“A Balanced View of Adoption”

With such a spectrum of opinions about adoption, it’s hard to know if we talk about it too much, or not enough, and in the right way. But watching my son navigate adoption comments at school reassured me of his comfort with it.

adoptive father Billy Cuchens, who tries to strike the right balance in talking about adoption with his children

The community of other adoptive families has been crucial to my wife Laurie’s and my development as parents, especially early on. Over the years, we’ve had the privilege of getting intimately acquainted with quite a few families who have been models of well-balanced interactions with their kids on adoption, race, birth moms, and other topics. They’ve helped us understand that adoptive parents aren’t “co-parenting” with the birth family. They’ve shared how they stocked their home library with books on Black History Month and Juneteenth.

Unfortunately, we’ve also met families whose views and behavior are…I guess I’ll use the word “eccentric.” We were at a restaurant with a couple when the mom said, “Angela was so sad about failing her math test. I think she’s worried she’s disappointed her birth mom.”

I asked, “Your daughter said that?”

“No, thank God,” the mom answered. “I’m just worried she’s thinking it.”

I tried not to judge the mom too harshly, but I couldn’t help thinking that nearly any kid would get sad about a failing grade, so it seemed like bringing up adoption unnecessarily made the entire situation more emotionally loaded.

Another family we met consisted of a white mother and father who had four biological daughters and a young boy who they had adopted from Vietnam. “Our family mascot,” the mom told us with a little chuckle.

“What do you mean?” I asked

“You know, because he’s Asian.” I tried to hide a cringe. She continued, “Yep, we bring him out at parties.”

When we realized that not all adoptive families had the same opinion about adoption (or had any opinion at all), Laurie and I worked hard to seek out like-minded families.

At a conference, the keynote speaker was an adult adoptee who told us, “I’m very specific in my word choice when I tell people ‘I was adopted.’ I use a past tense verb because it’s an event that happened in my past. It’s an important event, but it doesn’t define my character.” Laurie and I both found this refreshing and inspiring. But with all of the other bizarre incidents swirling around in my head, I struggled to come to grips with how Laurie and I are doing. Do we make too big a deal about adoption? Or too little? What dumb jokes have I made?


What’s the Big Deal?

This past year, I was able to attend Isaac’s fourth-grade class holiday party. I had worked a lot all semester, so I hadn’t had the chance to meet his teacher or attend any other events when I could meet his classmates. So, when I arrived at his classroom, I had no idea who anybody was. Plus, no one knew who I was.

The room was in chaos as all the kids crafted a Christmas tree ornament. I was greeted by a white kid who was dipping baby carrots into a bottle of Elmer’s glue.

“Hi, I’m Franklin,” he said.

“Um, OK,” I said.

A girl came up to me and asked, “Are you Franklin’s dad?”

I watched as Franklin ate one of the glue carrots and thought, “Why would kids assume I’m his dad?” Then Isaac called out to me from across the room, “Hey, Dad! Over here.”

The girl looked at me, then at Isaac, then at me, then at Isaac, then again at me. “You’re Isaac’s dad?!”

I guess it made more sense to her that I was the glue kid’s dad than I was the Black kid’s dad.

I started to answer her, but Isaac came up and gave me a big bear hug. “Hey, Dad. Come meet my friends.”

How can he be your dad?” the girl said to Isaac.

“I’m adopted,” he told her. He didn’t blink or pause. He didn’t whisper. He said it as matter-of-factly as he’d say, “I like football.”

The girl was highly amused. “Isaac’s adopted!” she said loudly. We watched as she went around the room telling classmates, “Isaac’s adopted!” I looked at Isaac, who rolled his eyes and said, “C’mon I want to introduce you to my friends.”

Isaac had me shake hands with all of his friends. The hour flew by. Isaac stayed engaged with me the whole time and was disappointed when I told him I had to go back to work.

I left the Christmas party walking on air. I felt like our whole family had passed a very difficult test. My son had had every opportunity to feel embarrassed, but he hadn’t. After school, I asked him, “Did it weird you out that some of your friends made a big deal about your being adopted?”

“Not really. It’s their deal if they’re weird about it.”

The ultimate goal for Laurie and me is to give our kids a feeling of pride that adoption is how God made us a family. Laurie and I are white, and our four children are not. We have taken the opportunity to celebrate this as much as possible—but not too much…just the right amount.


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