In this 1st episode of “What NOT to Say” I would like to share some of the major no-no’s when talking to adoptive families. I also want to share with readers what TO say to adoptive families. For starters, I want to be clear that I understand that many people who say things that come across as hurtful or rude (or even racist) usually mean well. Many of them have a genuine interest in the adoption process and are trying to celebrate the adoptive family. However, that doesn’t mean that everything about the adoption process, how a family came to be, or a child’s history is “on limits,” especially when the children are within ear shot. As an adoptive mama, I have learned how to accept intrusive questions and counter ignorant statements with love and grace (most of the time). I have also taught my children how to graciously disregard intrusive questions and explained that, just because someone takes an interest in our family or them as individuals, they are not required to engage them in a conversation about their personal story. I model a few canned phrases that my children can use when they feel uncomfortable with the questions being asked, or when they just don’t feel like sharing their adoption story. I hope both adoptive families and anyone who ever meets an adoptive family finds this information helpful.
What NOT to Say (and some alternatives):
~Do not ask where the child’s ’real parents’ are or whether two children are ‘real brothers.’ Instead, use terms like ‘biological’, ‘birth’, or ‘first’ family.
~Do not ask whether someone is adopting because they can’t have ‘children of their own.’ Adopted children are VERY much their own. This statement gives the idea that adoption is a last resort, which speaks a terrible message to the adopted child. Personally, I would never ask anyone why they adopted…just like I wouldn’t ask if someone became pregnant through in vitro, or if someone took a new job because they were fired from their last one, or why they recently divorced. Some questions are just plain nosy and don’t need to be asked.
~Do not ask about the child’s birth family or history. If the adoptive family wants to share about this (when the child is not around), they will. A child’s adoption story is very personal and many adoptive parents wait until their child is older so they can determine what they would like to share with others.
~Do not ask any questions that sound like the family is picking out a puppy. For instance, don’t ask if they are specifying age or if they got to ‘choose a boy or girl.’
~Do not assume that someone who already has a girl is going to adopt a boy because they want to have ‘one of each.’ Many people make remarks to adoptive families about how they need to adopt a __(insert gender here)__ based on the gender(s) of their current child(ren). Personally, if we had a dollar for every time my husband has been told how he ‘needs a son’ or has been asked how he feels ‘about having another girl,’ we could fund our next adoption!
~Refrain from asking anything about the family’s adoption expenses.
~Do not say anything like, “We figured if we couldn’t have kids of our own we’d just adopt.” There is nothing ‘just’ about adopting, it’s tough. A statement like this can be hurtful on so many levels to an adoptive family, especially one who struggled through years of infertility or who is struggling to raise the finances for their adoption.
~Do not mention how ‘lucky’ the child is to have been adopted. Adoption is a blessing for both the adoptive parents and the child, and it makes the child seem very undeserving.
What to NEVER. EVER. EVER. EVER. SAY: (yes, either myself or my adoptive friends have heard each of these)
~Do not ask whether Angelina Jolie or Brad Pitt inspired them to adopt. They didn’t.
~Do not say, “You’re lucky your kids are adopted. You had kids the easy way!” It’s not easy.
~Do not ask if the child’s skin will ‘lighten up’ once they come to the US. It won’t.
~Do not ask, “How much did you pay for her?” It’s rude.
~Do not say, “Now that you’ve adopted her, I’m sure you’ll have your own.” She is their own.
What TO Say:
~During the process, you can say: Congratulations! Do you know if the child is a boy or girl? Is there anything I can do to help?
~After the adoption, you can say: Congratulations! He/she is beautiful! How much did they weigh? How are they eating/sleeping/adjusting?
~Direct your compliments toward the entire family so as not to single anyone out or exclude a child. You can’t ever go wrong with, ‘What a beautiful family,’ What well-mannered children you have,’ or ’What a happy bunch!’
The most important thing to remember when you encounter adoptive parents is that is that adoption, just like 9 months of morning sickness, 36 hours of labor, a grueling delivery, and 6 weeks of postpartum recovery, is hard. Most adoptive parents do NOT adopt because it’s fun, or because it’s cool, or popular, or easy. Many adopt because they desire to have children and are unable to conceive. Others adopt in order to rescue children from the unspeakable conditions they live in. Personally speaking, my husband and I adopt because God told us to. We lay our hearts on the line and allow our home to become a battle field, at times, with wounded children acting out the loss and pain they have experienced, because He told us to. We love because He first loved us.