The last several days, I’ve been mulling over some bizarre and unsettling views of adoption that have made me stop and think. There is such a mystery to it that I can’t seem to wrap my mind around… but people have questions—mostly well intentioned questions—that they honestly want answers to.
I can engage that.
But what has come out of all this is that I realized a lot people have NO IDEA how to ask about adoption. Adoption is more common than what society believes. For a long time, it was treated as taboo—to the point where plenty of adopted children didn’t know they had been adopted! In the spirit of wanting to educate and perhaps give newly adoptive parents a way to appreciate the hearts of their well-intentioned friends, here are some actual questions I have personally been asked.
1. “So where did you get them?”
This question is the sort that you can ask if you are inquiring about a great pair of jeans your friend is wearing. Because jeans are just stuff. People aren’t stuff; they’re souls. Instead, ask: “Were you children born locally, or did you have to travel to bring them home?”
2. “So what is she anyway?” (This is in regards to ethnicity.)
If you’ve ever heard this one, you probably heard a rather terse parent reply, “A baby.” It’s hard to imagine someone approaching you at the water cooler and asking, “So what are you anyway?” That’s awkward. If you are really burning to know what ancestry a child has, be sure you’d be willing to answer this question from a stranger yourself: “Do you know what her heritage is? She has such a beautiful nose/face shape/chin/etc.”
3. “So what’s wrong with him that his real parents didn’t want him?”
First, there doesn’t have to be a good reason for a biological parent to stop parenting (and even if it IS a good reason, it’s just not anyone else’s business). The child is a victim—not a problem. Second, a biological parent isn’t a ‘real’ parent or the ‘old’ parent… they are a biological one. A ‘real’ parent chooses to love and nurture their child unconditionally in the face of health problems, anxiety, and heartache. This question is purely and completely offensive. In every way. Every. Way. There is no better way to ask this question. Don’t ask it.
4. “How much did he cost anyway?”
Slavery is fittingly illegal in the United States. It is unlawful to purchase another human being… and it’s reprehensible. Adopted children are not purchased. This question gives the sense that an adoptive parent is the sort of person that deals in human trafficking. Legal fees can indeed be expensive; the average cost of a domestic adoption is about equivalent to giving birth without medical insurance in a hospital. The best way to ask this question: don’t.
5. “Does she know she’s adopted?”
If she doesn’t, did you just spill the beans? Because that’s not cool. If you are the bestest and closest of friends with the person you are asking, you probably know this answer already! If you’re not this person’s dearest kindred spirit, it’s just not your place to ask. If for some reason (you’re a nosy great aunt or a gossipy neighbor) you MUST ask, this is the only possible way to avoid permanently ruining your relationship with this person forever: “What’s her favorite part of her birthstory?”
6. “Do you know who his daddy is?”
Odds are, yes. Lawyers are very thorough professionals who make it their business to get the answer to this. Even if a specific birthfather hasn’t been fingered, there is a definite short list that implicates all the men who have been served by the court to terminate their parental rights. All of this information has been documented and sealed by the court at an adoption’s finalization hearing. So you don’t need to ask this question! Whew! Isn’t that a relief?
7. “Were they abusing him or what?”
Here’s the horrible truth that most of us already know… bad people have kids, too. That means that there are real, live, good adults walking this earth that did not have a happy childhood. And they don’t want to share their baggage with the checker at the grocery store or their cousin’s new girlfriend. It’s tragedy they don’t want to spread around. So if you ask this question, more than likely, their adoptive parents will give you a stern stare and change the subject because this is not something you share with others; ugliness isn’t what you want associated with your child. The child is happy and home; focus on that.
8. “Do you ever talk to her real mother?”
Many birthparents have some contact with adoptive parents (especially domestic adoptions). Birthparents who make the decision to terminate their parental rights in order to give their child the life she deserves are LOVING parents. They are not heartless or abandoning their child. They simply cannot provide the life they feel their child deserves. So they make a plan and give their child the best possible family. Because they care, they wonder how the child is doing, hope for the child’s future, and are naturally curious about the child—more frequently than one might imagine. Birthparents and adoptive parents do a cautious dance to assure that everyone is emotionally okay and that the child’s life is steady and full of love. This is a long answer all to say that it is likely that there is some form of contact between the two households. But why would that be public information? It’s a cautious dance! Just let them get through it without distractions.
9. “When did you get her?”
In our culture, the most common form of adoption that is discussed is animal adoption. Strange when you think about it, but there it is. It is understandable to talk about “getting” a puppy… but not so much a baby. Try asking this way: “When did she come home?”
10. “That’s great that you adopted! I never could.”
REALLY?! Why? Are you done raising children? Do you deeply enjoy the experience of pregnancy? Do you have a problem with orphans? This statement is so perplexing. If you are trying to show your support for adoption and haven’t thought through your words yet, perhaps this is what you were hoping to convey: “Adoption is a such a wonderful way to grow a family.”
11. “Do you have any natural children?”
Could you define ‘natural’? Are the artificial ones an option now? Are you wondering if all of this parent’s children are adopted? This might be what you mean to ask: “Are all of your children adopted?” or “Do you have any biological children?”
12. “How is he adjusting?” (This is in regards to an older child.)
Is the child in the room? How well would you adjust to a whole new life? This question is fiddly, isn’t it? You’re trying to be supportive and maybe be that listening ear for the parent. That’s your intent, right? So how about this question instead: “How are YOU adjusting to the growth of your happy family?”
13. “She is adopted.”
Obviously, this isn’t a question. This is a statement said a thousand times, but it’s on this list for two reasons. First, why is this often mentioned? Does this child have little asterisk by their name that shows that, hey, this one came from somewhere else? Second, adoptions are long and usually accompanied by pricey lawyer fees and emotional stress… then finalization day happens. The skies part; birds sing; it’s the end of a journey and the start of a new day. Simply, it’s magical. And it makes the trials fade to the past tense. So when it absolutely MUST be said, say this: “She WAS adopted.”
There you have it.
I’m surprised by the number of people mournfully who tell me, “We just can’t adopt. We’re too old/big of a family now/broke/sick/etc.” Let me respond with this: IT’S OKAY! Not everyone is going to adopt a child. The greatest thing you can do for adoption is show your support! Hand down clothes to a growing family, make a big deal when a child comes home, PRAY for a child to go to just the right family, treat the child like a regular member of their family, and maybe offer to baby-sit in a few months! Adoption is how God Himself has chosen to grow His family. Support adoption, and you’re standing behind a respectable principle.
Now go have an awesome day!