1. “What country is he/she from?” This is probably the number 1 question we have been asked as foster parents and adoptive parents. Someone actually asked this question to me in front of our 12-year-old foster daughter, followed by, “Does she speak English?”

Celebrities have raised awareness about adoption. Sincerely, thank you Brangelina. However there are other types of adoption – domestic, foster care and the adoption of step children.

If a friend or family shows up to an event, church or gathering with a new family member, walk up to them, give them a big hug, offer congratulations, and welcome the new one to the family.

An appropriate question to ask is, “Who is this gorgeous baby?” or “When did your family get a new addition?” Allow the adoptive family to lead the conversation in what they want to share.

2. “Was his/her mom young?” Yes, this really is the #2 question we have been asked. Adoption is a life long journey. My son is 5 weeks old, and I have not had the opportunity to tell him the details of how we became his parents. He doesn’t know yet how brave his birth mom is, her hair color, her age, yet, everyday I look at him, and I can see her.  I am grateful for this. I want to honor my son, and the amazing woman who gave him to us. The details of their life are sacred, and I am guarding them fiercely.

Despite what 4 seasons of MTV’s Teen Moms might have taught us, not all birth moms are drama queen high schoolers. A classic adoption book to read is Dear Birthmother. It shares letters written by birth moms, birth fathers and adoptive families of all ages. It is very insightful, and shows the many different reasons and life situations surrounding domestic adoption.

I highly suggest not asking details about the birth family. Again, follow the lead of the adoptive family. If they want to share with you they will.

3. “Don’t worry, someday you will have children of your own.” I know this comment comes with good intentions, but it can be so hurtful. For us, adoption has always been part of our plan. Originally we thought we would adopt in our 40’s. We began saving and researching, and realized we could adopt sooner. With a great need for adoptive foster families in our city, we chose to start with foster care. Every child we welcomed into our home, we hoped would be a part of our family forever. Know that for adoptive and fost-adopt families, the children in our care are “our own.”

Many adoptive families have struggled with infertility. You do not know why a family chose adoption. Please don’t assume.

Years ago we were diagnosed with unexplained infertility. After being poked, prodded and having every possible system in my body (and my husbands) checked, the doctors came to the conclusion that everything works for us as individuals, but for some unexplainable reason not together.

Being infertile never bothered me until after we gave our first foster son back. People would say, “Don’t worry, someday you will have children of your own. I bet you get pregnant soon.” I considered my foster son my own. Not to have him anymore felt like a death in the family. Then followed up by the reminder that I can’t have biological children… for the first time in my life I felt barren.

When you have a friend in the adoption process, waiting for the call to say they have been selected, or if a friend has a failed adoptive placement – please don’t say “Don’t worry, someday you will have children of your own.” Instead encourage them not to give up, and ask them how you can help or pray for them.

4. “Was he/she a drug baby?” I have been asked this question with every infant I have cared for. For both our state and private foster agency social workers, 100% of the cases they managed involved drug use. Drug use by parents, doesn’t necessarily mean the child has been exposed. I can’t describe how frustrating it feels to be holding an absolutely perfectly designed by God baby in your arms, and someone ask you if your child is a drug baby.

Just don’t say that. Trust me.

5. “Did you get to meet the birth mom? Do you have to stay in contact?” These two questions seem to come as an awkward couple. Meeting our son’s birth family was one of the most emotional and beautiful experiences of my life. It is deeply personal, so “yes” is all I am willing to share at this time.

When I dodge the first question, the second comes right away. Most domestic adoptions today are open or semi-open. That could range from face-to-face meetings, or updates and photos exchanged between attorneys or agencies. Many adoptive families want to stay in contact with the birth family. It is not a “have to”. Continued contact or correspondence can provide helpful information for the child as he/she grows and healing to the birth family.

So what part of our story are we willing to share? Honestly I am still figuring that out.  I want to share our story to encourage and help families on the adoption journey. I know what is like to fret over what to put in your adoption scrapbook. What pics? Do we include the dog or not? I know the tension of joy, excitement and fear after hearing the words – “you have been chosen.” I will never forget the butterflies in my stomach as I met my son’s birth mother, the tears I shed on the plane ride home or the countless times God answered our prayers.

I don’t want to provide details just for the sake of details.

This is me leading the conversation in the best way I know how.

4 thoughts on “Avoiding the Awkward: What Not To Say To Adoptive Families

  1. Anonymous, you should be proud. I think international adoption is amazing, and had I adopted internationally, the question probably wouldn’t bother me. I am writing from a domestic and foster parent perspective. I was trying to communicate that most people assume that all adoptions are international. I think it would be more appropriate for people to ask if you adopted internationally or domestically – ESPECIALLY when you have older children being asked. I know many foster families who get this question regularly and when you say no, more awkward questions come. Thank you for your thoughts.

  2. Great insight. I can see that some comments are obviously off base. My niece was adopted from China 13 years ago. I am as proud as a peacock to tell others she is from China. I am not sure why we shouldn’t ask about the country.

  3. I have enjoyed reading your posts so far. Thank you for sharing your beautiful heart! Much love and many continued blessings.

  4. What a beautiful post. I’ve wrote my own list a while back but I like your tone better. It’s very understanding. Obviously, people say things without much forethought.

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