My grandmother believes in traditional Southern values, manners, and Emily Post. One year, for Christmas, she actually bought me “The Girls Guide to Manners.” I was raised to be polite and sensitive, and to try to be sincere. I understand that “how are you” and “do you have children” are questions that come from a genuine place of attempting to be polite. I am ever so grateful for my grandmother’s influence in my ability to behave according to social standards.
We Are Evolving
However, society has evolved and the old niceties have a new twist. The nuclear family is no longer the norm in our society and blended families are much more prevalent and accepted than they were in the past. Therefore, a simple polite question has turned into a loaded question. Consider if you really want to know how someone is doing before you ask them, because these days, you might actually get the truth. Manners are not about superficial niceties anymore. Manners are about genuine concern for others.
5 Topics of Etiquette When Engaging with a Birth Mother
- “Do you have children?” It’s like asking someone “How are you?” Sometimes people really want to know how you are doing, but most of the time, it is just someone attempting to have nice manners. Most inquirers are looking for a simple answer, but birth mothers do not have simple answers to what seems like such a loaded question at times. Please, do not ask this question to women unless you really want to know the answer. Be sincere when you ask someone, “How are you?” And be sincere when you ask someone if they have children.
- Please, don’t share your negative viewpoints on adoption with me. This typically comes from misunderstanding. Lack of education on certain topics does wonders to breed ignorance and seems to almost give people permission to pass judgement. If you don’t understand it, don’t judge it.
- I think that most people believe adoption is a great thing in general. They consider it the alternative to abortion, or they believe in personal choices and empowerment. Each of these mind sets seems to be sweet on the surface, but on the root level, they come from places of complete misunderstanding about what it means to be a birth mother. Having an abortion and placing a baby for adoption come from two completely different schools of thought regarding the value of a woman’s body and the value of the life of a child. Being a birth mother, and making that decision to place a child for adoption is about genuinely loving that child. It has nothing to do with anything else except, what I consider, pure love.
- Things I wouldn’t say to a birth mother have to do with the assumption that people make about being a birth mother. Don’t say things to me that are based on your own negative assumptions and stereotypes of what it means to be a birth mother. Don’t assume that I was “too young” or “too dumb” or “too uneducated” or “ill-prepared” to be a mother. Don’t look at me as if you pity me. Don’t ask me intimate questions about my situation if we don’t have an intimate relationship in which those questions are appropriate. For example, don’t ask me why I did it. I think this is the biggest thing. Why we do things are our business. My adoption story is personal, and so is every other birth mother’s story.
- When you ask a biological mother if she has children, and she has custody of them, and the typical answer is, “Yes, I have three children.” I don’t think that most people think to ask, “Why did you have those children?” “Was it planned?” So if I wouldn’t ask a mother who has her children that question, why would I ask a mother who doesn’t have her children that question? In my mind, a mother is mother. How she got there or what her circumstances are, that’s her business.
So if the question is, “What shouldn’t you ask/say to a birth mother?” The simple answer is: don’t ask questions that are personal in nature if you don’t really want an honest answer and don’t say things based on negative assumptions you may have about adoption and birth mothers. As far as what you should say, perhaps a simple, “That’s wonderful.” If you don’t know what else to say, leave it at that. Please, be sincere and show me respect because I am a mother, no matter what “type” of mother I am.
Lindsay is a guest blogger for American Adoptions. She placed her son for adoption 7 years ago and hopes to use her experience to support and educate other expectant mothers considering adoption, as well as adoptive families.