Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Five Things Not to Say to Adoptive Parents

The Hendricks Clan

"Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me." 

Did you grow up hearing that adage? I don't think I reached age ten before I realized how false that saying is. The scars of sticks and stones heal with time.

The scars of hurtful words? Many of us will take our share of those scars to our graves.

If you have adopted, you've heard your share of ill-timed/insensitive questions and comments. Many will come from the lips of perfect strangers. This can be annoying, but in the end, feels rather harmless. Yet sometimes the offenses come from the people closest to us -- parents, grandparents, siblings, long-time friends.

Some of those words have left scars on your soul. And maybe on the souls of your child.

This post is not only for those of us that have adopted. This post is for our family members, our close friends, our fellow church and community members. This post is for our loved ones who may be very happy for us, but curious as well. This post is for those who have questions, but don't know how to pose them in a politically-correct manner.

Here's a list of Things Not to Say to Adoptive Parents:

1. Can't you have your own?

Now there's two problems with this question. First of all, the word "own". When I gave birth to my two biological children, they were my own. When I adopted my other two children, they likewise became my own. All of my children are my "own."

Secondly, this question implies that I have adopted as a second-best, alternative option. Now, while many people adopt after suffering from infertility (I suffered from a secondary-infertility), adoption still isn't a second-class method of having children. I personally like to call adoption, "God's Beautiful Plan A."

2. Which ones are your natural children?

Personally, I don't mind when people ask which of my children are adopted, and which are biological. I sometimes play a game, and have them guess which ones. This is specifically fun with my family, because my biological children have red hair, unlike myself and my husband.

However, I despise the word "natural." Natural implies that adoption is "unnatural." All of my children are natural children. Two just happen to have been adopted, while the other two are biological.

3. Do you know anything about his/her real parents?

I am my children's real mother. I feed them everyday. I help them with their homework. I tuck them in bed at night. Trust me. I'm their real mother.

However, I have talked to my children about their birthparents. They know they grew inside another woman's tummy. It's no secret around our household. But we have learned to use the right vocabulary to discuss our family's history.

And, on that subject, let me add that we have to be very careful about asking personal questions. Some adoptions have very troubling circumstances surrounding them. Anyone outside the immediate family must be very sensitive when asking questions, and truly understand if parents are unwilling to answer them. Many times we withhold information that we wouldn't want our children to know until we're ready to tell them.

4. What's the child's health background?

Again, this is a very sensitive issue. Sometimes, especially in the case of international adoption, adoptive parents may know very little about our children's background. Sometimes we know a lot, but don't feel comfortable revealing those issues. Our children might have mental illness, drug abuse or disabilities in their family history.

But guess what? So do our biological children!

5. Why didn't you just adopt from fill in the blank?

When my husband and I adopted our son Christian from Russia, an older family-friend said, "With all the Black children in the United States that need to be adopted, why would you go all the way to Russia to adopt?"

Now how in the world do you respond to a question like that?

I shared that my husband and I didn't pick my son. God picked him for us. We opened our hearts to the Lord's will in the area of adoption, and He chose to lead us to a little two-year-old boy in a Russian orphanage.

But even though I had a ready answer for this lady, I was offended. Why not adopt from Russia? Are international adoptions only for Caucasian people?

If you've adopted transracially, you've probably gotten some variation of this question. Why go halfway around the world for a child, when there's such a need here? Why adopt from China? Why adopt an African American child, when you're Caucasian?

Well, your answer may be similar to ours. My husband and I didn't set out to save the world. We just wanted the child that God had hand-picked for our family. That child just happened to be all the way in Moscow, Russia.

Praise God we found him.

And I'm sure you feel the same way about your precious ones. Our children are gifts to us, no matter how they came to us. No matter where they were born. No matter what circumstances brought them into our families.

And that's all we really want our loved ones to know.



  1. Replies
    1. Thanks for reading and for your thoughtful comment!

  2. Thanks for this, Carla. Those are points I understand well, as my 37 year old son is adopted, and my husband was adopted by his parents. There are two other common experiences that still give me a twist of pain. One is when journalists see the need to refer to someone's adoptive parents, instead of just their parents, as though that automatically made a difference in the story. The other is the current trend for reunion stories, which very seldom include the adoptive parents.

    Shirley Schuette

    1. Thanks for sharing your story here. I cringe at the way media handles adoption sometimes too. But I think we're all learning. I'd probably cringe if someone replayed things I said before I really understood adoption. Let's keep speaking up and teaching others.

  3. Thanks, Carla, it's really helpful to have advice like this.

    1. You're welcome Barb! Thanks for reading... always! You are very encouraging.

    2. Well said Carla. Very interesting Blog. There are some very interesting points that I can share with someone I know who is considering adoption.

    3. Thanks Terri! Thanks for visiting Deep Waters and for your comment. So glad to give you some take-aways in the area of adoption.

  4. Great Post Carla. I love hearing your insights, especially since Curtis and I have discuss the option of adoption since before we got married. If the Lord has that in store for us some day, I will need to be prepared for these types of comments. Thank you. And by the way we love you, Anthony and all of your gorgeous children!! :)

    1. Thanks Monique! You and Curtis would make wonderful adoptive parents. Can't wait to see what God has in store :) Love you too!!!

  5. I like that you break through the poor wording to hear the intent. At the same time, knowing how words hurt (and my frequent lack of skill with them!)...I end up in political-correctness paralysis (I have the same paralysis with discussions in religion, race, even north-south cultural differences).

    I try to be brave and TRY the discussions (I also think issues dont improve in silence, including at the individual level)...and because I WANT to learn, improve...and I care. So I think I'm being brave in facing my fears...but its oh so easy to accidently offend so many people.

    So...it is generous of you to see good intention over maligning the ignorance. It is good to teach rather than judge. And while I cant imagine asking some of those specific questions (my faux pas fall elsewhere)...I wonder what is the CORRECT way to ask them? Really, some of them seem like they simply are nobody else's business - I wouldnt welcome someone asking me about any of my children's health issues, regardless of whose tummy they started in!

    But every way I might ask #2 (again, I think the premise of the question is rude, but that didnt bother you)...its going to sound absurd. And what words work for you might offend someone else? I dont know, I've never adopted.

    I have to say, rather than these questions, I'm always curious how someone goes through the arduous process (and it is tacky, but I'm amazed at the costs, too!). Getting and being pregnant was no picnic, but SOOO much simpler than what many of my friends have been though in adoption, surrogacy and infertility treatments. Their efforts have always impressed me. But I imagine I could even make my intended compliment come out wrong!

    thanks for a nice article...

    1. Thanks for your thoughts Meg! I know I've personally committed many verbal faux pas in the past -- about adoption and otherwise. We have to be loving and forgiving of one another above all else, always. And notify me via Facebook if you EVER want to talk adoption. I love, love, love sharing my personal experiences and any wisdom (I hope) with others!!!