I wrote this post several months ago and finally decided to pull it out for National Adoption Month. I've come to find that some things are just offensive and I'm not sure there's an appropriate way to say or ask them. But, I still want to publish this in belief that most people mean well. I hope this disarms some of us who have built up walls. Adoptive families, I'm looking at you here. I know how these questions sting. Really, I do. And I hope this will teach others that there are right ways to ask a question and just some questions you should never ask at all. May our words impart grace and truth and love.
When shopping at IKEA the other day, I noticed a family that looked a lot like ours. White parents, two white children, and the most precious little black boy. And I stared, I watched. Not because it’s weird or I think it’s wrong, I obviously don’t think those things. I watched because I would’ve loved to know their story, I would’ve loved to tell them how I know the looks feel, I would’ve loved to know their sweet boy’s name.
That experience, plus a “Ten Things You Should Never Say To An Adoptive Parent” blog post floating around my Facebook newsfeed, got me thinking. As adoptive parents we hear and experience a lot of insensitive things. I get it. I’ve winced and cringed a few thousand times at things people have said to me. People stare and ask awkward questions, and you begin to feel like you stick out like a sore thumb…and honestly, sometimes you do.
Adoption makes you curious to people; but, I’m a firm believer that a good 90% of those people mean well. Maybe people watch, and stare, and ask awkward questions because they don’t know what else to do or say. They don’t know the correct verbiage or terminology, and honestly, I didn’t always either. Maybe they’re curious about adoption or maybe they’re adopted themselves. And here’s what I think is important to note – curiousity isn’t wrong. I’m tired of knocking down every well intentioned person. I’m tired of scaring every person on the internet from asking questions about adoption, from showing curiosity and interest in our life.
So, in the spirit of that, I thought I’d take what was originally a Facebook status soapbox rant, and turn it into a blog post. I want to take off the boxing gloves and answer your questions and take a few moments to educate you. Below, you’ll find some “appropriate” terminology. I am by no means an expert. There may be better ways to ask or say things than what I share below, but these are the things I often suggest people use, the words and questions you could politely ask and I’d gladly answer. Every adoptive parent has “their thing” they hate hearing or being told, below are a compilation of things I often hear mentioned.
I do believe that I would be remissed if I didn’t mention that some of these things should be asked of adoptive parents in a private manner, especially if the child(ren) are older. Also, some of these things shouldn't be asked if you don't have a relationship with the adoptive parent. Respect people and their privacy. There is always a time and a place to ask things.
1) “Do you know his/her ‘real mom?’”
We hear this one A LOT. And honestly, this one is my “thing,” my pet peeve…but, I know what people mean by it. First, by all explanations, I am Titus’ "real mom." There are many things that could prove that, including a birth certificate with my name on it. This well intentioned question can be very offensive to people that have fought long, difficult battles to bring home their children, and very much make people feel like they still aren't really a parent. The correct terminology to use here is “birth mom” or “first mom.” This would be one of those questions that could be inappropriate to ask around an older child. If you were to ask me this now, in front of Titus, I’d simply reply “Yes, we have met her.” But, don't expect details on a story that isn't privy to you.
2) “Do you know his/her ‘real dad?’”
Essentially the same question as above, correct terminology is “birth father” or “first father.”
3) “Why did his/her mom give him/her up for adoption?”
Another well intentioned question that you probably shouldn’t expect a detailed answer on. Terminology wise, it is much more appropriate to ask why a birth mom “chose” or “placed” her child for adoption. The terminology “give him up” or “gave him up” has a sort of negative connotation, a feeling of the child being an object that they just didn’t want. Adoption is a heart breaking situation for all sides, especially the birth parents.
4) “Where did you get him/her from?”
Again, this question makes the child sound like an object. Mostly I think people who are asking this question are asking if they were born in the United States or in another country. Please just ask where they were born. I would say most parents would have no issue answering this question.
5) "How much did he/she cost?"
Children should never be referred to something that has a monetary value. They are a life, there is no price to put on that. However, depending on how well you know someone, you could ask how much the adoption process costs. The process is the expense, NOT the child. Don't expect all people to be comfortable answering this question. If you're unsure of the comfort level, it's always safe to start with -- "Was the process really expensive?" or a similar question.
6) "Why didn't you want to have one of your own?"
Titus is just as much "my own" as my biological children Gunner and Pacey are. He is one of us forever. All in all, this is an invasive question. How I add children to our family isn't really your business; and for some, adoption has occurred because of difficulties getting pregnant. It's also an offensive question to the child. It gets under my skin when I hear people say -- "I want to have a few of 'my own' before adopting." I know many people mean nothing by it, but if you cannot see an adopted child as "your own", adoption might not be for you.
7) "Are any of your kids 'real' siblings?"
Yes. 100% real siblings, just like I am my child's real mom. Adopted children don't need to be told by strangers (even those who might just be curious and well meaning) that they're less "real" because they aren't biologically related. If you want to know if they're biological siblings, there's a proper way and time to ask that.
8) "Why didn't you adopt from 'here?' There are so many of 'our own' that need families."
This one does tend to perturb me. Mostly because this indignant question often comes from people who do little to nothing to care for the orphan on their own. Make sure you know a family well before asking why they chose a certain type of adoption and don't even make any child seem less than because where they were born. That wasn't their choice, but bringing them into our family was ours.
9) "Why didn't you adopt overseas? Those kids really need help."
Again a questioning comment that often comes from people who aren't doing much on their own in terms of orphan care (remember, it's a Biblical mandate, y'all!) Again, this is a family's private choice. You should know someone well before exploring this question and never make their child seem less than because of where they were born.
10) "Aren't you afraid his 'real mom' will come back for him? I heard this story..."
Look. Adoption can be scary and nerve wracking without some stranger's story about some person's cousin's sister they knew. You can rest assured that any family who is going through the adoption process is well aware of the risks involved. You look that sweet momma in the eye and tell them that they're brave and you're proud...because those words are true and impart life and love and confidence...something we all need.
I'd love to hear from you in the comments. Anything I missed? Any stories you'd like to share? Let's chat! I'd love for you to share my post too. The point is to gracefully educate others, so I hope you'll do just that.