10 Things Adoptive Parents Struggle to Hear

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The phrase, “Kids say the darndest things,” is usually followed by some pretty hilarious tales that leave some listeners laughing while others are flush with embarrassment. Children are naturally inquisitive. Therefore, we tend to expect their brutal honesty and awkwardly timed questions. As adults, we too are faced with new situations and experiences that are completely unfamiliar to us. Adoption may be one of those. Perhaps a friend or family member recently shared he or she is planning to adopt. In the weeks to come, you may wonder about the process, fees, expenses, eligibility and the needs of waiting children. We imagine you have many questions but may be nervous to ask them. We thought we’d share a few comments and phrases that can be difficult for adoptive parents to hear.

Which ones are real?

There is no doubt why this is the first topic we address. There is more wresting with the word “real” than adoptive families care to admit. Questions like, “Which ones are your ‘real’ kids,” seem to link DNA or genetics with sheer existence. The fact that I may have three children, two adopted and one biological, still means I have three very real children who exist as equal members of my family. Asking us which ones are “real” feels like you are devaluing our adopted children. Adoptive children are not counterfeit or invisible; they are as real to us as any other member of our family. Honor our adopted children as our very “real” children and accept adoptive parents as very “real” mothers and fathers. 

Aren’t they lucky to have you?

To be separated from birth family, regardless of the reason, is not lucky. Even in the best of adoptive circumstances, adoption still carries the potential for trauma, identity and attachment struggles for both infants and older children. There are better words we can use when considering the myriad of ways families are connected through adoption. For example, we are indeed grateful our child was matched with us. Or, in the case of an older child, grateful the child made a courageous decision to choose adoption. Lucky is a word most synonymous with good or fortunate. Adoption means a life was left behind and such loss is not fortunate. Any “rescue” speech implies that my adopted child’s origin was a mistake, and that has the potential to undermine their identity. 

How much did they cost? 

Adoption, whether infant, embryo, domestic or international is costly. Even foster-to-adopt adoptions come with costs to taxpayers. There are many costs associated with adoption such as medical care, court and legal fees associated with termination of parental rights, attorneys, travel, translations, home studies, professional counseling, post-adoption requirements and adoption-related fees imposed by our own state and federal government. Even agencies must consider the cost of their staff, office space and fees to maintain their own accreditation. Understanding the process can help paint a clearer picture of why costs exist. However, suggesting there is a cost associated with an actual child is inexcusable. State, local and international laws create a safe, but long and oftentimes costly process. 

Why not adopt from your own country?

Adoptive parents aren’t likely to harbor ill will toward the children in their own country. There are dozens of reasons to adopt from one country or another, many of which are personal and unique to the family. The notion that adoptive parents who choose international option are uncaring about the children in their home country is unfortunate. All children need a loving family. Years of prayer may have gone into an adoptive parent’s decision. Anyone with a heart for adoption should take action, regardless of a child’s race, medical need, ethnicity or nationality. And everyone can advocate, even those who do not adopt. If you feel strongly about the availability of children in a particular country, please advocate for the adoption of those children within your sphere of influence.  

You’re a saint!

We know ourselves well enough to know we aren’t perfect. We hear that we are amazing, saints, heroes and angels. We don’t tend to relish those labels simply because they imply that there’s something inherently different, unusual, more difficult or even scary about parenting a child who may not be ours biologically. We aren’t necessarily heroes for parenting our biological children, so why should adoption be treated differently? Adoption is becoming the parent to another child we will adore. 

What happened to their family?

Most adoptive parents will not choose to disclose the intimate details of their child’s separation from their birth parent publicly, as they shouldn’t. If an adoptive parent or adoptee chooses to share such information with you, honor it as something you will not disclose without permission going forward. Every adoptee deserves to own his or her own life history. 

Aren’t you afraid of an older child?

For those who adopt older children, we can expect to hear a child we are adopting is “too old” and will have “issues." Yes, while adoptive parents may expect their child to have been neglected or mistreated, we simply cannot automatically assume the result will be a child who makes our life more difficult. We understand the watching world thinks choosing an older child adoption is concerning, but adoptive parents are more concerned for the child. We hear you tell us to choose an infant, but we have weighed those risks and are ready to embrace life with a child who has an infinitesimally small window of opportunity to have their own family as he or she continues to age.

My cousin/best friend/coworker adopted, and their child turned out to have problems.

Let’s face it. Many, many children face obstacles and challenges, especially during their teen years. These problems are not reserved for adopted children—not by a long shot. We all know young adults who have struggled. Yet, when someone is pregnant, we do not tell them that we know someone who had a baby who grew up to face challenges. To have a child, by any means, is to bring both love and risk into your life. Adoptive parents are well aware of this. 

Couldn’t you have your own child? 

Don’t you want your own? You know you’ll get pregnant as soon as you adopt? There are dozens of reasons to adopt and only a fraction are tied to actual fertility. Most adopting parents have a heart big enough to parent any child placed in their path.  

Any comments made in front of an adopted child 

There are some things children simply should not hear. Commenting that "Some people shouldn't have kids" or "Such a shame" in front of an adopted child is a weight a child shouldn’t have to carry. Questions like, "Why were they taken away?" can be overheard by even the youngest of ears. Most questions about adoption should never be asked in the presence of the adopted child. Take time to ask the adoptive parent privately first. 

Ultimately, this list isn’t meant to shut down conversations about adoption. Generally, I find that adoptive parents are very open to discussing their choice, even when difficult comments emerge. If you love someone who is adopting, thank you for walking this enormous journey alongside him or her. Adoptive parents everywhere applaud you for taking the time to lean in and learn more about how to best support an adoptive family and their child.

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Traci Mai


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