Sunday, March 13, 2011

Things Not to Say to an Adoptive Family

Although our daughters are not home with us yet, I have been trying to prepare myself for the inevitable from the general public. Most people are well meaning and are simply curious, but there will inevitably be those who will be rude, nosy, or just down right nasty about our family. Knowing me I will bite my tongue and slink walk away. I don't think that's always the right choice though. Sometimes people are just genuinely interested, but simply lack tact -- and those that are just downright rude, should be gently taught that they are being rude.

The answers to an individual's questions/comments are going to be framed using five basic points about adoption:

1} Adoption is permanent.
2} Adoption is a legal change, involving the court systems.
3} Adoption is another good way to grow a family.
4} Some aspects of adoption are private.
5} Most adopted children grow up to be just fine.

So based on the above criteria here are some things you should never ask of, or say to an adoptive family, and the responses you may or may not get from that family (depending on the family, and Mama or Papa bear's mood at the time ;o)).

Are those your real children?

By using the word real you are saying that families formed by adoption are not real. All children are real -- whether biological or adopted -- and each one of them is loved and cherished equally by their adoptive parents. We have seven children, not four of our own and three adopted ones. God has blessed us with seven children, period.

What happened to his/her real parents?

First of all, this question falls into the same category as the "real children" question. Of course the adopted parents are the child's real parents. The child's birth parents are also their real parents. As to what happened to our child's birth parents that is their story not ours or the curious inquirer's.

What kind of person would give up such a beautiful sweet child?

In general, the kind of person whose options are very limited in ways you can never even begin to imagine. Birthmothers are not bad or immoral people. Very few, if any birthmothers who make an adoption plan for their children do so lightly. For most it is an extremely painful and heartbreaking decision that will haunt them forever. When you say things about a child's birthmother, you are commenting about the woman who gave him or her life and whose genes remain an inseparable part of him/her -- forever!

How much did he/she cost?

Our girls cost us nothing. We have already heard this one a couple of times. Our girls are not some thing that we picked up at the store.  We do however, have adoption fees that support the adoption process -- paper work, travel fees, their medicals, visas, etc. If you would like to learn more about the financial aspect of adopting, fire us an email and we'll be happy to discuss it with you. If you only want to know so that you can pass judgment on our decision, you can spend some time looking up adoption fees on the internet. Be prepared to be surprised.

Do you know anything about his/her background?

Again this is one that adoptive parents will generally not share with you. Adopted children come from a large variety of backgrounds. Some will have extensive histories, most will not. Much of it is no one's business, but their own. In the case of our daughters, much of their history has not even been shared with their siblings. If there is a reason we need to share it and our daughters are comfortable with it we will, but then and only then!

Will you tell your daughters that they are adopted?

Bahaha! I think it's a little obvious.

It's just like having one of your own isn't it?

If you say this, you have never adopted. When you adopt, you will be facing many many questions for many years to come. First there are all the questions you face when beginning the process. These questions affect every facet of your life and can even make you begin to question yourself. Then there are the questions when you bring your little ones home. You are committing to a lifetime of heart wrenching questions from your child. Many times you won't even be able to answer them. How do you tell them what they were like as a baby? When they walked? When they cut their first tooth?

It hurts my Momma heart every day knowing that our three little girls have/had a mom somewhere who grieves/ed every day for the rest of her life for the precious daughters she could not raise.

Why is the wait so long when there are so many children out there?

In a nutshell, the answer is paperwork. You do lots and lots of paperwork, and it all takes time. The amount of paperwork involved in adoption is incredible. When completed, our paperwork was held in a 2.5 inch binder that was exploding out the front and back. Here is an example of wait times: We needed to be fingerprinted. At first we went to our local OPP office where it is done by hand. Processing of fingerprinting this way could take up to three months. Upon going online to find the RCMP mailing address, we discovered we could also do them electronically and would have them back in 72 hrs. We went to have them done electronically the following week. In the end we paid for both the non-electronic and the electronic, so in essence, we paid twice for a service we only needed once (adoption fees), but the variance in wait times to receive the documents back was worth the additional expense.

Why did you choose international adoption when there are so many children in our own country in need of homes?

The international and domestic adoption systems differ in very fundamental ways. As we began to educate ourselves on adoption, we felt that international adoption was the most sensible route for our family.

Do not automatically assume our child is of a particular race.

International adoption always has its trending areas to adopt from. For example, almost everyone knows of someone who knows someone who has adopted a little girl from China. I asked my friend Wendy (you can check out her blog at Born in Our Hearts) about this particular statement. She has two beautiful and talented daughters. Becky is from the Philippines and Lily is from Thailand. Wendy told me it was especially common when her girls were younger -- and yes, everyone always thought her daughters were from China. Our daughters will have Asian features, but they are not Chinese.

Will your biological children and your adopted children be real sisters?

Yes, they will. In all the ways that are important.

He/She's so lucky that you chose him/her!

If there are adoptive parents who haven't heard this one, I'd be surprised. Yes, our adopted daughters are lucky (we prefer to use the word blessed) -- just like their siblings that were born to us. And like any child blessed with a good family. More so, we as a family are blessed to have our girls as daughters and sisters in our family. Our daughters are not lucky by virtue of having been adopted -- or adopted by us in Canada. Their story will always be one that begins with heartbreaking loss. A loss of family, country, language, and culture. Everything from where they came from is gone. We as their parents will do our best to incorporate all of this into who our daughters are at some point, but no matter how much we love them it will not replace their past.

Finally, adopted children are not chosen. This may be considered a compliment, but it puts an unreasonable burden on the child. Adopted children who think they were chosen think they need to be perfect to be worthy. So. not. true. It's the adoptive parents that were chosen over other applicants.

If you do put your foot in your mouth, don't worry. The adoptive parent will probably not get angry with you, especially if the child is present. Why? It gives the message to the child that there is something wrong in asking about adoption and that the adoptive parent is annoyed that their child is adopted. Adoptive parents do not want to sound defensive, curt, or angry as it sets a bad example for their child. Their child too needs to learn how to answer these questions, and what better place to learn than from Mom or Dad.

To give credit where credit is due, these questions/comments were compiled from several different online resources. If you would like to check them out for yourself to see what they have to say, you can find them at:


Hopefully, you were able to get through this very long post :o). As always, if you have any questions, feel free to send me an email and I will do my best to answer it.



  1. Thanks for putting these up, I think I am very sensitive and empathetic to adoption but i am sure i have put my foot in my mouth on a few of these things. I was adopted by my father, and to this day people still say weird things. Like "oh so she is your half sister, not your real sister." That one really bugs my sis and I. Also mostly family, like aunts or cousins of my parents, would say the cruelest things. Close friends and family usually were the best at showing me I was just like the rest of the crazies in my family :OP

  2. Very well said! Thank you for the reminder of how to be polite. I read somewhere that the way to be mannerly and polite is to do all in your power to make the other person comfortable. If we all could remember that one definition, we would never ask some of these questions.

    Which is leading me down the rabbit trail of curiosity. I suppose that curiosity is an appetite just like other things and by times, we need to squelch our curiosity and just let the mystery in God's hands.

    We don't need to know the details of other's lives.

  3. This was really helpful--thanks for writing it! I'm sure I've said the wrong thing on occasion without meaning to.

    I was adopted, and I've always hated to be asked if I know anyting about my "real" (biological) mom.

    One of my favorite comebacks when someone asks if a child is your "real" child: "Yes, she's real. She's just not homemade." ;-)

  4. Bless you, dear Deborah. You are so wise, so true, so real.

  5. Those are GREAT explanations, Deborah. Some of us are too curious for our own good and try not to stick our feet in our mouths (blurting).

    If I have, in any way, please forgive. I'm 100% in your court!


  6. No worries, Julie, I wasn't referring to any of my blogging friends or anyone in particular at all at this point!


  7. Good post my friend.

  8. You totally hit the nail on the head with this post! We have gotten pretty much each one of those questions and I often find it hard to come up with a good answer on the spot. Thanks for the help with that!!!!

  9. A truly helpful post. When I started out reading, I assumed *I* would never say anything insensitive, but as I went down the list, I could see myself asking some of those questions. This was an education--thanks!


  10. Great post...of course I've been faced with these questions (but only when ppl find out our son is adopted...he looks too much like my hubby for anyone to question it).

    My only thing is that I do not have issues with telling my son's story. I've heard other ppl say we shouldn't share their stories, but I don't think there is any shame in their history. Maybe I haven't reflected on it enough and maybe I shouldn't share it when ppl ask...something for me to think about, I guess.

    Thanx for posting!

    Jess :-)

  11. Deborah! This is awesome! Can I copy your link and repost?

  12. I think this is a really beautifully written post with great answers and thoughts. I really appreciated it. Having a nephew born in Ethiopia, its helpful to hear some of your recommendations. I'm so excited for your blessings to come home!

  13. Hi Jess. I like your thoughts on why you do tell people your son's story because you're right, there isn't any shame in their history. Hmmm, food for thought for me too. Thank you!

    Agnes, I have no problem with copying and reposting. Feel free :o)!


  14. Thinking through your answers to these questions in advance is quite wise. This will give you something to fall back on when people do ask questions. Then you won't have to slink, er, walk away. Well done! :D


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