“Words: So innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them.” Nathaniel Hawthorne
From a very young age, we are told, “use your words.” Because, as children, we haven’t developed filters yet, the words that ensue are sure to be honest and say exactly what is needed or felt. As adults, using our words comes with a different weight. We understand which ones to use, and have experienced the hurt and pain they can inflict.
When it comes to adoption, finding the right words can be challenging. Speaking to adoptive parents is one of these tricky areas. Each and every adoptive parent has had a unique journey, and it’s impossible to know how questions or certain words will affect them.
However, there are some obvious phrases and words that should never be said to adoptive parents, even if the best intentions are meant.
“Aren’t you able to have children of your own?”
Other phrasing of this question could be along the lines of: “Don’t you want a baby?” and “So…will you have children of your own?” There are two big mistakes with this question.
The first mistake question surrounds the word, “own.” It comes across as an insult, because it implies the adopted child doesn’t belong with their family. Additionally, it makes the adoptive parent think they are inadequate or unqualified to be a parent, which instantly provokes anger, irritation or defensiveness. The adopted child is one of their own. The only difference is that they are not biological, but even that doesn’t change that the child belongs to them. That they are a part of the family.
The second mistake is the implication that the adoptive parents aren’t able to conceive children biologically. This breeds a whole other kind of pain, and is not unlike adding salt to a wound. Unless you know the adoptive parents specifically, you have no idea what their history is. What they’ve tried and experienced. Choosing to adopt is a very personal process, and oftentimes stems from loss and grief.
Due to the pain and negativity embedded in this question, this is something never to say to an adoptive parent.
“What happened to his/her real parents?”
Immediately, this begs the response, “Soo…adoptive parents are fake?” or “What am I? Chopped liver?” It is another example of insult and inconsideration to its audience. Adoptive parents are the adoptee’s real parents.
Similar to above, the big mistake here is with the word, “real.” Its implication is two-fold. One, it suggests that the only type of children that belong in the family are blood-related, inadvertently labeling the adopted child as temporary, fake, or less than biological. Two, it can make the adoptive parents feel like some sort of second-class citizen and doubt their parenting abilities. Something adoptive parents inwardly struggle with anyway.
Another level to this question is the personal nature. Do you know the adoptive parents? Are you aware of their reasons for adopting? What’s more, why are you even asking this question? What is your reasoning and motivation behind it?
Both heterosexual and LGBT adoptive parents get this question. It has the same impact. Never say it to an adoptive parent. Period.
“How much did he/she cost?”
Money is always a taboo subject. Asking the adoptive parent the cost of their child is akin to asking them how much they spend on bills or what the price of their dinner cost at a restaurant. It’s entirely inappropriate and rude. Also, it’s extremely personal.
Unless you are genuinely interested in adoption yourself and inquiring in that regard — in which case, your wording would need to be drastically changed — this should never be said or asked of an adoptive parent.
“Do your other children treat him/her like their sibling?”
Again, the wording here implies separation between the adopted child and their siblings. Whether all the children in the household are adopted, or only one is and the rest are biological, they are still family. Why wouldn’t they treat each other like brothers and sisters?
Yes, some families experience an adjustment period depending on their individual circumstances, but that doesn’t alter anything. Once the child has been adopted, it belongs in that family. It’s rude to assume otherwise. So, be sensitive and never say this to an adoptive parent.
“Does he/she know they are adopted?”
This is another personal question. Each and every adoptive parent has their own plan or idea in mind for when to share their child’s adoption story with them. However, that isn’t information that should be public, as it’s individual to them. Voicing this could put the adoptive parent is a very awkward situation — especially if they don’t know you. It doesn’t matter if the adoptee knows they are adopted or not. Frankly, it’s doesn’t concern you. Therefore, it’s none of your business.
There is no good reason to ask this of an adoptive parent.
“That’s sweet. We adopted our dog, too.”
Wow…good for you!
Ok, super awkward. Is there a response to this that doesn’t include sarcasm? Children and dogs are not the same thing. It’s just that simple. Adopting a child is not like rescuing a dog, and there is no comparison between the two. Granted, the term “adopted” does coincide with the bringing of pets home; however, again, children and dogs are separate species. It’s demeaning to relate them to each other.
Definitely not an appropriate thing to say to an adoptive parent.
This is a non-exhaustive list of things never to say to an adoptive parent. There are many more examples. However, the lesson to be learned here is in the wording. To be aware of what you’re saying and how it will come across. Again, every adoption journey is individual. Even so, try and be as tactful as you can when voicing questions or comments. If you aren’t sure how it will comes across, try communicating that first or don’t voice it.
Here’s a good trick to try if you find yourself in this situation. Put yourself in the adoptive parents’ shoes. In your mind, say what you would like to ask or remark. How does it sound? How does it affect you? How would you react if someone said it to you? This is an amazing tool to use, and will help you determine if it’s something you should or shouldn’t say.
“8 Things Not To Say To Adoptive Parents.” Scary Mommy, 14 Jan. 2018, www.scarymommy.com/what-not-to-say-to-adoptive-parents/.
Colaco, Maria. “11 Things Never to Say to an Adoptive Parent.” HuffPost, HuffPost, 13 Nov. 2014, www.huffpost.com/entry/11-things-never-to-say-to-an-adoptive-parent_b_6134422.
“Top Ten Things NOT to Say to an Adoptive Parent.” ChicagoNow Is Full of Win, www.chicagonow.com/portrait-of-an-adoption/2011/09/top-ten-things-not-to-say-to-an-adoptive-parent/.
“What Not to Say to Adoptive Parents.” U.S. News & World Report, U.S. News & World Report, health.usnews.com/wellness/articles/2016-05-02/what-not-to-say-to-adoptive-parents.