Annoying Adoption Phrases

Last year during November, the term “Gotcha Day” got a lot of attention during NAAM. I’m accustomed to hearing the term being criticized. On most of the groups I belong to, any time it’s used, there are usually comments from adoptees of ‘ugh’ or ‘gross’ in replying to it. But last November during National Adoption Awareness Month, it was actually promoted by some. People that had never heard of it had it explained to them and they laughed and thought it was cute. (ugh!)

This November, I’m already seeing the same thing. There is everything from “Gotcha Day”, “Born In My Heart Not Under It” and “Miraculously My Own” books, pins, charms and plaques. It seems that anything that will stand still and let you slap on a cutesy phrase promoting adoption is a popular item to sell.

The problem is that most adoptees don’t see any of this as very cute.

It is medically impossible for me to grow in a person’s heart. Please do not lie to children who already, even in the best of circumstances, must make sense of a complex situation.

I am not my adoptive parents “own”. I have two sets of families (technically, I have four). Please do not lay claim to an adoptee. Adoptees are perceptive about how adoptive parents feel toward the adoptee’s biological family. If the adoptive parents are sending messages of ownership, adoptees may find it difficult to talk with the adoptive parents about their search and/or communication with their biological family. Many times adoptees must compartmentalize the adoptive family and keep them ‘in the dark’ about their life events involving their biological family.

I do not want to focus on the one day my adoptive parents “got” me. I, like a lot of others, think of being tricked when I hear this term – ex: someone makes another person believe something that isn’t true to get a reaction out of them and continues pushing the idea until they finally declare “gotcha!” Additionally, there is something about the term “gotcha day” that implies success in the acquisition and some adoptees feel like nothing more than another ‘thing’ attained when these words are used. It seems to celebrate the adoptive parent perspective and ignores the loss of others.

For the original parents, it was the day of loss. This day that is being celebrated by others is a day that the original parents and extended family will have lost a family member – definitely nothing to celebrate.

And for the adoptee that is going from his/her original family to a new family, it may feel like a “what the hell just happened day.” And that is a feeling that may linger long after the “Gotcha Day” celebration cake is gone.

Since this November is National Adoptees Articulate Month, I hope some adoptees will share their perspectives of “gotcha day” or any other common adoption sayings.

7 thoughts on “Annoying Adoption Phrases

  1. Liz

    Hi Kat, I so appreciate your insights into these subjects, and as a foster parent, it helps me advocate for adoptees.

    I wonder if you (or any other adoptee) could offer an alternative to these points? As a guide for adoptive parents.

    Basically, adoptive parents NEED “language” and a guide for raising their child, that will not harm them. We don’t know what it is, and the current language offends adoptees. (Most of it grosses me out also).

    What is an alternative to saying You grew in my heart?

    What is an alternative for honoring the day they became a legal family without dishonoring biological families?

    For example, for anyone who has witnessed a child suffer through foster care for a long time, it really does feel like a celebration on the day that child finds permanence in an adoptive home. The same goes for true orphans. Is that wrong?

    There is a gain of one family and a loss of another. Is it not ok to feel deep gratitude when forming a new legal family unit, knowing that you are committing to a person forever? For example, I imagine the day when my foster son’s adoption is legal. I can’t help but feel like it’s an event to be recognized and celebrated. I think it is similar to getting married – a commitment ceremony to a person for life. How might we celebrate without dishonoring anyone?

    My first objective is to do right by my son, and let him know he is loved and has a home forever.

    But it also feels wrong to ignore our natural feelings as a family to want to celebrate his joining our family.


    1. Kat Post author

      I’m going to come back & answer this is more thorough manner (not at home right now) but I will say that I believe children that have been through difficult circumstances that would lead to foster care would appreciate straightforward, honest discussion (in age appropriate language) that does not demean their first family but lets them understand permanency. I hope others will chime in but as I mentioned, I have much more to add.

    2. Kat Post author

      Liz, Thank you for your comments. It seems like you are asking about foster care more so than infant adoption. I wasn’t in the foster care system so this is harder for me to relate to, but I think it’s important to have open, honest communication before the actual finalization day and the same would be continued during and after. If you are already talking to your son about the events of his life and difficult things he’s been through, ask him how HE feels about the day of. What does he want to do? Talk about the good and the sad. It seems it’s just a continuation of what you are already probably doing. Your son may want to go out to eat after or go for ice cream. Maybe he’d want to release 2 white balloons to commemorate both of his families. Maybe he’d want to do none of that. You can give him some options, but don’t place an expectation.

      The problem with the Gotcha Day memorabilia is that it really doesn’t focus on the child at all. If it did, the charm would say Loss Day on the flip side. Those things focus on the happiness of the adoptive parents. ‘Born in my heart’ does nothing but confuse. The truth is that your son’s mom couldn’t take care of him for some reason. I won’t speculate because I don’t know. I don’t know if he lived through abuse or neglect or if it was some other reason he isn’t with her. You can say you feel sad sometimes that he can’t be with her. Open the conversation and let him decide where it goes. Again, it’s about talking about the sad but reassuring him that you will ALWAYS be there for him. (There, if you want to get a charm or a plaque, let it say “Always” as YOUR promise to always be there for him)

      You can celebrate your family with him in the same ways all families celebrate each other. You do it through traditions and family events. He is part of your family, not someone to be singled out or have a expectation placed on him to be grateful which is what those cutesy phrases do.

      I don’t know if any of this helps but I say it all in earnest. Please don’t just take my opinion. I think APs should talk to lots of adoptees. Mostly, thank you for sharing and encouraging the adoptee voice.

  2. Pingback: Gotcha Day vs I’ll Always Love You | Sister Wish

  3. 77Yan

    I am grateful (Horrors!) that my parents did not celebrate “Gotcha Day.” That would have been horrific for me, as a child, but I would not have been able to say how or why. I think that if my parents (mother — it would have been her, not my dad) wanted to celebrate a family day of some sort, it would have pointed out, harshly, that our family didn’t form like other people’s. And that I had other family elsewhere. As it was, we didn’t really talk about that much. I mean, it wasn’t hidden, but it wasn’t for light conversation, either.

    I agree with Kat that honest language, simple and true, is best. I think that I would have been comforted by simple explanations: Your original parents could not parent you/take care of you/ keep you. Your dad and I really wanted to be parents, and we’re so happy you’re here. We will be here forever, we’re not going anywhere no matter what.

    It’s true, non-judgmental, not confusing. I’m still taking apart the well-meant but terrifying “Your birth parents loved you so much that they wanted you to have a better life so they put you up for adoption.” Unpack that like a literal 5 year old and all you really get is that love = abandonment.

    Maybe just keep talking to your kids. Some kids may really want a celebration for their new families. Some won’t. I think if parents let their adopted children drive that choice — with space to change their minds — more children would be comfortable.

    1. Kat Post author

      I agree! Letting adoptees take control in the conversation and realizing that they may change their minds as time passes is so important. Thank you!

  4. Cindy A.

    Such wisdom, such truth. It’s so hard to be ‘happy’ on a day when so much was lost. My mom died when I was young and birthdays and other ‘holidays’ or family gatherings became just another hard reminder of the loss of her. At times I think I would have felt better with making it a day or time to remember and celebrate her instead of the ”move on with your life and forget that” mentality. How do you forget a mother?

    Instead of ‘born in my heart’ how about, ‘my/our love for you was born in my/our heart/s’.


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