“However motherhood comes to you, it’s a miracle.” -Valerie Harper
My husband and I went through the adoption process about four years ago and it was easily one of the hardest things we’ve ever done. Unfortunately, despite hours of paperwork, home studies, notary visits, and fundraising efforts, our adoption plans fell through (due to circumstances beyond our control). To all the people who claim that adoption is “easier than pregnancy and childbirth,” I beg to disagree. I have experienced pregnancy and childbirth (twice), but our adoption journey was difficult in a way that I can’t possibly put into words. Adoption is a long, risky, and complicated process, but in that year and a half, I learned so much about what you should and shouldn’t say to adoptive parents. The comments we’d receive from curious people were often rude and ridiculous, but they were rarely malicious. On the contrary, many peoples' inappropriate questions came from a place of ignorance- they simply didn’t have enough experience in speaking with adoptive parents to know what and what not to say. For those of you who know someone who is adopting (or who has adopted), please take the time to read this article and educate yourself. Remember, forewarned is forearmed.
Here are 20 rude things other parents accidentally say to adoptive parents.
20 How Much Did He Cost?
Would you stop a new mother who was bringing her newborn home from the hospital and ask her how much her baby cost? Of course not, that would be ridiculous and completely inappropriate. Here’s a tip: if you can’t imagine yourself saying it to a new parent, then it should never be said to an adoptive parent. We are talking about someone’s child, here. Every new addition to a family technically “costs” money when you add up the hospital fees and doctor visits (or the adoption/travel fees), but the child is priceless.
19 They Are So Lucky To Have You!
Before you find yourself saying this (and earnestly meaning it as a compliment), take a moment to consider what most children have been through in their lives to make them eligible for adoption in the first place. For many kids it’s years of abuse, for others it’s abandonment at birth (or later), and for some, it’s the death of one or both parents. Regardless of why they ended up in an orphanage or the foster care system, it’s never a sweet story and they certainly can’t be considered “lucky” by any stretch of the imagination. These kids have been dealt a very unfair, traumatic hand in life, and if anyone is lucky in an adoption scenario, it’s the parents.
18 Don’t You Want Your Own Kids?
Think about how you’re phrasing this and how it might sound to an adoptive parent. “Your OWN kids” implies that their adopted children are not really theirs at all, and I can promise you, they’re not going to appreciate the implication. Even if you did have enough sense to say “biological kids” instead, is it really your place to question what they want or don’t want? Adoptive parents just want a child to raise and love (yes, as their own), and how they’ve chosen to go about that is absolutely none of your business.
17 Why Aren't You Adopting From The States?
When my husband and I were attempting to adopt a child from Uganda we got asked this question quite frequently, and it seemed like people honestly felt that owed them an explanation! Everyone who asked us this had done zero research into the various adoption options, but trust me, we had done a TON before arriving at our decision to adopt internationally. I could write for hours about the pros and cons of adopting from the foster care system vs. adopting internationally, but that would imply that adoptive parents need to explain themselves, and THEY DON’T. A lot of soul-searching and discussion goes on during the adoption process, and each person chooses the right path for their individual set of circumstances.
16 You Are Such An Amazing Person!
Almost everyone who says this is trying to be nice, but trust me, when you say this it just makes things super awkward. First of all, wanting to become a parent via adoption doesn’t make anyone “amazing” or superhuman. Save all the accolades for actual heroes, not for parents who are choosing to adopt. Saying they’re amazing implies that only the most noble people could bear to attempt something so courageous (adopting), but adoption is just another path to parenthood and shouldn’t elevate anyone to sainthood. Stop acting like adopting a child is the equivalent of saving a puppy from a burning building.
15 Will You Tell Him He's Adopted?
Why wouldn't we? Please don’t assume we’d keep their birth history a secret from them. Being adopted is nothing to be ashamed of and it isn’t some kind of dirty secret that people need to hide from their children for years (or forever). Adoptive parents love to celebrate “gotcha day” and teach their children about their country/culture of origin whenever possible! Many adoption workers advise parents to introduce the word "adoption" as early as possible so that it becomes a comfortable part of a child's vocabulary and recommend telling a child they're adopted between the ages of 2 and 4.
14 What Happened To Her "Real" Parents?
I’m pretty sure the people who are loving and raising her are her real parents, so I think the term you are looking for is “birth parents” or “biological parents.” In that case, is this something you really need to know? What happened to a child’s family of origin is deeply personal and you can’t expect parents to give you the juicy deets like they’re discussing some soap opera. If you do insist on being mega rude and asking anyway, please refrain from doing so in front of the child in question. You’d be surprised how much that happens.
13 Why Was She Given Up?
I think the best answer to this question is “that’s none of your business,” but if an adoptive parent is trying to be nice they might just say “that’s his story to tell.” FYI, it’s not okay to simplify a child’s complicated history by assuming that they were just “given up!” The factors that led up to a child being put up for adoption are often multi-faceted, painful and complex, and adoptive parents typically only share this sensitive information on a need-to-know basis. In other words, if you aren’t an educator, medical professional, counselor or a very close family member or friend (and even then, tread lightly), just don’t ask.
12 You’re Totally Going To Get Pregnant Now!
Adopting a child is not a “second choice” or a “plan B,” so stop assuming that everyone who has adopted has trouble getting pregnant. When we started our adoption journey we already had two biological kids, but I actually had someone come up to me and say “are you having trouble having a third?” I was completely dumbfounded that anyone could be that rude and obnoxious. Stop. Assuming. Crap. Even if an adoptive parent had struggled with fertility in the past, do you really thinking it’s appropriate to joke about what was probably a very emotional and rough road for them? NOPE, it’s not.
11 What’s Taking So Long?
Family members used to ask us this all the time and it made me want to bite into a pillow and scream. The adoption process can often take years, whether you’re adopting from the foster care system or adopting internationally. The wait is excruciating (especially if you’ve already been matched with a child), so please stop asking when it will all be over. The truth is, we don’t know, and everytime you ask us it’s a painful reminder of how long the journey has been.
10 I'd Be Too Scared To Adopt
So basically what you’re saying is you’re afraid an adopted child would be damaged beyond repair and would murder you in your sleep, right? Unfortunately many people are negatively influenced by what’s portrayed in dark, adoption-themed horror movies (Orphan, for example). Sure, an adopted child might have emotional trauma that needs to be dealt with, but a biological child is just as susceptible to emotional issues or mental illness. Do you have a fear that your kids would end up like the Menendez brothers? They weren’t adopted, by the way, so maybe you should. *eye roll*
9 Are They "Real" Sisters?
Unless you suspect that they might be imaginary sisters, then this question needs to be reframed. Even if you do use the correct term (biological sisters), make sure you don’t hurt a child by asking this right in front of their face. How would you feel if someone was always second-guessing whether or not you “belonged” with your family? Not only is this no one’s business, it’s also completely irrelevant. Siblings are siblings, regardless of whether they are related by blood.
8 What If They Want Him Back?
Why would you even ask this? If you are honestly just curious about the domestic/international adoption process, then there’s a thing called Google and you should use it instead of putting an adoptive parent on the spot. Yes, we’ve all heard horror stories about custody fights between adoptive and birth families, but the only reason you’ve heard about them is that they don’t happen very often (and are therefore newsworthy). There are systems and laws in place to prevent this from happening both internationally and domestically.
7 Adoption Is Easier Than Pregnancy/Childbirth
Please, don’t even go there. Think about how this might sound to parents who made the choice to adopt after years of struggling with infertility. Are you really going to negate all of their grief and pain by telling they’re lucky to have skipped something they probably longed for? Even if they didn’t struggle with infertility, the mental and emotional exhaustion adoptive parents experience cannot be underestimated. The adjustment to life with an adopted child is just as challenging as it would be if you gave birth to them yourself, but seriously, comparing battle scars is ridiculous.
6 We’ve Always Wanted To Adopt, But We Want A Couple Of Our Own First
OMG, this comment is so insensitive. When a child comes into your family they ARE your own, no matter how it might have happened, so let’s drop the “our own” part. Also, you are basically saying that adoption is a second choice to biological kids, but trust me, adoptive parents don’t see anything “second best” about adoption. If you truly feel this way, then do everyone a favor and keep it to yourself. As the saying goes, it’s better to keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and prove it.
5 What If She Wants To Find Her Real Parents?
Let’s get past the insensitivity of calling her birth parents the “real parents” for a minute and focus on why the hell you are asking this question to begin with. Do you want to know if we'd feel threatened by this possibility? Adoptive parents aren’t just sitting around waiting for the ball to drop, if that’s what you’re asking. Yes, there’s a chance that an adopted child would one day be curious about their birth family, but like most of the questions on this list, it’s really none of your business what they’d do next.
4 Where Are They From?
My friends adopted a daughter from Ethiopia and they are constantly being bombarded by this question, even right in front of her. At one point the little girl screamed “NORTH CAROLINA” at the top of her lungs and I almost slow clapped for her. Asking a family where their child is from is just another way of saying “she doesn’t fit,” even if you are asking it with all the best intentions. Children don’t want to be singled out like that, and parents don’t want them to be singled out like that, either. NEWSFLASH, not everyone in a family has to look alike so stop assuming and making an ass of yourself.
3 But Don’t You Want A Baby?
When we were trying to adopt we specifically asked for an older child, but as a result, we got asked this question all the time. After a while, they finally got used to the idea that we were adopting, but they never could understand why anyone would “take a chance” on a kid who could possibly remember life before us. People loved to relay horror stories to us about RAD (“reactive attachment disorder,” or the inability to attach) in an attempt to make us second guess our decisions, always ending it with “don’t you want to start fresh with a baby?” Guess what, y’all, not everyone wants a baby and not every older child is a lost cause.
2 If It Doesn’t Work Out, Can You Give Them Back?
Please don’t ever say this, even if it’s in jest. Trust me when I tell you that no parent goes on a lengthy, emotionally arduous adoption journey with the assumption that they’re just going to “try out” their child and give them back if it’s not a good fit. Children aren’t a pair of expensive shoes that you can just exchange, for God's sake! Like I said at the beginning of this article, if you wouldn’t say this to a birth parent, then it’s not something you should say to an adoptive parent. All kids (adopted or not) can exhibit challenging behaviors at times, but forever families are just that- forever.
1 You Can’t Even Tell They’re Adopted!
This is usually said with a delighted smile, but is this supposed to make the parents feel better? Adoption isn’t some second-class version of a family that people need to be ashamed of, so who cares if the kids look different than the parents (or if they don’t). How much a family resembles each other is completely irrelevant, and certainly not something that needs to be strived for (or commented on). I know someone who responded to this statement with, “what, did you think adopted kids are walking around with a letter A on their chest?” That was a high-quality burn, right there.