9 Things You Should Never Say to Adoptive Parents

9 Things You Should Never Say to Adoptive Parents

With many multicultural families formed by adoption or expanded by adoption (and obviously not solely multicultural families), we thought it’s important to address some etiquette surrounding adoption. Most people probably have friends who have adopted, but there are still many misconceptions about adoption. Sometimes people don’t know what’s ok to ask and what’s not ok. Sometimes you may say the wrong thing unwittingly. So InCultureParent has put together a list of things you should know about adoption: what’s ok to say and what’s not ok–a collection of adoption dos and don’ts. In this post, we are addressing the don’ts. In a separate post, we address the list of dos.

1. Don’t refer to my child’s biological mother as his real mother. Real just isn’t appropriate. Kelly O’Brien says, “Sometimes people refer to Jin’s birth mother as his “real mother,” which makes me crazy.”

2. Don’t presume I had fertility problems because I chose to adopt.

3. Don’t ask me in front of my child if I know anything about my child’s “real parents.” We are our child’s real parents. Anything we know about his biological parents is our child’s story and we will share that with him. When she’s older, she can then share this with you if she chooses.

4. Don’t inquire if I’m going to have any “children of my own.” My child is my own child. When I’m changing his diaper at 3 a.m. or watching him perform in his tumbling recital, he is just as much “my own” as any biological child would be.

5. Don’t ask me, especially in front of my children, if they are “real” brother and sister. For Julie Corby, “I always say they are biological brother and sister but what I’d like to say is, ‘No, they are just pretend brother and sister.’”

6. Don’t lecture me on why I didn’t adopt domestically if I adopted internationally.

7. Don’t tell my child he is so lucky to have been adopted.

8. Don’t ask my child personal questions about her past. This may seem obvious but you’d be surprised.

9. Don’t say to me, “You did it the easy way.” It’s all hard, whether you had your child biologically or adopted. I can assure you that when I was driving documents across the state to be signed, notarized and authenticated and when I took part in a 16-hour home study, I didn’t think it was easy.


  1. My. Such hostility. I don’t know if it’s the accompanying stock photo, but I was put on the defensive the minute I began reading. My takeaway point was not to ask an adoptive parent anything about the adoption because you don’t know if it’s a hot button. Better to pretend that adoption didn’t exist in the first place if you can help it. The fact is, I wouldn NOT have asked most of those questions, but the level venom presented in the article indicated I might NEVER know what’s appropriate to ask. I don’t know who these exceptionally insensitive people are that are asking the questions outlined, but chances are they aren’t reading this article on this blog. Perhaps a better approach would be: Dealing With Rudeness as an Adopter. That way, you are educating your likely core readership on how to handle this issue with diplomacy and tolerance. In my opinion, that would effect the most change. However, perhaps that goes against garnering more readership through attention grabbing bloggy-type headlines.

  2. Ask about the adoption, ask about why we decided on the country, if you are truly asking out of interest, ask why we adopted when we are so young or why we believe so strongly in adoption or why we adopted first, anything like that is fine. Don’t ask about my child’s past, ever. Period. Especially if you are a stranger, I would never ask you to tell about the most traumatic time in your child’s life so what gives you the right to ask about my child’s? For once, remember that this isn’t about you or me, it’s about the child. Think of them first before asking, think of how it would make you feel as a mother if that was your little one.

  3. As a parent who is too frequently mistaken for an adopted mother because my son and I have different skin colors, this article really resonated with me. You really can’t tell as much as you think you can by appearances. I am amazed at the things people feel they have the liberty to say or ask me. Its really just not anybody’s business. You are asking questions out of your own inappropriate interest. Questioning gay and lesbian families about how they conceived is also inappropriate. If someone wants to tell you about their adoption process or their sperm donor, they will. Don’t ask.

  4. I’m an adoptive parent, and I gotta say that I am kinda with Elena on this article…especially the part about how it might have been more useful to give adoptive parents some tips on how to deal with people who say these kinds of things. As in many other areas of life, my philosophy is that I can’t control what other people do or say – I can only control my own reaction to them. I am not bothered by the “real” parent comments, I don’t really care what anyone thinks about my fertility status (why would I?), I can see why someone would think paperwork (no matter how much of it) is easier than labor and childbirth, and you can feel free to ask my daughter questions about her past – but don’t be surprised if she says she doesn’t want to tell you, as I’ve taught her she has the right to do.

  5. Please add “what did she cost?” and “did you get a discount because of her special needs” as well as “you’re so nice to do this.” Adoption isn’t charity. I choose to adopt for my own reasons, and I didn’t adopt for any altruistic reasons. Also, don’t ask my kids what was wrong with their first parents… even if you’re dying to know.

  6. Another adoptive mom here: yes I hate stupid questions. But people only ask them for three reasons. 1) They are trying to be supportive and don’t know the right words 2) they have no adoption experience and have no idea how insensitive certain phrases and words are 3) they are hideously obnoxious, ignorant and/or racist. I try and believe most people are 1 and 2. This article would be way more helpful if a group of adoptive parents helped give examples of what to ask or say. You can interview Julie again, or Liz or me for starters…

  7. Please educate yourself on what not to say to adoptive people as well. Such as you are the only mother and we are chosen. That we look like you when we share no genetics. That we should be grateful you saved us. That our birthmothers did not want us. That you will share information about our birthparents when you feel we are ready. And that means you will not give us anything we can use at all. You have all the power and we have none. So nice to hear you whine about what hurts your feelings but nothing about ours. How about demanding we have access to our OBC’s? I didn’t think so. You, you you. Sorry did I sound ungrateful?

  8. I actually googled “adoption etiquette” as an outlet for my anger, because I’ve had a couple of those hurtful ones recently, and sometimes it just feels good to read something like this and nod my head the whole time. I usually don’t get offended when people ask questions with good intentions either Liz and Staci, but also am not offended when other adoptive parents are more sensitive. You never know their situation. I took this blog as a mother or father venting, and I think that is perfectly legitimate and often necessary!

  9. I am a birthmother, and I can definitely identify with adoptive parents’ frustrations with flat out nosy people…. When people found out I was planning on putting up my baby for adoption, the incredibly personal and prying questions and hurtful comments abounded. “Why did you get pregnant?” “How could you not want your own flesh and blood?” “How could you give your child to strangers?” “You are so selfish.” “I would never dream of doing that.” I didn’t plan on it, I was actively using birth control and it failed. I desperately wanted to keep her, but it wasn’t financially remotely possible. I didn’t give her to strangers, I got to know the adoptive family well before I consented to anything. I’m not selfish – I gave her a family and I life that I lacked the capacity to provide. I deal with the loss everyday – it is the most difficult thing that I have ever had to do, but it was worth it in the end…. she has a wonderful life with two loving parents – her REAL parents – and has opportunities and resources available that she could only have dreamed of in my home. Adoption is no one’s business but the family’s, and even well meaning, curious outsiders should just keep their curiosity to themselves.

  10. I am sorry, but you adoptive parents are not real parents and need to get over yourselves. Signing documents, etc. is nowhere near the act of giving birth. You failed at having your own kid, so you sought out someone else’s/ Sorry…

  11. randidoll, you are an ignorant person. You don’t understand anything about this. You’re the type that this article was written for.


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