What not to say to adoptive families

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November is National Adoption Month. You may see stuff in your Facebook feed about being “chosen” and “born in my heart, not under it.” Those are wonderful sentiments. This isn’t an article about wonderful sentiments, so hold on, okay?

What not to say to adoptive families

My sons did not enter this world via my vajayjay. If you see me at the store with two almond-eyed, sticky-fingered boys trailing behind me whining for Fruity Pebbles, you may assume I’m married to some hot Asian guy or that I’m the nanny. Who am I kidding? I am waaay too old to be the nanny. But seriously, we get loads of questions about adoption and being a multiracial family from total strangers.

Sometimes these questions are annoying or straight-up rude. My reaction is determined by a complicated equation factoring in current caffeine level multiplied by number of dumbass drivers I’ve encountered that day. Sometimes, it’s just best not to ask me questions that aren’t “May I refill your wine glass?”

What not to say to adoptive families|Ripped Jeans and Bifocals

Maybe we're tired of reading “what not to” articles on the internet but really…here are some real-talk examples of what not to say to adoptive families. People ask nosy questions about my kids in stores and waiting rooms. Anytime I’m not moving and make accidental eye-contact, I apparently emit invisible signals that scream “Yes, please! Ask me something that’s none of your damn business!”


For example:

  1. What’s he mixed with?”

This question interrupted my deep thoughts about whether I could get another week out of my boxed hair-color root job or if I needed some Nice n’ Easy time. Seeing my look of confusion, the asker whispered:

You know…his race.”

He’s Chinese,” I whispered.

I have no effing clue why we were whispering but I went with it so I could get back to worrying about really important stuff, like my hair.

  1. “He’s so smart! It’s in his genes, right?”

Asked while my four-year-old was licking the screen of my phone. Sure, lady. He’s writing an app with his tongue. MIT is all over us.

  1. “Do they speak Asian?”

No, they speak Klingon. Seriously, who doesn’t know “Asian” isn’t a language?

Even though curiosity gets old I try to err on the side of nice when responding to adoption questions (when I’m well-fortified with coffee, chocolate, or booze ). I have no trouble (semi-nicely) letting someone know they’ve gotten too personal; but the straight up MYOFB is reserved for:

“How much did they cost/why didn’t their real parents want them/aren’t you afraid they’re going to turn out crazy/can you give them back/is it different than adopting a dog because I adopted a dog and that was really hard/are you still trying to get pregnant/they’re so lucky/where are they from no really where are they from?”

[Tweet “What NOT to say to adoptive families #adoption”]

Yes. People really say this stuff.

Aside from the fact that I don’t like interrupting my regularly scheduled programming to hold a Q & A at Target, I usually choose not to answer these questions because they’re not myquestions. I have no idea how my kids will view the story of their beginnings once they’re older and have a better grasp of things. Besides, I’m not an exclusive source of adoption information. Google, k?

Parting shot: Grocery store.

Lady stops to admire my boys as I hoist a 10-pound bag of rice into my cart. (This was during the 15-minute window of the day where shirts were clean and nobody had hanging boogies).

“I imagine they eat a lot of rice.”

Would you walk up to a Mexican family and say, “I imagine you eat a lot of tacos.” Would you???

Resist the urge to comment on stuff in people’s carts. Unless you routinely say stuff like, “Ooh pads, that time of the month?” or “Lactaid? Milk gives me the squirts, too.” But seriously. Just because “Hey, I wonder . . . ” pops into our heads doesn’t mean “Can I ask you . . . ” should fly out of your pie hole.

You might meet me in your local supermarket on a day when my coffee light is low. Things could end badly.

This post originally appeared on In the Powder Room.

I read this piece on stage in New York City at BlogHer 2015 – watch it on YouTube!

Thank you for reading!


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  1. Some people just don’t seem to have a filter or common sense 🙂 I hope even just one of them reads this post from the other side of the questions.

  2. I discovered this blog at exactly the right time.
    Three of my four siblings are adopted (through the foster care system). The other sibling is my biological sister. And you would NOT BELIEVE THE SHIT that people say about my family situation.
    — The oldest of these siblings tragically passed when I was 18. People have actually said to me, “Well, it’s not like you lost a REAL sibling.”
    — All three of my siblings have children. People have actually said to me, “But you love your biological sister’s kids most, right, because they’re your BLOOD?”
    Truly, people are horrid.
    But now, it’s on a new level for me. My husband and I are considering adoption for our own family. His mother has actually said to me, “But don’t you want a little YOU or a little HIM?” and “I just don’t know if I could love (your potentially adopted kids) as much as I would love my REAL grandchildren (from my husband’s sister),” and “What if they turn out to be criminals?”
    Just… sigh…
    People! I cannot express this enough: Family is what you make it. Love is a choice.
    And maybe, just maybe, when somebody is grieving the loss of a loved one — biological or otherwise — you should just say that you’re sorry they’re going through this, and maybe, just maybe, when somebody is considering bringing a person into their family — biological or otherwise — you should just say that you’re happy for them.
    Okay. Vent done.
    I will be back to read more here, my new friend.

    1. People are assholes sometimes. Man. I am so sorry about your brother but I’m glad you came to hang out on my blog. Yay! And, grandparents sometimes come around after the kids come home so don’t write your MIL off as a good grandma just yet.

  3. We adopted our son at birth..it was astounding how insensitive people were! Your article was spot on! My sister was the worst. After a silly argument between our two 6 year old boys she became very upset. I told her it was no big deal, even the boys had moved on..she looked at me and said “well, if you were a REAL mother you would understand the pain that I am feeling. You can never understand how a REAL mother feels about her child, so don’t even try,” As I write this I am still in awe of the narrowness of her view of love.

  4. I have never written a comment before but this article brings back a lot of memories of stupid stuff people say. We have 2 adopted African American daughters and one home made son. They are adults now. We learned to approach it with a sense of humor. I was very pregnant with our son and I was holding our daughter in my arms. She was only 5 months at the time. A lady stopped us and said to my husband and I. Did you really want a black baby? My husband without skipping a beat said yes but if the next one is black he will be a little upset. The lady didn’t know what to say and walked away. When people would in front of our children say it is nice that we have one of our own we would answer back with they are all our own…our daughters are adopted and our son is home made. The answer hopefully help educate them with humor to be careful what they say in front of children and yet at the same time our children heard us say they are all our own children. I tried very hard to not respond with anger because I did not want our kids to feel that it was their fault we were hearing dumb remarks. Our grown up children are such a blessing.