When you find out a friend or family member is considering adopting, you’re probably thrilled for them. You may also have some questions, especially if you’re not familiar with this family-building process. Asking them those questions may seem like a no-brainer; it’s a way to express your excitement for them and allow them to talk about this new step in their life.
But, before you dive in with the questions, take a second. Not all questions are productive for prospective adoptive parents, especially those who are still in the early stages of their journey. It’s important that you do a little research beforehand to understand the basics — and know which questions, while well-meaning, may come across in the wrong way.
Fortunately, we’ve gathered some for you below. Keep reading to learn exactly what not to ask a prospective adoptive parent — and why.
1. Don’t Ask for Specific Details
Adoption is a deeply personal journey — not just for adoptive parents, but for the adoptee at the center of the process. In private domestic infant adoption, it also involves a prospective birth mother. Every member of the triad has a personal story and a right to tell it how they decide to. You are not entitled to any of that information — so don’t even ask for it.
Topics like a child or birth parent’s backstory or how long the adoption process takes are off-limits. Instead, start the conversation with a broader question (“How does the adoption process work?”) and ask follow-up questions based on how your loved one responds. Pay close attention to what details they do and don’t seem to be comfortable talking about.
2. Don’t Ask About the Cost
Your friend isn’t buying a new puppy. It’s normal to be curious about adoption costs, but do that research on your own. Never ask an adoptive parent how much their journey costs.
This is one of the rudest questions you can ask an adoptive parent. It’s none of your business, no matter where your loved one is in the adoption process. It commodifies the child at the center of the adoption process, when we all know you can never put a “price tag” on a person’s life.
3. Don’t Suggest Alternatives
“Have you considered XYZ?”
Odds are, your loved one came to adoption after a long journey with infertility or other alternative family-building options. Choosing this path isn’t as simple as “just” adopting, and switching from one path to another is not easy.
Maybe you’ve had another friend find success with foster care adoption or gestational surrogacy and, because you care, you want to share those experiences with your friend pursuing private infant adoption. It’s a thoughtful gesture, but don’t try to change your loved one’s mind. They have likely made a lot of tough decisions to come to this point, and they don’t need you second-guessing their decision.
4. Don’t Talk About Worst-Case Scenarios
“Don’t you know an expectant mom could change her mind?”
“What about the foster child’s parents — what if they get custody again?”
Adoption is full of what-ifs, and your friend knows that. In fact, they probably spend a great deal of time worrying about all the things that could go wrong in their adoption journey. They don’t need you reminding them.
Instead, ask your loved one broad questions about the adoption process — and focus on the topics that they seem especially excited about.
5. Don’t Talk About Pop Culture Adoption
Whether it’s a dramatization on film or the most recent adoption news from a celebrity, adoption is everywhere. But these examples are not helpful to someone going through the process right now.
Every adoption situation is unique. You can’t compare your friend’s adoption journey to a celebrity’s (who likely has a great deal of money and time to invest in the process). You also can’t compare your friend’s journey to what you’ve seen on TV; most adoptions aren’t full of drama and complications, unlike what producers would have you believe.
If you have stories from loved ones, you might consider sharing those — but only the positive aspects and after protecting that person’s privacy.
6. Don’t Be Apologetic or Awkward
We get it — talking about adoption can be strange, especially if you’ve never had this experience before. You may not be sure of how to phrase your questions in the most positive way. (Good news — reading this article will start you on the right path.)
Before you start a conversation about adoption, know what you’re going to ask. Don’t “hem” and “haw” your way through the conversation or express any hesitation and awkwardness in asking certain questions. For example, rather than stumbling into, “Did the birth mom… I mean, what happened… I guess, how did it work?” be straightforward from the beginning: “How does the adoption process work?”
Adoption may seem strange to you, but it’s a completely normal way to build a family. Your friend may already feel different for not having a traditional pregnancy, but don’t make them feel more awkward or uncomfortable by highlighting your own discomfort and uncertainty.
7. Don’t Use Negative or Outdated Adoption Language
Avoid phrases like “give up” or “put up” for adoption. They come from the dark side of adoption history, in which unmarried pregnant women were forced to choose adoption. These phrases also don’t accurately describe the adoption process — how a woman voluntarily places her child with another family or how biological parents go through reunification efforts with foster care before their rights are terminated.
Children who are adopted are not “unwanted.” They simply come from a situation where their families didn’t have the resources or ability to care for them in the way they deserved.
8. Don’t Talk About Pregnancy
It seems like common sense, but we can’t tell you how many adoptive parents have heard it:
“Just watch: You’ll get pregnant after adopting! It happened to my sister/aunt/cousin/friend.”
For some reason, there’s a persistent myth that starting the adoption process leads to pregnancy. And, while this may be true for a small percentage of adoptive parents, it’s obviously not true for all of them. Implying that a pregnancy will happen after adoption also implies that adoption is not “good enough” — that biological children through pregnancy is the “preferred” way of building a family.
Bringing up pregnancy will not only invalidate your friend’s adoption wishes but also remind them of any infertility struggles they’ve gone through.
9. Don’t Turn the Adoptive Parents Into Saints
There’s a real problem with “saviorhood” in adoption. Some adoptive parents go into the process because they want to “save” a child from the situation they’re in. But, when you take that view, you erase the struggles of the child who is being adopted. They are not just there to be someone’s solution to infertility; they come into adoption with their own traumas and challenges. And their biological parents aren’t bad people they had to be “rescued” from; in many cases, a child could have had just as fulfilling a life with their birth parents, if the adoption had not occurred.
No matter where your friend is adopting from, don’t ever imply they are “saving” a child. At the end of the day, your friend is doing this because they want to become a parent — not to meet some “good deeds” quota.
Have any other suggestions for off-limit conversations? Let us know in the comments.