9 Things NOT to Say to Families Through Adoption


9 Things NOT to Say to Families Through AdoptionThe topic of adoption tends to open the door for some comments and questions that may be well-meaning and innocent, but can feel really disrespectful to the receiver. I try my best in these types of situations to reword a person’s hurtful question to help them learn what’s more appropriate to say. And overall, I try to use these conversations as teachable moments for others, myself (to be prepared with a response, not necessarily an answer), and for my children as they become more exposed to these types of questions and comments.

In general, if you’re a stranger to a family through adoption, it’s best not to ask questions — especially if their child is present. Because really, this is a personal conversation. But if you have an ongoing relationship with the family (or you’re genuinely interested in adoption), it’s important to think about these types of questions and comments before they leave your mouth.

If you’re interested in adopting, just say so! Many parents through adoption love to have real conversations to share more about their experience, help educate, and connect others with resources. We get how daunting the whole process is! But these aren’t great conversations to have in passing, especially if my children are around. Set a time to chat further.

Here are some common, hurtful ways that people sometimes broach the topic of adoption.

I’ll explain why they’re not okay, and more appropriate ways to ask what you’re thinking. But please also remember, ultimately no one owes you an answer to any of these questions.

1. Where did you get him?

Frankly, this question feels a little dehumanizing to the adoption experience. It’s something we would ask about a puppy or a really cute t-shirt. My child isn’t an object we picked off a shelf.

  • Instead, you could say: Where was he born?

2. How much did he cost?

My child is priceless!

  • Instead, you could say: What were the financial requirements of the adoption process like?

I am willing to share more in a conversation with genuine adoption interest, but also a quick online search will generally answer this for you!

3. Why didn’t you adopt from [insert another adoption route]?

This question feels very accusatory and puts people on the defense unnecessarily. There are kids all over the world who need families. All children are worthy of safe homes and families. Many people believe that doesn’t stop at our country’s borders, and some think it should. But it’s important to remember that there are differing views of the world, differing inspirations, and very personal reasons why people choose the route they do — and it’s usually not a quick answer. There are most likely layers to the decision over a long period of time.

  • Instead, you could say: What influenced your decision to go this adoption route?

4. Are they real siblings?

We’re not playing pretend! They are REALLY siblings in all the ways that matter in everyday life. They fight, they play, they compete, and they love on each other. They have the same parents raising them.

  • Instead, you could say: Are they biologically related?

5. Why didn’t his real parents want him?

First of all, the term “real” in referring to the biological family members can feel very condescending and disrespectful to our family as a whole. Secondly, this question also makes a big assumption about my child’s story. It is terribly hurtful and untrue to imply that my child has ever been “unwanted.”

  • Instead, you could say: Do you know much about his biological/birth family situation?

But please be understanding that you may not get the answer to this question that you’re looking for. This history is part of my child’s story — and his alone — to share as he decides when he’s older. It’s not even information I should be sharing outside our family on his behalf.

6. These kids are lucky to have you.

No, no, no, no. I know this is a very well-meaning comment on my behalf. But I especially don’t want my kids hearing people say this as if they should be bowing down at my feet. They aren’t lucky that I’m their second, third, or fourth mother. They aren’t lucky that they’ve had broken attachments with loved ones in their short years of life. They aren’t lucky that their lives were completely uprooted when they transitioned home with us. We are the lucky ones to be included in their life story and get to love them in action every day.

  • Instead, you could say: You are so lucky to have these kids! They are such a blessing!

I will agree with you all over that!

7. Oh! My cousin’s best friend’s old neighbor adopted once . . . and that was not a good situation.

Many people I shared our adoption plans with told me about a distant connection they have with another family made through adoption. It’s actually not as helpful as a woman sharing her own, first-hand pregnancy experience with an expectant mama. Unless it’s personal, an adoption connection is usually a very outside perspective looking in on another family’s situation. There’s no way to wrap up another family’s adoption experience in a few sentences AND relay all the nuance.

But what really crosses a line is when the person states it as a warning. Yes, there are some horror stories that exist. But there are also horror stories associated with biological children. The fact is, no one knows the future when they are raising their children. We just do the best we can!

I’m not worried about unique struggles we could encounter through our parenthood journey, but I am aware of them. That’s the biggest thing — be aware, sensitive, and proactive with seeking help when your family may need it. That goes for families built in any way.

  • Instead, you could say: That’s wonderful news! Have you found a good support network or connections with other parents who have adopted? If you’d like, I could connect you with this family I know.

8. Why didn’t you have your own kids? Don’t you want kids of your own?

These babies are my own. I’m not babysitting. And there are TONS of reasons why a family may choose to adopt — and frankly, this question is akin to asking about a couple’s fertility.

  • Instead, you could say: What brought you to decide on adoption?

9. Oh, you’re lucky you didn’t have to go through pregnancy!

This comment really, really downplays everything we did to grow our family — the paperwork, background checks, interviews, home checks, medical paperwork, financial work, education, and ALL that’s involved in an adoption process. Not to mention the emotional toll (that often affects the physical body too) during the waiting and uncertainty of it all. No matter which way a person becomes a parent, it will have its complications and uncertainty.

  • Instead, you could say:

Nothing. Just don’t compare and contrast the two!

I hope this is helpful in thinking through the language we use when talking about adoption. I also heard one time: if you wouldn’t say it to someone about their breast implants, you shouldn’t say it about someone’s family!


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