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What not to say to adoptive families

Posted February 3

Each year, approximately 135,000 children are adopted in the United States, according to recent statistics.

These children are carefully placed into a variety of home situations with statistics showing that about 26 percent have been brought from overseas, 59 percent from the child welfare (or foster care) system, and 15 percent account for voluntary relinquished American babies. Not included in these statistics are stepparent adoptions and other family members who lovingly welcome a niece or nephew or grandson or granddaughter into their home at a moment’s notice, raising these children to adulthood.

Adoptions take place everywhere, yet there are still many who unknowingly say hurtful things to individuals in adoptive situations. Here are some of the most common things said to persons in adoptive families that shouldn’t be said.

Where are your "real" parents?

Adoptive families often get comments referring to parents/children as “real” vs. adoptive. Adopted children will often get asked things like, “Where are your real parents?” or “Don’t you want to meet your real parents?” Likewise, many parents who have both adopted and biological children will have people refer to their biological children as the real ones and their adopted children as just that: adopted children.

While these comments are likely not directed in a hurtful manner, they aren’t often received well.

47-year old father, Jason Klein who was adopted as a child, will often get comments like these, and he said that they stem from what people perceive as “actual family,” and an ignorance of what adoption actually means.

“When people have said that my birth parents are not my real parents, I am very quick to let them know who my real parents are, and I am 47 years old,” he said. “After meeting my birth mom and her children, my parents and siblings are still my family. I now have more family which is cool!”

You were "given up" for adoption

For years, adoptive families and experts have worked hard to educate the public on the proper terminology regarding adoption placement. However, many still say things like, “You were given up for adoption,” which is not only wrong, but hurtful, especially to young children.

Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Teresa Ringger said that this is one of the most hurtful comments made.

"It kills me to hear that birth parents ‘gave up, or ‘gave away’ (or any other term that doesn't give proper respect to the parents or child),” Ringger said. “Children in most cases are very thoughtfully placed for adoption. I have sat across from several parents who are relinquishing their rights to their child. I've never seen an unloved child.

"I see people who are not in a place to properly care for their children, but are giving their children opportunities that they are unable to provide. There is a nobility shown by people who are willing to put the needs and safety of their child before their own feelings. Adoptees should know that they are placed out of a selfless love. The child is placed for adoption, not given up. Given up carries a very negative connotation, whereas placing a child gives a more 'intended,' positive feeling.”

I’m sorry

When children who were adopted tell others of this fact, they are often met with “I’m sorry” sediments, as if their situation is an unfortunate one. Tommy Barlow was met with this reaction many times growing up and said that this type of reaction isn’t necessary.

“I would say that I'm no different from any child who was raised by loving parents, biological or not,” Barlow said. “I'm very proud of the fact that I'm adopted because I know how much my parents wanted me in their lives and how many sacrifices were made on my behalf.”

The “I’m sorry” reaction doesn’t just apply to children, but to adoptive parents as well, said Jamie Robinson.

“When people say, ‘I'm so sorry you can't get pregnant,’ or express the same sentiments for us having to go through the adoption/foster care process, I think about how much I have learned, how I have grown and what a blessing having all of these children in our home — no matter if they stay or go. We are blessed that Heavenly Father let these children be in our home,” Robinson said.

Whose "problem" was it?

When adoptions take place, many times the assumption is made that the couple were unable to have children on their own. And while this may be the case in many instances, it isn’t anyone’s business.

Mother of four, Lisa Green said that comments like these were hard to address.

“The adoption related comments that stand out to me are when people were being nosy about whose problem it was,” she said. “Infertility was OUR problem as a married couple and intimate details of our relationship and reproductive organs are on a need-to-know basis. I had no issue talking about it with people struggling with infertility — just not the nosy parkers.”

Now you have one of your "own"

For many couples like Angie Mortensen and her husband, having a biological child came years after struggling with infertility and after having adopted children.

“Having now had a biological child, I struggle when people says things that involve 'one of your own,’ ” she said. “I understand their sentiment, but they're all my own babies.”

You’re amazing

Compliments are wonderful and calling someone amazing most definitely qualifies as such. However, calling someone amazing for adopting isn’t necessary, says mother of six, Jen Pearson.

“We adopted our sixth child — biologically, my nephew,” Pearson said. “People tell us all the time how amazing we are and think it's so awesome for taking him in, etc. I don't need compliments for being a parent. He's just like our other kids, we treat him the same as our others and we don't need recognition for just being parents. He is our son and he just came to our family a different way.”

Mortensen agrees with this notion and added, “You don't need to praise me and tell me how great of a person I am for adopting and/or doing foster care. It was entirely selfish. I wanted to be a mom, and I couldn't have kids.”

What should you say/do?

Perhaps you read through all of the above statements and wonder, "What you can say or do without fear of offending?"

Ginger Healy, an adoption social worker with Children's House International and mother of four including a son whom she and her husband adopted from Romania, said that rather than worrying about offending or looking to be offended, take these conversations as opportunities to educate/be educated.

“Most (of) the time, people are sincere even when they ask or say something that is offensive because they may not know they are being hurtful or offensive. So I don't mind lightening the mood or educating them,” Healy said. “My goal is always to affirm our family and my child. As an adoption professional, I welcome all questions because there are so many kiddos that need families. We never have enough families, and we are actively searching for families who are willing/able to adopt.”

Do you have suggestions for what to say to those from adoptive families? Let us know in the comments.

Arianne Brown is a mother of seven young children who loves hearing and sharing stories. For more of her writings, search “A Mother’s Write” on Facebook. She can be contacted at ariannebrown1@gmail.com. Twitter: A_Mothers_Write.

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