When you choose to adopt a child, you will play a unique role to those around you. You may be the only person in your circle of friends and family who is an adoptive parent — and that can inadvertently invite comments and questions from those who don’t know a great deal about the process.
In addition to insensitive and even ignorant questions, you may also receive certain comments from people who are well-meaning in their intentions — but their words can be incredibly misguided and even rude to parents who have been through the adoption process.
Whether you are an adoptive parent who can empathize with hearing these comments, or someone outside the adoption process speaking to someone who is a part of the triad, it’s important to recognize these comments and what they really mean.
1. “He/she is so lucky to have you!”
People can have an outdated view of adoption, thinking that all adopted children came from a dangerous, terrible situation until they came to you. As an adoptive parent, you know that’s not the case. In fact, your child has a whole other family — their birth family — who loves him or her just as much as you do. Even if their birth parents had chosen to parent, your child would still have loving parents who try to do the best for them.
Someone may or may not be referring to your situation as an adoptive parent when they say this — but it can still be hard for adoptive parents to hear. Remember, this comment is a compliment on your parenting skills, as this person clearly thinks you are doing a great job in raising your child.
As an adoptive parent, you know that you are actually the lucky one to have your child — so don’t be afraid to say so when someone makes this comment.
2. “It’s so wonderful that you chose to save these children in need.”
Not all adopted children are orphans or come from devastating situations — but many people assume this and may give you undue credit for “saving” that child. This can make adoptive parents uncomfortable; they did not choose adoption because of a martyr complex or for any incredibly selfless reasons. They choose adoption so they could have the child they’ve wanted for so long.
This is a great opportunity to offer education, if you feel comfortable doing so. Explain that your child’s birth parents were simply not prepared to be parents, but you didn’t “save” your child from their situation.
3. “Happy Gotcha Day!”
Adoption is a long process full of many requirements and emotional ups and downs. “Happy Gotcha Day!” can diminish that process into an easy one, where you simply decided one day to go out and “get” a child.
Each adoptive family is different but, if you are uncomfortable with this phrase, consider using “Happy finalization day!” or, simply, “Happy birthday!” to celebrate your child’s joining your family. If someone uses this phrase, smile and gently correct them with whatever phrase you prefer. Remember, they just wish to celebrate this moment in your family’s history as much as you do.
4. “He/she is adopted? But you look so much alike!”
Some people may say this as a way to make adoptive parents “feel better” about not having a biologically related child. They think commenting on similar appearances is something that adoptive parents want to hear.
The thing is, adoptive parents have already grieved and moved forward from their infertility when they choose to adopt. They have accepted that their child may not look like them, and they understand that genetics is not what makes a family. However, when someone else brings this up, it may cause these feelings to reemerge — or, contrarily, irritate them that someone thinks appearance is that important in a family.
Adoptive parents will usually need to explain this to their child as they grow up but, if their child hears this from other people, they may not know what to think.
5. “You’re so lucky you got to avoid weight gain and stretch marks.”
This is another comment designed to make adoptive parents feel better about their adoption decision. However, adoptive parents give up a lot when they choose adoption — getting to experience pregnancy and the development of their unborn child, which society tells them is so important to “proper parenting.”
Reminding them of the things they have sacrificed — even the more difficult parts of pregnancy — is not helpful and can even be harmful. Rather than discuss the things adoptive parents miss out on, adoptive parents should instead offer the unique experiences they gained through the adoption process.
6. “He/she’s a keeper.”
This phrase implies that only the best children are kept — and that children can be returned if they don’t meet expectations. While most adoptive parents understand what people are really saying when they use this phrase, adopted children may not. In fact, it may cause anxiety and worry for them, thinking that their parents can get rid of them easily — emotions exacerbated by the unique experience of being adopted.
Instead of using this cliché, consider phrases that compliment the whole family’s relationship: “You have a beautiful family, and it’s wonderful to see so much love between you and your children.”
7. “At least you got to choose your kid.”
While hopeful parents do get to choose what they are comfortable with in a prospective birth mother, adoption is a not a process where you “pick and choose” the exact child you want. It’s a long waiting process to find the one that’s right for you, and you may need to open up what you are comfortable with to find an adoption opportunity.
And, just because you had the ability to “choose” certain characteristics of your child doesn’t mean they — or you — will be perfect all the time. Adoption is a lifelong process, and you both will face challenges as you grow and learn more about adoption together.
Here’s the general rule when speaking with adoptive parents: If you wouldn’t say it to biological parents, don’t say it to parents who chose to adopt. Every family is “real” and beautiful, no matter how it’s created. There’s no need to focus on those differences — just the love that connects all families.
What are some of the misguided comments that you’ve received? Let us know in the comments below.