10 Things You Shouldn’t Say to an Adoptive Parent (Especially in front of their children!)

Please know that this comes from the heart of an adoptive mama: We are rarely truly offended by the things well-meaning strangers say, because, well, we know they have good intentions. For the most part anyway. 🙂 I have held my daughters close as they have cried and hurt over people’s words, though. They aren’t objects to be discussed in a flippant way–they are precious treasures. The real pain every adopted child faces is difficult enough without having it thrown in their faces thoughtlessly everywhere they go. Here are 10 Things You Should Never Say to an Adoptive Parent:10 Things You Shouldn't Say to an Adoptive Parent

  1. Why didn’t you adopt from America? There’s so many children right here that need families. Questioning our preferred path to building a family is a private matter, and one that makes our children feel like they weren’t worthy of being adopted. Families adopt for a variety of reasons and from a variety of sources and the very simple answer is this: We adopted from XYZ because that’s where our child was. 
  2. Which ones are YOURS? Um, all of our children are OURS. Some may be biological and some may be adopted, but we prefer not to constantly distinguish betweeen which children actually BELONG to us, and which ones don’t. Cause they ALL do. 
  3. Do they know their REAL mom? Well, I feel pretty real today, thank you. 🙂 And discussing adopted children’s birth situations is another very private matter. If you really must know the answer to this one, never ask in front of the children. Which leads to the next thing you shouldn’t say:
  4. Are they sisters? (or brothers?) We know what you’re trying to say, which is–Are they biologically related? But our children stand out enough without strangers constantly asking if they are siblings. Because they ARE now (even if not biologically).
  5. Children’s character is formed before the age of five, so I would never adopt an older child. This implies my older child’s success is hopeless, something I refuse to accept. God is still in the miracle business. Aren’t you glad even adults have opportunity to change?
  6. My child does that, too. Families get this often, in response to their admission of the immense struggles regarding food, sleep, attachment, and emotional concerns that trauma children face. NO, your healthy, loved-from-the-moment-of-conception, well-attached tantrum-throwing 3 year old is NOT the same as a trauma kiddo with meltdowns. (And I can say this because I’ve parented both sides and it is positively different all around.)
  7. Do they have special needs? Again, this one is too private to be openly discussed, especially in earshot of the child. If you wouldn’t ask it of a biological child, you shouldn’t ask it of an adopted one, either. Yes, many adopted children face enormous needs, but they are private unless willingly shared.
  8. Are you done with all that bonding stuff? I was asked this the first time when our new daughter had only been home 4 weeks. Five years later, we’re still working on bonding and attachment. It’s never a quick process and I doubt we’ll ever be “done”. Questioning the lengths new families go through to cocoon and connect with their new children is never helpful. 
  9. How much did they cost? No, no, no, on so many levels. This one is off limits. We’ve even heard, “Wow, I bet you had to rob a bank to afford that child.” The truth is, our children are priceless. They didn’t cost a single cent–their adoption did, though! Discussing the cost of adoption in front of an adopted child makes them feel as if they “owe” the family something. Nothing could be further from the truth! If you’re truly considering adoption and want to learn the details of the process, ask those questions out of earshot of the children. 
  10. They’re SO lucky! People mean well with this one, but adopted children aren’t lucky. They were robbed of a secure upbringing with their biological parents, then spent time in foster placements or orphanages before they left all they had ever known and, without any say in the decision, joined a new family. They DESERVE to be adored, protected, loved, nurtured, and even a bit spoiled :), and that doesn’t make them one bit LUCKY. It just makes them human. 

 

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5 thoughts on “10 Things You Shouldn’t Say to an Adoptive Parent (Especially in front of their children!)

  1. This is a great article. I do have an issue with #6 ,. Having had kids with special needs, I have three times tried to share with someone whose child happens to be adopted what helped with my special needs child, just in case it could be helpful to them. I have twice been met w/ an angry response of I have no idea what they are going through and there is no way any advice from a nonadoptive parent could ever help them. I was not judging and made clear I knew the same thing didn’t work for every child (adopted or not). I did venture it again and the adoptive mom was very thankful and couldn’t understand the response of the others. You know, those of us who have not been privileged to adopt, were just as shocked or more so than those who knowingly added a child with special needs and some of the experiences we have had may help them–or vice versa. Having 2 daughters who work with special needs orphans, I’m not blind to the challenges. But I don’t think it’s and exclusive club that parents with nonadopted special needs children can never have anything that might be helpful to a parent who had adopted–and the reverse. And while there are complex issues for adoptive parents of average functioning children, there are some complex circumstances for nonadopted children as well. We are only harming ourselves by isolating ourselves. Grace, kindness, openness to learn and to teach, and expecting the best of others. And there are only a few children, adopted or not, that benefit from hearing these conversations. I wish the best to you and your precious family.

    1. Hi Monique! Thanks for reading and sharing your perspective. I love hearing other people’s opinions!
      I definitely agree that there’s no special adoption “club”. We’re all just parents trying to do our very best!
      Selina

  2. Thank you for sharing this! We still hear these questions a lot. I’ll add 2 more: “Did you get to pick the pretty ones?” and to our daughter adopted at 14 months, “Does she speak Chinese?” But my least favorite comment so far was directed to my husband, “I’d be looking at the mail man if I were you!”

  3. As a young person, I’d have no idea most of these were offensive. Most of these seem like overreactions to others who are just trying to make conversation. That’s just my opinion

    1. I agree–people have good intentions most of the time, and are making conversation. I wouldn’t say all of these are offensive, either. When children are hurt by people asking very personal questions about “their” stories, though, caution would be a good thing. 🙂
      Thanks for reading! Welcome!
      Selina

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