Adoptive families deal with a wealth of unusual comments and questions. Many people don’t know much about adoption and are simply curious. They ask questions or make comments, just wanting to learn more. Instead, they often come off, at best, intrusive, and at worst, downright offensive. Well-intentioned remarks or inquiries end up being really upsetting, especially as kids get older and are left with new questions of their own. The following list of things not to say to adoptive parents is intended to help family and friends think twice while talking to their loved ones about adoption.
How much did your child cost?
I think it goes without saying that this is an incredibly inappropriate question and rightly deserves to be at the top of a things not to say to adoptive parents list. It’s so inappropriate that it’s hard to believe people will ask it. But they do. Most shockingly, this question often seems to come from complete strangers in public settings, such as the grocery store or library. It’s beyond me why anyone would say something so personal in such an environment. I’m also not sure why people feel like adoption warrants such questions. No one thinks it’s appropriate to ask a woman who just gave birth how much she spent on ultrasounds, tests, the hospital stay, etc. So why would it be okay to ask adoptive parents about their expenses?
It’s also important to emphasize that adoption costs a lot. Most of the time, people don’t ask how much adoption costs, they ask how much the child costs, adding further offense to the question. If you’re truly curious about how much adoption costs and why it’s so expensive, this information is readily available online. If you’re thinking adoption and want to have a real discussion about this topic, I’m happy to have talk about it in more detail. But not in a public forum.
Your child is so lucky.
People look at adoptive parents who have been waiting years to have a child and now have an adorable baby in their lives. All they see is the good fortune of this family and how blessed the parents are to be raising this beautiful child. On the one hand, yes, of course, this child is lucky. We’re all lucky to be given the gift of life on this Earth, this child included.
However, on the other hand, the reality of adoption is that the process is inherently stressful on a child. Even under the best of circumstances, it’s not an ideal situation. Ever. Babies don’t deserve to start their lives that way.
I also get hung up on the notion of “lucky” because adoption is a double-edged sword. I discuss this topic more here. Lucky is a funny term anyway when you’ve spent years of your life and thousands of dollars trying to grow your family. Beyond that, there’s nothing lucky about it for birth families. Making the decision to put up a child for adoption is one of the toughest things they’ll ever do.
Your child does/doesn’t look like you.
For adoptive parents whose kids really don’t look like them, particularly kids of a different race, this topic is never ending and frankly, just awful to deal with on a regular basis. I’m not sure why anyone thinks it’s helpful to comment on the fact that your kids don’t look like you. Like both the parents and kids don’t know that already?
On the flip side, while you don’t deal with as many ongoing questions about your children looking or not looking like you when you’re the same race, people still make weird comments. Am I supposed to feel validated in some way because someone told me that my son looks like me, even when you know he’s adopted? Would the adoption be less real or meaningful in some way if we didn’t look alike? Also, I don’t want to play the “who does my child look like more” game. It doesn’t help me feel validated either.
Why was your child given up for adoption?
A child’s adoption story is his/her own story and absolutely no one else’s business. In time, a child will learn his/her adoption story and decide if/how he/she will share it with anyone. It’s not my place to discuss this information, even with close friends and family members. I don’t mind sharing some basic facts. I also don’t mind sharing more recent information about Tommy’s birth family, such as when we last saw them and what they’ve been up to lately. But the adoption story itself isn’t something to share with most people.
How are you going to tell your child he/she was adopted?
Our adoption agency advises families that adoption should always be something that you discuss with your children. A child shouldn’t ever remember the moment that he/she found out he/she’s adopted. The child should always know this information. We completely agree with this approach, and as such, it’s what we’re using with our child. So I tell people that. While a little nosy, this is not a terrible question. When people actually want to have a bit of a discussion (as opposed to just saying the first thing that came to their mind), I’m happy to talk about it in more detail.
Don’t you worry about your child dealing with [fill in the blank]?
The short answer is yes. But I don’t worry about it on a daily, or even weekly, basis. Adoption comes with a lot of baggage and unknown questions. However, so does life. You’ll be hard-pressed to find any parent, biological or adoptive, who doesn’t worry about many aspects of raising children. Even with a fantastic network of adoptive parents and a wealth of resources, it’s impossible to predict the future. I don’t spend hours and hours worrying about every potentially difficult future scenario. No one has the energy for that. You cross those bridges when you come to them.
Why did you adopt a child from another country when there are so many children in the United States who need homes?
Seriously? This is another question that is just so awkward for adoptive parents to have to answer in front of their children. There are many reasons that people choose to adopt within the United States and many reasons that people choose to adopt internationally. There is no right or wrong answer for choosing one adoption route over another. It’s a personal choice everyone has to make when pursuing adoption.
You’re so lucky that you didn’t have to go through [any number of common pregnancy symptoms].
Not everyone pursues adoption due to infertility. Many couples have always wanted to adopt, regardless of their own ability to conceive. However, many couples do pursue adoption due to infertility. With a couple of exceptions, everyone I know personally who has a child through domestic infant adoption has experienced infertility. While no one wishes for horrible pregnancy symptoms, anyone who has faced infertility would do a lot to be pregnant.
It’s also not fair to play the “my situation is worse than your situation” game. Rough pregnancies and adoption waits aren’t ideal by any stretch of the imagination. Having a horrible pregnancy is miserable and at times, really scary, often for days, weeks, or even months on end. When you’ve had a rough pregnancy, getting pregnant again is stressful right from the start. Adoption is a drawn out process with a lot of emotional baggage and for many couples, financial stress. It takes most couples years to adopt just one child, with uncertainty about the timeline through much of the process. Do you really want to go up against someone about which situation is tougher?
We’ve always thought about adopting.
Personally, this is one of my biggest pet peeves as an adoptive parent. Lots of people say, “oh, we thought about adopting, but we didn’t” or “we may adopt at some point in the future.” Okay? Somehow your intentions to adopt are relevant to my actual adoption? By telling me you’ve always thought about adoption, you’re somehow above all those people who have never considered it? It’s like telling a concert pianist that you’ve always thought about taking piano lessons but never did. While not wildly inappropriate, it’s pretty random. Again, when people are serious about adoption, especially when they’re facing infertility, I’m always happy to have a real discussion about it. The vast majority of the time, this is not the case.
Now that you’ve adopted, you’re sure to get pregnant.
There are absolutely no statistics to support that adopting increases your odds of getting pregnant. I know that people love that sort of story, but it’s extremely rare. It’s also disrespectful to imply that adopting is some sort of motive to get pregnant. Nothing could be further from the truth. Unfortunately, TV and movies do nothing to dissuade this myth (I’m looking at you, Sex in the City). I really like this perspective on “now that you’ve adopted, you’re sure to get pregnant” from Creating a Family.
When you’ve adopted after years of infertility, most likely you’ve reached a place where you’ve found some peace with your situation. While it would be amazing to get pregnant spontaneously at this point in my life, it’s not something I can allow myself to think about as a serious notion. Talking to me about getting pregnant brings all those feelings right to the surface again, which isn’t healthy.
And a bonus #11…
Oh, my cousin’s son’s kid/neighbor’s best friend’s aunt, etc. adopted a baby from China 20 years ago.
I can’t believe that this remark ended up at #11 on this list because it’s another one of my biggest pet peeves as an adopted parent. So many people have some vague connection to adopt. That’s great. It’s not really relevant. Unless you were adopted or you have a parent, spouse, or child (or another extremely close family member) who was adopted, most likely adoptive parents don’t want to talk to you about your vague adoption connection.
Sadly, this list is by no means exhaustive.
What else would you add to things not to say to adoptive parents?
More adoption resources:
10 Things No One Tells You About Adoption
Building a Birth Family Relationship
What to Include in Monthly Updates for Birth Families