As an adoptive family, we have more random stories of interactions with strangers than we care to count. For whatever reason, close associates or random passerbys feel inclined to make conversation regarding your family when they realize a child is adopted.
In our situation, it is very obvious that we are an adoptive family, and so we have heard it all.
Don’t be afraid to make conversation with a conspicuous adoptive family, just think about what you say. Especially be sensitive if that child or any of his or her siblings are around.
Here are 14 questions I would suggest you don’t ask adoptive families:
- Is he adopted? Don’t point your finger at my child. Don’t single him out among his family or in public. Ask his name. Get to know him. Ask what sport he likes. He is just as much my child as any other child in our family. When asked this question, we reply that “we are an adoptive family” to attempt to remove the isolation that the question just caused for him.
- Is your other child your real child? In our situation, it is obvious one child is adopted but that leads some people to question the status of our other children. The use of the word “real” is one of the most hurtful words you can use in any adoptive context. Think about how that sounds. All of my children are my real children.
- Are they real siblings? Well, they aren’t fake siblings. When one is adopted, it causes questions about the others and asking if the others are connected in a “real” way. All of our children are real siblings, but your question causes frustration and can lead to doubt in the heart of a child. Think. They are as real of siblings as any siblings can be.
- What happened to his real parents? His real parents are standing right here talking with you. Something happened to his biological parents, but I don’t know if their story is your business, and it might be loaded to share in a brief moment. Plus, his forever parents are right here.
- How long have you had him? This really is a valid question based from curiosity. But refrain from asking that with the child around. You isolate the child with questions like this. You probably could rephrase it with, “How long as he been home with you? What age did he come home?”
- Why was he put up for adoption? Really think about that question. Can you see how insensitive and intrusive that question is? We aren’t afraid to talk about that story with people we know, but realize it probably was a difficult situation.
- Were you unable to get pregnant? First, that’s a personal question, and don’t tempt me to give a response that will make you feel awkward. Maybe we felt called to adoption. Adoption is not second-rate parenting. We didn’t have to adopt, we got to adopt, and we are forever blessed and grateful because of it.
- Why didn’t you adopt from “there” instead? It baffles me how often someone who has never adopted a child from any country can criticize a family for adopting a child from another country. Maybe we prayed and studied and felt called. Maybe we realized that while orphans in the United States have it very difficult, at least they do have meals, medicine, schools, and churches which orphans in many other countries do not have. Maybe God is calling on people to adopt all orphans in all countries, and we were some of the ones that he asked to go beyond our borders because it didn’t scare us. If you are concerned about orphans in this country, how many have you brought home?
- How much did he cost? He didn’t cost anything. He is worth everything. Legal fees cost something. Plane tickets cost something. Paper work costs something. Diapers cost something. But a child is not a product to buy. And are our finances your business? How would you feel if someone asked you about your financial picture? The legal fees to bring a child into a forever family are expensive but they aren’t as expensive as some of the cars we drive around for a few years. Perspective.
- Do you hear that your other child looks just like you? When you point out physical characteristics that one child shares with a parent, you are putting another child in isolation. We are aware of genetics and yes, we see similarities, but is helpful to keep that to yourself when you are around my children. We know there is nature, but we also love to celebrate nurture.
- Does he have any issues? Yes. I have issues as well. Do you? If you tell us all your issues, we will tell you all his. Is there a person without issues?
- Does he know how lucky he is? Do you know how lucky we are? We are blessed to be his parents. He is truly the remarkable one. Don’t downgrade his situation as if clothes or air conditioning or plumbing or Christmas gifts are the best thing that a child can be offered. He has given us more joy than we could ever give him.
- How can you love a child that isn’t blood related? How can you not? Love is a decision. It is a commitment. You misunderstand that word and that concept. Don’t try to categorize my children into what is easy or difficult. Everyone of my children came to me as a gift from God (Ps. 127:3). God is the only one powerful enough to make a family, and anytime a child comes into a family, that is a miraculous gift from a loving God.
- Have you told him that he is adopted? Of course we tell him. It’s not a bad thing. It’s not a dirty word. We celebrate it. We make it a natural part of our lives. Adoption may be a part of his history but it will not be his identity. We try to make it as natural a point of our lives, but insensitive questions from random people make it difficult. Please be considerate.
Yes, we have heard versions of all these questions and probably more. I don’t want this post to keep you from talking to adoptive families, but just asking for you to be considerate.
Say things like:
- “You have a beautiful family.”
- “You have such well-behaved children.”
- “Hey kids, how old are you?”
You know, normal stuff when you see children.
When someone comes up and says that we have “a beautiful family,” we get the signal. You are trying to tell us that adoption is great without isolating our child. And we really appreciate that as well as do numerous other families.
If you see us and it makes you want to have conversations about your ability to adopt, we are really excited to talk with you about it.
We will find time to help you in such a precious endeavor. If you want to learn from an adoptive family and the children are around, say something like this:
“I think you have the sweetest family. I have always prayed about growing our family as well. Would you ever have time to talk where I could ask questions or maybe get some wisdom?”
The answer is yes. How could we not want you to experience the joy that we have?
Travis Agnew serves as the Lead Pastor of Rocky Creek Church in Greenville, SC. His most recent book is Just (About) Married.