If you are reading this and you have said one of these things to an adoptive parent, I’m not trying to pile on guilt! I think we say things meaning the best, but we speak in ignorance. For each comment made, I’ll try to offer an alternative way to say this so that you don’t potentially offend an adoptive parent. Some of these particular comments can be hurtful especially to a newly adoptive parent who hasn’t already heard them all!
“Do you want to have your own someday?”
This very well be the most common question I am asked. Maybe neck-and-neck with the popular duo of:
“Why did you adopt? Can you not have your own kids?”
Honestly, the motive behind all these questions really come down to nosiness. I get that there are some cases where someone is thinking “My niece and her husband are struggling with infertility and are wondering if adoption is the right route for them.” In a case like that... just say that! Ask the questions about adoption that you think would be helpful to your niece and be on your way.
My son doesn’t share any of my genetics. I am not his biological mother and my husband is not his biological father. But he lives in our home. He eats at our table. We tuck him in bed at night and pray over him. We provide for all his needs. We stay up all night with him when he is sick. We oversee his discipleship. He is our OWN son. Putting kids into 2 categories of: “own” kids and adopted kids, is potentially destructive. A better way to say this is “biological children.” These questions can also give the impression to an adopted child they he/she was a plan B, or second rate… that biology is always preferable for parents.
(See my blog post Not a Plan B for more)
This comes back to the “own children” idea. If you do adopt, comments like these set your adopted children up to feel second-rate because they are your “Plan B.” Just say, “I would like to adopt some day.” This is often paired with another comment:
“I think adoption would be kinda cool.”
Ok... you aren’t adopting a pet. Remember that adoption is always born out of loss. It’s not “cool.” That’s a word you use when you are talking about a movie you went to see, or about an exotic vacation you just returned from. Adoption involves a real child and affects his/her entire life. You don’t do it because it is “cool.”
So much wrong here... just so much. First, if you look below the surface of the statement, there is an assumption that the only kids available for adoption are kids with some sort of special need or disability. There is also the assumption of adopted children being “unwanted.” When I hear this question, what I actually hear is, “Why didn’t his birth parents want him if there isn’t anything ‘wrong’ with him?”
There is no question of my son being wanted. Without going into detail, being “unwanted” is NOT among ANY reasons our son came to us. Unfortunately, there are situations where a birth parent does not want their natural child or does choose to place their child because of some birth defect, special need., or disability, but it is not always the case and should not be assumed.
This comment.... I cannot tell you how many times I heard this after first bringing my son home. Ok, yes, perhaps you’ve witnessed families in which this happens... however,
1. You shouldn’t assume that a couple adopted a child BECAUSE they could not get pregnant, and
2. It’s not a fact. Especially for couples who have struggled to conceive or are unable to for some medical reason, this could be a particularly painful comment.
I really don’t know how to rephrase this comment... probably just better not to say it; it’s not necessary.
“I knew a family who had 4 biological children and adopted 1. The biological children were very obedient, successful, and are all walking with the Lord. But the adopted child is not walking with the Lord and was just rebellious. They were all raised in the same house but that adopted child just had tons of issues. It’s just what happens.”
“A friend of mine adopted and the birth mom changed her mind and took the baby back.”
“I had a family member who adopted, and the child never bonded well with the family. They always struggled more with that child than any of their ‘real’ children.”
Seriously? The adoption horror stories? Totally unnecessary. I understand they actually happen. I had a failed adoption, but that isn’t the story I would share when meeting someone’s adopted little one for the first time. It’s just not necessary. If you are having a full conversation with someone about adoption and you’re discussing the positive and negative experiences, that’s different. But those comments should probably be a little more invited. If that is the only connection to adoption that you have and you just feel the need to share your experience for the sake of “common ground”... think first. Ask yourself if what you have to share is necessary.
This is a question referring to our son’s birth family deciding they want custody of him. There is a “grace period” after certain papers have been signed where the birth mother has an opportunity to “change her mind.” Each state has its own time frame. We lived in NY state at the time of our son’s adoption and the grace period there was 45 days. So, during that time frame and pre-finalization of the adoption, this was a more legit question.
However, to ask an adoptive parent that question during the waiting period could cause unnecessary fear and anxiety. It’s not worth it for the sake of your curiosity. Remember that these are real people with real emotions and attachments. Just because mom didn’t give birth to the child, she is still experiencing real love and real attachment. If you are curious about the time frame in your state, best not to ask adoptive mom right after she brings baby home (if the adoption is with an infant). Look up online what the laws are in your state if you absolutely must know.
Secondly, after that child is adopted, the birth family can’t get him/her back even if they wanted to. People have said, “what if they want him back when he’s bigger?” I don’t know what they expect me to say... “Oh, then we’ll give him back”..? Seriously?! He’s been with us since day 1!
I’m glad he doesn’t understand these questions yet. Can you imagine how frightening that would be for a young child to hear? We are all he’s ever known. How terrifying to think at some point strangers would want to take you away and you have no choice but to just go with them? When an adoption is finalized, a new birth certificate is printed for that child. My name and my husband’s name are printed on our son’s legal birth certificate. We are his parents. Yes, his real parents.
Paying for people is human trafficking, and its illegal. Adoption costs money because it’s a legal procedure. Attorney’s cost money. End of story. It doesn’t cost money because you are buying the child. Unfortunately, there have been situations where that does happen, but it is illegal.
If you are curious as to how much the adoption cost because you are interested in adopting or know someone who is, then find a polite way to ask. I wouldn’t be offended by the question,
“I’ve heard adoption is always super expensive. Is that true? What are some tips you could offer to someone who is trying to financially plan for adoption?”
To me, this question is just funny. It just sounds like I picked him up from an “adopt-a-kid” store, but I understand what is meant by it. Especially when there are transracial adoptions, people are curious as to whether you adopted from another country. I guess a less awkward way to ask this is:
“What kind of adoption did you pursue?” That will answer the question.
As a pastor’s wife I often have people open-up to me about life situations and ask for prayer. I had a woman share with me many times about her family member’s struggle with infertility. The couple had undergone multiple treatments over the years and had done a few rounds of IVF. They were preparing for their last transfer that week. She shared with me that this was their last try, that it was too emotionally exhausting, understandably.
She said they were starting to discuss the possibility of adoption. I smiled down at the 3-month old baby sitting in my lap and said, “well, I’m definitely an advocate for adoption.”
She too looked down and my son, then at me and said, “well.... hopefully it won’t come to that.”
I feel like there isn’t a lot of explanation needed to explain why this was insensitive. All I can say is, in that moment, I was so glad my son was too young to understand anything she had just said.
Like I said before... adoption is born of loss. My son’s first experiences in life were associated with loss. I wouldn’t call that “lucky.” In a perfect world, our son would be raised by his birth parents. I feel like this comment can imply,
“He’s so much better off with you than with his birth family (whom I don’t even know).” There are some situations where a child is literally rescued out of a terrible home, but I would hardly call that child “lucky.” Don’t downplay their loss... it’s real. If you want to say anything in this camp, remind the parents how blessed they are.
First, don’t say adoption is easier. If adoption were easier, then all those people who say they want to adopt one day would actually do it.
Second, there are women who have a deep desire to be pregnant and experience those things but cannot. You don’t know the dark road that led her to adoption. To say, “you’re so lucky” can be heartbreaking to some women. Don’t push your negative feelings or bad experiences on other people.
“It’s so crazy to think he’s not really yours. He looks like you!”
I’ve also received the latter half of this comment solo. First, people will always try to find physical similarities between you and your adopted child. Like it will make you feel more like the real parent? Not sure why. I am totally okay with the fact that my son does not look like me. I don’t love him based on how he looks.
This isn’t necessarily an inappropriate comment (well, the first 1/2 is... because he is really mine), more just an unnecessary comment. Don’t feel the pressure to point out similarities. Sometimes an adopted child does ironically look just like one of their adoptive parents, and that's fine, but not always. Just comment on how beautiful the child is, chances are the parents will just agree.
However, on a side note... I did have an older gentleman, who I did not know, approach me in a store once and said, “I can tell he’s yours... he looks just like his mama.”
I just smiled and said “thanks” and laughed as I retold the story later.
Umm... I think he’ll figure it out. If he doesn’t notice that dad is super white and he’s not... I’d be more concerned he had vision problems, haha.
This isn't really an inappropriate question, just an odd question to come straight out and ask... especially when said child is within ear shot... “well, if I wasn’t gonna tell him, you just did!!!” Haha
Plus... how would we explain these photos?
“You should adopt older kids or special needs kids. They need good homes too.”
The fact that kids should be in safe loving homes is true all around. If someone chooses to adopt a baby, don’t shame them for it. When this person made the comment, I felt scrutinized and judged. I also wanted to say, “this is true, they do. Why don’t you adopt and give them homes?”
(Granted, I knew this particular person had an attitude of expecting everyone else to do the work that needed to be done... with everything! So I wasn’t shocked)
We were looking to adopt a child, not a newborn originally, but we gladly adopted our son when asked. Just don’t assume why a person is adopting and don’t attempt to make them feel guilty for the type of child a family feels comfortable parenting.
“You’d understand if you had your own.”
I had a lot of stabbing comments from certain people in my life that were intended to wound. People who felt the need to remind me that Emmanuel was not my natural son... as if that made him less my child.
Sometimes, for the health of your family you do need to cut off relationships with people. There are certain things I don’t want my son hearing as he grows up. We tell him regularly that he belongs in our family. That he is ours and we love him. There have been certain people I’ve had to distance myself from for the protection and health of our family and that’s okay.
I know the list was long, but as I started thinking of statements I’d heard, more just kept coming. I hope this serves as a helpful resource as you discuss adoption with your friends and loved ones who are adoptive mommies and daddies.
Also, any adoptive parents reading this heard any of these? Drop me a comment below with crazy things you’ve heard!