If you search online about “things not to say to adoptive parents” you’ll get hundreds of hits. You might even land on something written by me about the annoying crap people ask us about adoption. But how about what you SHOULD say to a family who is adopting?
You’ll read varying opinions on adoption terminology: birth or biological parent vs. “real parent.” You’ll read first-hand accounts of why adoptive families like mine roll their eyes at references to “their own” kids or “real siblings.”
Our family is built through adoption and I could go on all day about the weird stuff people have said to us. My favorite is the über persistent lady who wanted to chat about my children’s DNA in the underwear section of Target … yes, really. I mean, who doesn’t want to answer personal questions while they’re holding a multi-pack of briefs they haven’t quite committed to buying?
What you SHOULD say to a family who is adopting
But seriously, Google what to say to adoptive parents and your search comes up short. There’s not much out there. Since it’s natural to want to say something, be social, and ask questions when someone you know is adopting, I’ve come up with a list of things not to say, along with some things adoptive parents would appreciate hearing. I know I would have loved to hear some of these responses during our adoption wait.
1. Don’t say: “Wow, your adoption is taking FOREVER!”
No waiting parent needs your comments on how long the adoption is taking. If it seems long to you, remember that’s nothing in comparison to how long it seems to them.
The adoption wait was excruciating for me. I’m a classic control freak and I had absolutely no control over this process and that was my complete undoing. While we were waiting, I tried everything possible to keep my mind off how crazy the adoption wait was making me. Having someone else bring it up was unhelpful at best, painful at worst.
Instead say: “I bet you’re crazy excited. Have you thought about names? Have you started shopping yet?”
Picking names and shopping for kid stuff are things common to all mothers. Talking about these things can help bridge the divide that sometimes exists between adoption and having babies the old-fashioned way. These questions normalize adoption. Adoption is sometimes isolating — conversations about general mom stuff are sometimes exactly what a mom-to-be needs.
And yes, I said mom-to-be.
2. Don’t say: “How much is all this costing? I can’t believe adoption is so expensive.”
If you’re asking about adoption costs, examine your motives. If you’re curious, Google it or start calling adoption agencies. The information is out there if you want it that badly. I mean…do you ask a pregnant lady how much of her labor and delivery is covered by her health plan? I'm thinking not.
Yes, adoption is expensive and yes, we can all think of a hundred reasons it shouldn’t be, but the fact is that cost prohibits a lot of families from being formed. It sucks, but commenting on it to an adoptive parent is…well, jerky.
Instead say: “Are you fundraising? Do you need a crib/baby clothes/car seat?”
Think about how much it would cost to pay out-of-pocket for prenatal care and a hospital birth. Some employers offer adoption benefits, but most people penny-pinch to afford adoption. Many families fundraise or work extra jobs to pay for adoptions.
The adopting family knows what they're spending and guess what? That's none of your business. Instead of commenting about costs, offer to help in some way. Maybe just a sincere “What can I do?” would be good.
3. Don’t say: “Let me tell you my friend’s cousin’s adoption horror story.”
We all know someone who knows someone who has an adoption horror story. Maybe the birth mother changed her mind at the last possible minute. Maybe a shady adoption agency took the money and ran.
Repeating horror stories is the adoption version of telling a pregnant woman everything that went horribly wrong with someone else’s pregnancy. It’s mean. Just don't do it.
Instead say: “Is someone giving you a baby shower? Are you registered anywhere? I bet you need a ton of stuff — I recommend [insert your favorite store here].”
If you know someone who is adopting, chances are they’re in contact with a reputable adoption agency or lawyer who will make sure they understand the risks associated with adoption. I mean … come on. Would you react to someone’s pregnancy announcement with, “I had a friend who miscarried”? Of course not. This should be the same for adoption horror stories.
Offering to host a baby shower or asking if they’re registered are much more constructive ways to show your support.
4. Don’t say: “You’re having a kid the easy way!”
A new adoptive mom (hereinafter referred to as new mom) may not be dealing with swollen ankles. Her skinny jeans might zip, although lemme tell ya, adoption stress-eating is no joke. But think before you call someone’s adoption experience easy. The stress of waiting and having social workers comb through my home and my life were anything but easy.
We adopted toddlers — from China — so we had the added stress of bonding, attachment, and jet lag. There’s nothing about dealing with a freaked out 2-year-old whose internal clock is screwed up that can be called easy. Copious amounts of Diet Coke and faith are about the only things that got me through our first months home.
Instead say: “I’m bringing over dinner and a bottle of wine. Can I run an errand for you? Do you wanna talk?”
Those nice little things that we do for families just home from the hospital with a new baby? Do them for families who have recently adopted. It’s not that different. Besides, everyone likes a casserole.
5. Don’t say: “Why aren’t you adopting from the United States? Do you know anything about the birth mother? Does your child have special needs?”
Wait … or just don’t ask. Before you ask a question like this in response to someone’s adoption announcement, just take a minute. Let it ruminate. Odds are, the question isn’t urgent and, as curious as you may be, you are not entitled to the answer. These are intensely personal, sensitive questions. Wait for them to come to you to discuss these topics.
Instead say: “Congratulations! I bet you’re so excited. I would love to know how things are going.”
Adoption is exciting, messy, beautiful, emotional, and chaotic. Family additions should be celebrated, always.
November is National Adoption Month. If you have a family formed through adoption in your circles, why not show them some love?