What NOT to Say to People with Adopted Children

Filters make life better for everyone. Particularly when they’re applied to your thoughts.

Just think about all of the outrageous things you almost said. The jokes that seemed funny in your mind. The questions you thought were appropriate. The ideas that didn’t seem so stupid at first. Gratefully, that invisible filter in your brain prevented these outlandish things from actually making it to your lips.

But, have you ever noticed how many people don’t seem to have any filter at all?

My wife and I discovered this uncomfortable epidemic after having a bunch of kids. I shared some of the hilarious and outrageous questions we’ve been asked in a recent post on the subject. And it was a blast laughing along with others who shared similar experiences in the comment stream. However, in the midst of this, I discovered that there’s another type of family that has it worse than we do. Who is it?

Families that adopt children.

Even though my wife and I haven’t adopted any kids (yet), I’ll gladly dive head-first into this one. Consider my list below a public service announcement on behalf of those who adopt. Oh, and special thanks to Pastor Jason and Sue Kreider, and blogger Jeni Flaa for their contributions to this list of things not to say to those with adopted children:  

  • “Can’t you have your own babies?” Yes, you read that correctly. Not only is this question hurtful and offensive, it’s just plain weird. I mean, do you really want to know about another person’s ability to conceive? You know, all the intimate details about sperm, eggs, and a uterus. I didn’t think so. 
  • “Everyone I know who adopted, got pregnant.” The last time I checked, there’s only one way to get pregnant. You’ll also be hard pressed to find anyone who chose adoption as a fertility strategy. Of course, God has worked some amazing miracles for couples who were previously unable to have kids. But let’s not forget that adoption is an intentional choice. For some, it’s a calling. Reducing adoption to a superstitious child bearing strategy devalues kids, and the families that adopt them. 
  • “Are they your real kids?” Nope. The real kids are locked in the basement. But don’t worry. I see what you’re doing here. You’re trying to ask whether the kids you’re looking at are biologically related to the parents. Fair enough. Just remember that in adoptive families, kids aren’t divided into “real” and “adopted” categories. They’re all just “my kids”. 
  • “His birth mom must have been on drugs or really young.” Sadly, our culture has created a strange caricature of parents who make an adoption plan for their child. Sure, some choose adoption due to addictions or young age. But not everyone. Many people make mature decisions for the future of their children. Bottom line – any assumptions about motives will be hurtful. Don’t forget that in open adoptions, kids have a relationship with their birth parents. So your premature conclusion about their parents would be offensive at best. 
  • “Where did you get him? How much did he cost?” Walmart had this great deal on kids. Really cheap. Want one? Anyway, you’ve clearly got some legitimate questions about adoption, and this child. First, I’d suggest consulting this resource for some better vocabulary choices. Then, take some time to consider personal boundaries. It’s typically considered abnormal to ask complete strangers about their personal finances or ethnic background.  
  • “Are the birth parents going to try to get them back?” Again, this question firmly fits into the “off limits” category for strangers and casual acquaintances. But, it represents a legitimate fear for those who don’t know much about adoption. The media loves to share heart wrenching stories about birth parents returning to demand custody of their kids. While these situations are tragic, they’re actually quite rare. When it happens, the agency and/or lawyers that made the adoption happen didn’t do their jobs correctly. That’s why it’s so important for those seriously considering adoption to know adoption law. And spend time investigating agencies and attorneys.  
  • “Did you cheat on your husband?” Yes, a real human being actually asked this question. Out loud. To a complete stranger. Why? Because the race of the child didn’t visibly match the race of the parent. There’s really nothing else that can be said here. Just let all of the awful ignorance soak in, and move on to the next point. 
  • “Are you raising them white?” Even though my wife and I haven’t adopted any kids, adoption is closely connected to our family story. My mom was adopted. At that time, interracial adoption was virtually unheard of. Today, we’ve gratefully reached a point where interracial adoption is both acceptable and commonplace. However, this bluntly stated question is jarring to some. Confusing to others. Ultimately, the intent is to determine whether a child’s ethnic and cultural background will be honored. The good news is that many families who adopt are sensitive to this issue, and take time to instill a proper sense of ethnic identity. But, we’d all benefit from some more sophisticated and sensitive language when asking this particular question. 
  • “How will she learn to speak English?” Wow. There’s so many layers of ignorance here. Keep in mind that someone said this to a white couple with a Korean infant. Sadly, it appears that some people think language is assigned genetically by race. And that adopted babies acquire language differently than biological babies. Wow. 

Sometimes, the best thing we can do is laugh about questions like these. At the same time, it’s blatantly clear that our society has a warped view of adoption. It’s my prayer that posts like this will creatively raise awareness, and motivate Christians to take orphan care more seriously. When that happens, more kids will get the love and support they deserve. And the rest of us will be spared from hearing these weird questions.

photo credit: Phae via photopin cc

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