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Adoption Blog: My Paperwork Pregnancies

Being an Adoption Advocate at School

As a mom, you will need to be your child's advocate. You may have to speak up on your child's behalf with concerns about ADD, a speech delay, or difficulty with his fine motor skills. At some point, you may need to speak up about adoption. Perhaps you'll have to address an outspoken uncle or your church's "Adopt-a-family" program. Recently, I had to put on my "adoption advocate" hat at my children's elementary school.

It began with a conversation I had with my second-grader, Irena, about her teacher, who is an adoptive mom to two girls from China. When I asked Irena if she knew this, she said, "Yup! And did you know that Mrs. Palmer (the front office secretary) is also adopted? Our class adopted her!" I was confused and couldn't get any more details from her.

A few days later in the school's front office, I saw a certificate hanging over Mrs. Palmer's desk. It said in big letters "I'm Adopted!" and underneath it was Irena's class' name. I still wasn't 100-percent sure what it was, but I wasn't thrilled that the certificate resembled the ones you see when you "adopt" an animal at the zoo or the side of a highway. They resemble birth certificates, but obviously aren't for babies. I let this certificate issue slide, as I didn't want to ruffle any feathers at school.

The next week, all of the students came home with an assignment from the school's administrators. It was a paper on which they were supposed to paste a baby picture (or draw one) and share their birth information, including height and weight statistics, time, and name of the hospital they were born at. This assignment made me cringe. I, luckily, had that information for my kids, who were all adopted domestically, but I knew not all adoptive parents would. Friends of ours who adopted internationally have shown me their child's first photo -- it shows an undernourished six-month-old in mismatched clothes. And few internationally adopted children have details about their births.

This assignment, I knew, I couldn't let slide by. I took my time and wrote an e-mail directly to the school principal and assistant principal. I was careful with my wording, trying not to take a confrontational tone. As guidance, I referred to Adoptive Families' "Classic, Clip & Save Articles." In particular, the letter to address an "Adopt-A" Program was extremely helpful.

When addressing Irena's class "adopting" the school secretary, I compared what her class did to what I do as an adoptive parent. I wrote, "One is a short-term commitment to a cause/person and one is a life-long commitment of parents to children. The wording of 'Adopt-a' programs is confusing for adopted children and their peers. There is no need for a school to disrespect the loving, permanent way adoptive families are formed."

As for the baby picture/birth details assignment, I brought it to their attention that not all children have baby photos, either because none were taken, they were moved from foster homes with little to no personal possessions, or spent the beginning of their life in a Children's Home overseas.

In my e-mail, I suggested a few changes. Instead of "adopting" the school secretary, perhaps they could use the words "sponsoring" or "friending." As for the baby assignment, it could be changed so a picture wasn't required and it could cover the child's preschool years.

I admit that it wasn't easy to write this letter. I am a huge fan of my children's school and the staff. My family has had only positive experiences thus far with their education. I didn't want to become labeled as "that mom" who causes problems.

I took a deep breath before I hit the "send" button. I had to mentally reassure myself that I was doing the right thing. This isn't the first time I'd written to someone as an adoption advocate. I've written to the local newspaper, a doctor's office, and other places where I felt some adoption education was needed. But this was the first time my written words could affect my children.

Within the hour, I had a lengthy e-mail from the school principal and a voice mail from the assistant principal. Both of them said they were grateful to me for bringing this to their attention. The school had started to implement projects, such as the "adoption" of a staff member, as a district-wide attempt to build rapport between students and staff. They had not thought that the wording could be offensive to some families, but now understood that it could be.

As for the baby picture assignment, they have done it in the past (though, my older children had not brought this assignment home) and I was the first to raise concerns about it. They respected my opinions and would read them at a future staff meeting to lead a discussion about changing the wording. Both the principal and assistant principal recognized that their school had many adoptive and foster families and in no way wanted to offend them. This was meant to be a fun, school-wide assignment to help the students learn more about one another. It's something the school wants to continue, but will now do so with new wording.

Becoming an advocate for your child isn't always easy. I wasn't exactly thrilled to write to the school administrators and bring attention to my family. I was nervous that I may have been overreacting. I was anxious that the school would treat me as a problem parent. Instead, I was treated respectfully and thanked for sharing my opinions, as an adoptive mother. My message got across that I was not asking for the school to stop these projects and assignments, but instead to tweak them to better include all students. I hope that my children's school was the norm and not the exception in the way they welcomed the criticism in my e-mail.

Next time I won't be as hesitant to put my "adoption advocate" hat on for my kids, as I'll trust that my words will be heard and respected.

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Sounds like your approach was perfect. Glad you got a positive response back.

By Sharon Van Epps on Monday, December 03, 2012 at 7:55 pm.

You exceI in advocating, Danielle! Thanks for sharing the how-tos.

By Barbara Herel on Wednesday, January 02, 2013 at 5:44 pm.

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Meet the Author

Danielle Pennel

Danielle Pennel


I have recently adopted or am adopting from...
U.S. Newborn, U.S. Newborn

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