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10 Things Never to Say to an Adoptive Parent

For the final part in our three-part series, we’ve gathered some of the comments and questions adoptive parents are tired of hearing.

Before you jump into a conversation with the adoptive parent in your life, read this blog. Understand why these phrases are so harmful, and strike them from your vocabulary to better spread awareness and education about modern adoption.

1. “Where did they come from?”

An adopted child isn’t just picked off the street, and a transracially adopted child isn’t automatically an internationally adopted child.

An adoptee’s story is no one’s business but their own. The best adoptive parents recognize this, and they won’t feel comfortable sharing their child’s adoption story without their consent.

Furthermore, this question only serves to “other” a transracial adoptee, who likely stands out from their family already. Just as you wouldn’t ask any person of color where they “came from,” don’t do so with parents of adoptees of color.

2. “What’s wrong with their real parents?”

First off, an adoptive parent is a child’s “real parent.” They are the parents who stay up all night, go to all the soccer games and are there for their child’s milestones. While a birth parent plays an important role in an adoptee’s life, the phrase “real parent” diminishes the hard work and love an adoptive parent shows to a child — just because they don’t share genetic material with their child.

Second, placing a child for adoption or having a child adopted through foster care does not mean there is something “wrong” with a birth parent. Adoption is one of the most difficult decisions a parent can make, and it’s a lifelong journey of grief and loss (even when they know it’s the best thing for their child).

A birth parent should not be described only by their faults, and adoptive parents don’t have the right to share a birth parent’s intimate story to anyone who asks.

3. “How much did they cost?”

An adopted child is not a puppy or a kitten. It’s not only rude to simplify an adoption into financial terms, it’s also unethical. Equating a child with a “purchase” risks human trafficking accusations.

Adoptive parents have to pay for adoption, but it’s not to “buy” a child. Their funds are put toward prospective birth parent living expenses, legal services, counseling and more — all important services to maintain ethical adoption practices.

And, like many other aspects, how much someone paid for adoption is simply none of your business.

4. “Don’t you want your ‘own’ kids?”

An adopted child is no less someone’s child than a biological one. Phrases like these only codify the unspoken “standard” that biological connection is always best.

No matter how a child comes into a parent’s life — through adoption, kinship guardianship or another path — they are still their parent’s “own” child.

5. “I’m sorry you couldn’t have one of your ‘own.’”

Again, an adopted child is their parent’s child — full stop.

Many adoptive parents overcome infertility loss before deciding to pursue adoption. When they choose adoption, they are excited about the possibilities ahead of them.

They don’t want or need sympathy for their previous attempts to have a biological child. Ask any adoptive parent, and they’ll tell you they wouldn’t change anything about their family-building journey.

6. “Your kids are so lucky to have you.”

If there’s anyone “lucky” in adoption, it is the adoptive parents. Adoption allows them to reach their lifelong dream of parenthood, but it doesn’t come without its own challenges.

Children who are adopted may be fortunate to live in a home where they are provided and cared for, just as any biological child is fortunate to live in a home where they are provided and cared for. But being adopted also causes unique traumas. Adoptees are separated from birth parents and have to navigate the complexities of a post-placement relationship, as well as come to terms with their own identity as an adoptee. And those children adopted out of foster care would certainly argue they aren’t “lucky” for the years they spent in the foster care system.

7. “You’re a saint for adopting.”

Similarly, you’ll be hard-pressed to find adoptive parents who believe they should be congratulated for how they built their family. They may have brought a child who was in desperate need of a home into theirs, but the desire to become a parent or add a child is inherently self-serving. Any good adoptive parent will be the first to admit that.

You wouldn’t say biological parents are any more selfless or worthy of praise than anyone else — and the same goes for adoptive parents.

8. “Aren’t you scared their birth parents will try to get them back?”

There are a lot of misconceptions about adoption, but this is the one that seems to persist the most. It comes from a misunderstanding of exactly how adoption works. Adoption is permanent, and open adoption is not co-parenting. An adoptive parent is an adopted child’s legal parent, often at the choice of the birth parents themselves.

Educate yourself before talking to any adoptive parent about their adoption to avoid commonly asked questions like these. An adoptive parent will thank you for it.

9. “Will you tell them they’re adopted?”

Pop culture sells us plenty of “separated at birth” and “didn’t know they were adopted” stories — but that’s simply not the reality of adoption. Adoptive parents commit to being open and honest with an adopted child as she or he grows up. An adoptee knows their adoption story and, in many cases, has a direct relationship with their birth parents.

Asking this question will likely earn you an eye roll or an incredulous look. Of course an adoptee will know their adoption story; it’s not a decision that’s up for discussion.

10. “Why didn’t you adopt domestically/internationally/through foster care?”

Adoption is not right for everyone — and neither is every adoption option.

Each adoption path comes with its own challenges and rewards. It’s up to an adoptive parent to decide which option is best for their family. It’s not a decision they make lightly, and their choice doesn’t need your scrutiny.

Accept that an adoptive parent made the choice that was best for their personal needs and don’t pry. It’s no one’s business but theirs.

Any other comments and questions that we missed? Drop them in the comments below.

And check out the other two parts to this series: “10 Things Never to Say to an Adoptee” and “10 Things Never to Say to a Birth Parent.”