we met Kelly last year. Now I’m thinking of things like, “What should Kelly call me?” and “Should I introduce her as my daughter?” She and I have talked (and laughed) about these questions. I have been absolutely overwhelmed by the family and friends who have told me they wondered all those years about Kelly. I thought I was the only one. And telling my own kids … well, that’s a whole other story!

    Two of my dad’s cousins grew up with him and apparently felt “adopted” and outsiders, even though they’re very close to my dad’s siblings. I never thought of them as any different from my aunts & uncles.

    Then there’s you (not to mention all my other bazillion adopted cousins). I remember only JOY when you became part of our family. You were – and are – such a gift. And now I’m getting teary just thinking about it.

    A friend recently told me that he only learned last year – when he was in his 40s! – that he was adopted. And that was at his mother’s funeral, when his aunt decided it was important for him to know, if only for his medical history.

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    • Carole–Thanks for your comment. That’s a great point about the unborn children who might not make it because of this stigma. Another good reason to get rid of the jokes/stigma.

      I especially appreciate you chiming in since you have the rare experience of giving up a child for adoption (I don’t like the wording “giving up,” but I’m not sure how else to say it).

      Amazing that your friend didn’t know until he was in his 40s. You bring up a good logistical point–it’s good to know even just for the medical history (if you have access to it).

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      • Yeah, that wording is kind of awkward. Maybe simply “giving”, as in a gift? We can probably come up with something better.

        I’m not sure it’s all that rare… the correlation is nearly 1-to-1 with adopted kids. 🙂

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      • Hey there Jamey…just reading this article and it hit me when I read this…I think the correct “term” should be “offering” a child for adoption…since it is a very selfless thing to do and somehow “giving” implies the “away” to follow and, naturally, implies you don’t want/need the object you decide to “give”. I also like the way it sounds to say “allow” your child to be adopted…since it is an honor. OK, the end of my rambling mess of thought, just some things that came to mind when I read this.

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  4. Oh – also wanted to share that I had a friend in high school who, along with her two brothers, was adopted. They always knew they were adopted, so they couldn’t get each other with the whole “you’re adopted” tease. Instead, they’d tell each other, “Your mother was a monkey!”

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  5. >I didn’t realize it was unusual or even worth mentioning to have an adopted sibling until I was in middle school.

    +1. I knew that my brother (Jamey) was “adopted,” but I thought this was about as significant as his having blue eyes. I actually think I heard a joke that only made sense in the context of adoption being something strange–and I was genuinely confused. That was in middle school, too. That it took that long is a testament to the power people do have to make a difference here.

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    • Wow, I feel very supported by my family today. Thanks guys. 🙂

      Andrew says it really well here–if you treat adoption as a normal thing from day one, you don’t really give a second thought to it. It’s the jokes and stigma that seem strange then.

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  6. My sister and her husband adopted twins, and it’s been the greatest thing ever. They will also grow up knowing they were adopted, like you said–it won’t be a secret. They will also grow up knowing who their birth mom is, and they’ve spent time with her, but they are my sister’s kids through and through 🙂

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  7. Yes, feels kinda like black-face humor: hurtful, inappropriate, and outdated. I will now be a little more attentive, and kindly redirect comments like these, to make the world a more kindly place.

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    • Michelle–Thanks for your support. I meant to mention that one easy step for not perpetuating this type of humor is to stop spreading memes like those that I posted on the blog (which is somewhat counterintuitive since I posted them, but I think people understand to not repost them).

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  8. Well I hope you feel supported here too. Your brother, sister, entire family supported and loved you from day one. All I gave you were the blue eyes:)That first Mother’s Day was rough, but I have never had a day, a year or a moment when I felt I did the wrong thing.
    And you are absolutely right – there should be no sigma at all about Adoption.
    I, like Carole, have experienced 2 sides of the Adoption Triangle, as I was adopted as well. In “those days” things went a little differently. The “unwed mother” lived an a ‘home for unwed mothers’ and I was in a orphanage for 10 weeks before my Parents brought me home.
    But I, too, grew up knowing I was adopted. In school, however, it was noted that there was ‘a little adopeted girl’ in the class. And by the next day it was “known” that “I wasn’t wanted”. That hurt and stung more than you can imagine.Especially to a 1st grader. Because my parents were wonderful and NEVER made me feel unwanted. EVER.
    And I know that you never felt anything negative either. I only have respect and love for your family for giving you what I couldn’t – a mother AND a father.
    Adoption should be a Headline. Instead of “anti-Abortion” which I see as such a negative connotation to an abomination which should not even exist – but since it does, I would like to see everything turned around so we could constantly be saying to the world “We are PRO-ADOPTION”!!! Everybody wins: the child, and all the parents.
    Thanks to you, Jamey, for writing and for giving me the opportunity to see the love in the words from your brother, sister, friends and other family members that I always knew was there. At least I was able to give you my blue eyes:)

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    • Mary Ellen–It’s very special for you to chime in on this blog entry! Thank you. (For those who don’t know, Mary Ellen is my biological mother. You can read more about that in the link embedded in the above blog entry.)

      Thank you for your perspective on how adoption has changed over the years. I’m very fortunate that a lot of that stigma was gone by the time I was born–I think many people still didn’t quite know what to say, but they didn’t look down on the idea of adoption by that point. And now we’re so close to getting rid of that stigma forever!

      I love the phrasing of “pro-adoption.” That’s perfect.

      Thank you for all the gifts and blessings you gave me (including the blue eyes!) by carrying me for nine months and then giving me to a mom and a dad who could carry me from then on. I am profoundly blessed because of that choice.

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    • Oh, Mary Ellen! When I was writing a letter to my daughter to take with her to her forever parents, Margot sent me a copy of the letter you had written to Jamey (who is my cousin). I never, ever thought I’d get the chance to say THANK YOU! Though you didn’t intend those words for my eyes, they were a great help and a comfort.

      Anyone who thinks an adopted child is unwanted is doubly wrong. Their biological parent(s) wanted them enough to see them to birth, and their forever parents wanted them enough to welcome them into hearts and homes.

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      • First off, “thank you”. Secondly, I LOVE the term “forever parents”. So touching and lovely.And spot-on. I truly appreciated your kind words and re-read both your and Jamey’s responses last night. The fact that his Mom shared my letter and it helped you at all is wonderful. I never dreamed I could help anyone,but now more and more I wish I could help LOTS of people – Am just trying to figure out how.
        I know now (though I ALWAYS knew in my heart) that my “baby” was wanted, loved and had a wonderful life – and every communication, bit of humor, photo of Biddy, makes me smile. I said long ago – and in the piece I wrote for the on-line magazine, that once I received the first letter and found out that he didn’t hate me, I was ok – for life.
        He has an amazing family. I am just me. On the outside , looking in, and able to share tiny little bits because he allows me to. And for that, I am forever grateful.
        Thank you again for your kind words. Next time you see Jamey, hug him for me, alright?

        Reply

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