How to Talk to Adoptive Parents

How to Talk to Adoptive Parents
You see them because they are conspicuous; they don’t “match.” You know them because they are family, friends or acquaintances. Being curious is natural, and adoptive parents are used to being the focus of many people’s curiosity.

Often, though, non-adoptive parents don’t realize they’re being intrusive and possibly disparaging with some questions and comments. Try using these positive words and phrases when talking to adoptive parents.But sometimes it gets the better of you and you approach them, because darn it – you’re just dying to know.

Adoptive parents find themselves the focus of many people’s curiosity, simply because they chose to form their families through adoption. Those who have adopted internationally or trans-racially find themselves under more scrutiny and approached more often.

Usually, non-adoptive parents don’t realize that they’re being intrusive and possibly disparaging with the questions and comments they direct to adoptive parents. They aren’t familiar with the words that express positive adoption feelings or empower a positive perspective. Certain terms and phrases, well-intentioned most of the time, rankle the adoptive parent implying that a family formed through adoption doesn’t measure up to the traditional family.

On the other side, many adoptive parents aren’t always good at answering the questions, especially when they are asked by a stranger or in the company of their child. Keep in mind that how something is said reflects how the person saying it feels. When approaching the adoptive parents about their family, remember these are the adoptive parents’ children. And the details about how the family has come together are private — respect their privacy.

What not to say!

• “God bless you!” or “You’re an amazing person to do this.”
In his book “Shared Fate: A Theory and Method of Adoptive Relationships,” H. David Kirk found that 92 percent of adoptive parents have been called “saints” in one form or another. Adoptive parents aren’t saints. They’re parents. This type of praise makes the adoptive parent uncomfortable. It also implies that the adoptive parent is an exceptional person to have adopted. They’re not.

• “Real mom,” “real dad,” “real parent,” “real child” or “real sibling.”
Using “real” to qualify the adoptive family relationships is not OK. Adoptive parents and adoptive families are as real as birth parents and birth families. The word “real” implies that the relationships within the adoptive family are not real. This isn’t the case. The relationships within the adoptive family are as true and as permanent as in any other.

• “They’re so lucky!”
This may be the top contender for cringing among adoptive parents. Like non-adoptive parents, adoptive parents consider themselves to be the lucky ones. They have a beautiful child to raise and enjoy.

• “Which one is yours?” or “Are they sisters?” or “It he one of your own?”
Statements and questions like these devalue the relationships within the adoptive family. They address the dissimilarities, especially within the trans-racial and multi-racial families. The adoptive parent knows that the relationships within her family transcend blood and genetics.

Words and phrases that work

• Parent, mommy, daddy, sister, brother, etc. for describing adoptive family members.
• Birth parents, birth father, birth mother for describing the man and woman who conceived and gave birth to the child.
• Was adopted instead of is adopted.
• Your child instead of adopted child or own child.
• Placed for adoption or made an adoption plan instead of orphaned, given up, unwanted or abandoned.

The family you’re approaching doesn’t want to be judged as an adoptive family, but seen as a family. Be a pal to the adoptive parent. Use positive adoption language and be considerate when striking up a conversation with them. They’ll appreciate it.

Author Judy M. Miller is a writer and columnist for the adoption network. She lives in Indiana with her husband and four children. Her story “Souls Speak” is featured in “A Cup of Comfort for Adoptive Families” (Adams Media). “Healing the Roots of Our Graft.”