My wife and I are adopting. We’ve been married for almost twelve years, so we’ve gotten some experience explaining the “kid situation” to people we meet. This is a very exciting time in our lives and we can’t wait for the opportunity to be parents. But, very often when we share our excitement about adopting, someone has to say something that’s annoying, frustrating, or hurtful. So, here’s a handy guide of things you don’t need to say to, or ask of, a couple that’s adopting.
1. “Why are you adopting?”
Because we want to.
Couples adopt for a variety of reasons. Sometimes a couple with biological children wants to grow their family. Other times, a couple is adopting a family member that was hurt or abused. In other cases, a couple is incapable of having biological children. In still others, it’s a combination of all three.
Whatever the reason for adoption, it has a long and emotional story behind it. If you’re asking why, then we haven’t known each other long enough for us to feel comfortable sharing.
2. “Why did you pick domestic/ international; what’s wrong with [opposite]?”
Because we did.
If we share that we’re doing an international adoption, then the question is, “well, what’s wrong with a domestic adoption?”
If we’re doing a domestic adoption, “well, why not adopt internationally?”
Then there’s the inevitable follow-up commentary, “there’s kids in [place] that need parents. Why aren’t you thinking of them‽”
You know what? You’re right! I can’t believe that through this long journey of trying to grow a family, we never thought of the children in [place]. Thanks for your input. We’ll definitely ignore the children in [place] because the children in [place] need parents. Since we’re on the topic of family, can I share some thoughts about your choice of spouse, living arrangements, and church?
Unless you’ve adopted a child from [place], don’t share your opinion on it.
3. “How much does it cost to adopt?”
How much was your house? How about that car? What were your medical bills for your child? Can I take a look at your pay check?
If you wouldn’t ask a biological parent, why would you ask an adopting parent? It’s perfectly fine for you to assume that it costs a lot. A child can be conceived at the low, low cost of three martinis and a broken condom, and birthed with the help of medical insurance.
Couples who adopt pay a lot of fees, all throughout the process of adoption. Those fees include licensing, social worker visits, lawyers, and quite possibly the medical needs of the biological mother, too. That’s why couples who adopt do fundraisers. Lots of them. Lots.
Instead of asking, “how much does it cost”, try asking, “how can I help?”
4. “Well, the great thing about adoption is that you don’t have to go through childbirth!”
My wife will never get to experience one of the defining characteristics of woman-hood. She’ll never get to share the experiences that her sister, mother, friends, and 99% of the rest of women go through. Thank you for pointing out that the thing that she looked forward to will never happen. It really is great that she’s missing out on the joy of natural motherhood, isn’t it?
You don’t need to validate our choice. Especially by presenting a very emotionally damaging issue in a positive light.
5. “Well, the great thing about adoption is that you don’t have to do [parenting thing]!”
Thanks for being my motivational speaker!
This is like #4, but in more general terms. Don’t assume that some aspect of parenting, which you didn’t like, is one that we wouldn’t have liked.
The great thing about adoption is that we get to be parents. Don’t qualify it in any other way.
6. “Maybe after you adopt, you’ll get to have one of your own.”
This usually comes in the form of, “Well, after [not you] adopted,[not you]got pregnant. I bet after you adopt, you’ll get pregnant, too!”
Thanks for turning our adoption into a consolation prize. It’s always good to know that you see the adopted child as a runner-up. It’s also reassuring that there are no mysteries of infertility with you; adoption is nature’s cheat-code. We adopt and, BOOM, achievement unlocked. Now we can have the kids we really wanted.
Don’t assume you know the facts about our story, or anyone else’s. If you want to say something encouraging, try this : “Maybe after you adopt, you’ll have an easier time with the second adoption.”
7. “What [fertility thing] did you try?”
Fact 1: Children are conceived via sex.
Fact 2: Infertility treatments are simply variations on fact 1.
Put the two facts together, and you see that you really don’t need the details.If you know that infertility is the reason for adoption, then the details of our infertility are none of your business.Infertility comes with a lot of struggle, shame, embarrassment, and emasculation — asking about the discovery process is grossly invasive, inconsiderate, and inappropriate. Especially when you ask in front of friends, family, or a Starbucks barista.
Unless you’re struggling with infertility, try a different question. Why not ask about the paperwork we’re going through; adoption paperwork is the only PG-rated conception process in the world.
8. “You should[n’t] do [parenting technique].”
Did you have to take classes before you could have a baby? No? Then please, don’t let that stop your from telling us how we’re doing!
It’s bad enough that parenting advice is given more than requested. Regardless of the situation, don’t assume that you know the best way to parent another person’s child. If you have parenting advice,ask if it’s okay to share— or better yet — wait for someone else to ask for it. If no one’s asking for your parenting advice, maybe that’s because no one wants it. Wisdom is often sought after, but seldom volunteered.
This goes double for adopting couples. For every year a child is in an orphanage, subtract three months of cognitive development. Adopted children can have cognitive issues, abandonment issues, and can respond very differently to feeding and discipline —even as infants. The needs of adopted children are not the same as those of biological children. Adopting parents take courses, attend lectures, work with social workers, read books and even earn certifications —before they are allowed to adopt. Especially when the adoption is rooted in infertility, there’s a lot of resentment when a biological parent discounts or discredits an adopting couple’s parenting choices.
Ask before sharing parenting advice. If you haven’t adopted, be extra cautious of what you have to say.
What it’s really about
It’s about the child, not the parent. All of these questions and statements are really parent-focused, instead of child-centric. When you meet a couple that’s adopting, don’t focus on them and their story; focus on their children. Treat an adopting couple like any other expecting couple. Ask them about the children: Do you want a boy or a girl? Do you have names, a nursery? Will the child be a Cardinals fan or a Cubs fan? Adopting couples want to be parents, just like anyone else. Don’t single us out with statements or questions that make us feel inferior and inadequate. Celebrate our future children just like you would anyone else’s.