8 things never to say to adoptive familiesFind out which comments and questions about adopted children you should keep to yourself.
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Adoptive families hear lots of things from friends and strangers alike. But many remarks and questions make these families uncomfortable, even if you don’t mean to be intrusive. “People unfamiliar with adoption may think they’re showing interest or support by asking questions,” says adoption educator Ellen Singer, a licensed certified clinical social worker with the Center for Adoption Support and Education in Burtonsville, MD. “But some comments can be upsetting or damaging to families.” Here are the top eight things you should avoid bringing up, what you can say instead and when to keep quiet.
1. Which one is your real child?
This question is a button-pusher for many families with both adoptive and biological children. “Every child in the family is their child,” says Amanda Baden, PhD, a licensed psychologist specializing in adoption in New York City and associate professor at Montclair State University in Montclair, NJ. “This question sends the message that the only authentic way to form a family is biologically.” Not that it’s appropriate to ask if the adopted child isn’t present, but it’s worse if you ask in front of her; the comment makes it sound as if she’s less important than the other family members. “The term ‘real’ is absurd, as if my daughter is a ‘pretend’ or ‘fake’ child,” says Marilys Scheindel, a mom of two in Maine. The experts agree: Stay away from this question, no matter how curious you are.
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2. He’s so lucky to have been adopted by you.
Even if you’re trying to compliment an adoptive parent, you’re implying she “rescued” the child or that adoption is an act of charity, says Singer. The statement also discounts what the child’s given up. “Adoption involves loss,” says Megan Terry, a mom of three who blogs about adoption at Millions of Miles. “It’s the loss of the child’s first family, familiar surroundings, rituals, routines and often the birth country, culture and language. To say he’s ‘lucky’ invalidates his experiences and feelings.” A better approach: Say something like, “What a wonderful family you are,” says family therapist Leigh Leslie, PhD, associate professor at the University of Maryland in College Park and a researcher in transracial adoption.
3. How much did it cost to adopt?
People often ask this insensitive question, which makes parents cringe. “It sounds like you’re referring to the child as a purchase,” says Dr. Baden. In addition, it’s incredibly invasive. “Yes, there are fees associated with adoption, as there are with childbirth,” notes Alison Noyce, a mom of four who blogs about adoption at They’re All My Own. “Besides, this information is available on the Internet.” If you’re considering adopting, ask, “Can you please refer me to organizations or classes where we can learn more about adoption?” instead of requesting personal financial details. If you’re not looking into adoption, steer clear of this question altogether.
4. You’ll probably get pregnant now that you’ve adopted.
First of all, “The comment makes it seem as if this child is not as valuable as a biological child or that the family is somehow ‘settling’ for this child,” says Dr. Leslie. Secondly, it assumes all families adopt due to infertility issues, which isn’t at all the case. Instead of speaking about the child as if she’s second-best, celebrate the joy the family feels about having a new family member. A simple “Congratulations!” is all that’s necessary.
5. Why was she given up?
This question has many variations, including “What do you know about her background?” or “What happened to his birth mom?” In any form, they’re intensely personal and usually not something families wish to share with anyone. “Think of it as similar to being asked in what position you conceived your child,” says Dr. Baden. Plus, there’s a chance the family doesn’t know the answer to your question, and asking them puts them in an awkward position. Bottom line: “This is not one to ask, ever,” says Terry. “It’s my son’s story, not mine. We shouldn’t expect children’s stories to be a matter of public record.”
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