10 things not to say to an adoptive parent

July 29, 2014 23 Comments

adoptive parentsFirst off, I have my tongue in my cheek when writing some of these, and I have to apologise to anyone whom feels embarrassed by this post, it is not meant to point fingers, merely highlight the gap in knowledge that still exists within the world of adoption in the UK.

I acknowledge the fact that had I not been through the process, I probably would have said some of these as well.

Many of these have been said to either my wife, myself or friends we know with adopted kids.

“What do they call you?”

Someone asked me this of my son shortly before we adopted him. I grimaced at the fact they referred to him as ‘they’ but couldn’t let slide the notion that we would be called by our first names, or worse “Adopter A” and “Adopter B”. It is a sad reflection on society that people are unaware of the basic concept of adoptive parents.

“Do you get to keep them?”

I don’t know if this was said in jest or not, either way it is a ludicrous question… unless someone genuinely mixed up adoption and fostering, then I suppose you could give the benefit of the doubt.

This question for me however, has the ring of a supermarket product trial offer to it, and therefore is pretty insensitive, and possibly insulting. Err on the side of caution; hold your tongue.

“How could you not love that face?”

In referring to my son’s face, the person who uttered these words was guided by the the pretty regular misconception that my son was in care because of a lack of love. For those who are new to adoption, this is very rarely the case. Birth parents love their children, they are removed from their care for other, very complex reasons.

“The birth parents should be strung up”

Once again, upon hearing these words I had to correct what was someone’s blinkered and uninformed view of our adopted son’s situation. In our case particularly, my son’s birth parents have an argument for being the unluckiest folk on earth. It certainly was not their fault that he was removed from them. Punitive measures are way off the mark.

“Is that why he was adopted?”

Someone has asked us this after we explained some of our current issues with the boy, and at that point I could feel my eyebrows physically rise. Behaviour of the child is not a reason for adoption, I have said it before, and will probably keep saying it.

“Don’t worry, it never did me any harm”

I know this is meant to be a reassurance for adoptive parents, but depending on context it could prove quite harmful. If referring to smacking a child for acting out, then I would say with all children it is a definite no go, but with a child who was removed from a violent house, it would be very difficult to recover from.

“Social workers are useless”

I am sure some adoptive parents would agree, but again placing blame at what some would identify as the easiest target doesn’t help.

Social workers have a tough job, made tougher by the ignorance of people who don’t know.

“Does he have any weird habits?”

This question is not necessarily insensitive depending upon what context it was used in. If referring to his emotional state after being in care being manifested in some strange idiosyncrasies, then it is pretty insensitive, so be careful.

“He is just like a real son”

I will let you all respond to this in your imagination, needless to say, I think walking away muttering:

“He isn’t Pinocchio you f**king pr*ck.”

Was the safest policy.

“Are you glad the IVF failed?”

Never let an inappropriate and insensitive remark get in the way of filling the silence… is what some people must clearly think before opening their pie-holes. Sometimes, silence is best though.

If you have any more of these, then by all means let me hear them, and again my apologies to anyone who I have offended… but it is only a blog post.

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About the Author:

Andrew is an adoptive father, and stay at home dad. Having adopted his son in January 2013, he is a new adoptive parent, but well versed in the adoption process. He is a married, coffee drinker, Xbox addict, and a Marketing graduate. Andrew McDougall is an alias he uses to protect the identity of his adopted son.

Comments (23)

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  1. Nicky says:

    Wow, I was surprised at how many of these have been said to me. Nice to turn it into some light-hearted education. Good post!

  2. Emily says:

    Thank you for writing this, I have been putting together my own list and have come up with similar. My favourite was – did you think of any other options before adoption – my reply was no, we started at the beginning of the alphabet.

  3. Corinna says:

    Congratulations on your new addition to the family! Adoptive parents are special and I say that since I’m an adopted girl. I was born in South Korea and arrived in the USA at just 3 months old. I’m basically as American as they get since I have no ties to the country or culture, but I recently found out an older friend of the family asked my parents when I was newly arrived, “what they would do when I began to talk,” assuming that my native language would be unintelligible and foreign. This rather prominent member of town actually told them, “See!” when I began to babble as a baby and they were baffled that an educated person would be so unintelligent. Hopefully everyone’s been positive for you and your family and I wish you all tons of love and support.
    Corinna recently posted..Inspired by Sweet Iced TreatsMy Profile

  4. Ros says:

    ‘At least they were too young to remember it…’ referring to whatever happened in the child’s life pre-adoption is one that really gets me!

    • Jack & Emily says:

      Yes the too young to remember line is a common misnomer, people just don’t realise that 9 months in-uterine can be very traumatic, if the sounds from the outside world are chaotic along with the fact that all sorts of chemical messages will be reaching the embryo.

      We adopted 13 years ago two fantastic children who struggle with life in a big way, due to the horrendous abuse they suffered prior to being taken into care (our son 19 months and daughter 4 months). Our son had to be removed from the family home as he was too much of a danger to our daughter, as he re enacted, what the birth father had done to him on our daughter.
      We are now receiving help from a wonderful organisation call Integrate Families (though we fear it may be too late for our son).

      • Yeah we get this one alot. To be fair though, I only know about all of this because of adoption. I know for example a little about how babies brains work, the impact of trauma, and why eye contact is so vital at a young age. This is the sort of stuff that shouldn’t be exclusive to adopters… it is important stuff to know if you are being a parent of any kind.

        Thanks for the comments, great stuff.
        Andrew McDougall recently posted..10 things not to say to an adoptive parentMy Profile

  5. Sky says:

    I have only been an adoptive Mum for 5 months and have already heard most of these.. Another favourite of mine is “when will he get to see his real Mum again?” I let it go the first time, but politely pointed out that there are other words we use for different mums the second time she said it.

  6. Jane says:

    Brilliant! We have had most of these! The term “real mum” is the one which sends my temperature through the roof!

  7. Sorcha says:

    My personal favourite was ‘ Did you not want one of your own?’….

  8. Rachael says:

    Excellent points.
    We get asked ‘what will you do now if you get pregnant” all the time too.

  9. Dawn says:

    I adopted my little angel as a single mother almost two years ago. He is an amazing blessing for me. The things you have stated hit the nail on the head but there are sooooo many more smh moments because I’m a single parent. Congrats on your addition by the way

  10. Oh gosh reading these make me cringe. I’m 28 and have no interest (to date) in having children. However, if we do decide to have children I would like to adopt. The main reason being that there are so many children who need a mum and dad and a safe home so why do I need to make another when I can give a home to one that so desperately need it. Reading the questions you, and you’re readers that have commented, have been asked really worries me though- Why can’t people just accept an adopted child is the same as any other child but just doesn’t happen to have been made biologically by the parents? I’m worried because people may ask the child these questions and I won’t be there to correct the person asking. Such questions and comments could be really damaging for the child :)
    Miss Tulip x
    The Thrifty Magpies Nest

    • Hi
      Thanks for leaving a comment. I think the fact you are considering adoption as a purely altruistic thing is wonderful, so good on you. The fact is that most adoptive kids do have their pecadilloes and most are about attachment, however many adoptive parents like myself have been through the ringer to get a child, and whilst we have absolutely no regrets about our decision, the journey shapes the way we think and feel.

      Mentioning something about pregancy to someone who has adopted is potentially very insensitive, and completely unnecessary.

      Don’t worry about what people say though, you will find you are more than equiped to deal with it, good luck. Andrew
      Andrew McDougall recently posted..10 things not to say to an adoptive parentMy Profile

  11. Lisa Eades says:

    May I also add anything along the lines of “real mother”, “real father” etc. Especially in his/her earshot. Adopters are real mothers and fathers. “Birth parent” is just about acceptable, though in many cases, for whatever reason, they have had little to do with parenting.

    • Lisa Eades says:

      Oops, slow internet connection meant I didn’t read comments thoroughly first. It’s “good” to see that it makes others’ blood boil too.

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