5 Misguided Adoption-Related Comments from Relatives and Friends

And how you can respond.

Rachel Garlinghouse September 17, 2015
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When we announced eight years ago that we were building our family through adoption, we were met with many misguided responses from family members and friends. Some were kind and thoughtful, offering encouragement and support. Others meant well, but their words stung.

1: “You get to avoid stretch marks and weight gain!”

Many people choose adoption after a long battle with infertility, after the loss of a child, or after facing a difficult diagnosis or prognosis. I have never met someone who easily arrived at the decision to adopt. Choosing adoption is joyful, yes, but it’s also agonizing in its own unique ways. Certainly, a person who is a glass-half-full type and chooses to affirm you by saying something clever about you avoiding the hard parts of having a biological child is someone who loves and cares about you; however, he or she just goes about it the wrong way.  Many people would love the opportunity to having a biological child, weight gain and stretch marks included.

You can respond:  “Adoption comes with its own ‘labor pains’ such as paperwork, background checks, interviews, and, of course, waiting.”

2: “Why aren’t you having your own kids?”

Any child you adopt will be your “own” child. You will do for this child exactly what you would do for a biological child: love, encourage, support, and nurture. Humans are naturally curious beings, but certainly not every thought should be turned into words. The word “own” can sting, making the choice to adopt seem less-than or second-best. Furthermore, questioning your reasoning behind adoption can cause grief and heartache to resurface or make you feel defensive, embarrassed, or angry.

You can respond:  “Any children I adopt will be my own kids.”

3: “That’s it!  Just adopt!”

The you’ll-show-them friend or family member is trying to cheer you on with their exclamations. But it’s not that simple, is it? “Just adopt” is such a simple sentence for a very complicated and difficult journey. Adoption is expensive (in many cases), challenging, and worrisome. I have yet to meet a person or couple who claims adoption was “easy peasy,” with no bumps in the proverbial road. Additionally, adopting doesn’t eradicate the pain of what caused the person or couple to choose adoption in the first place.

You can respond: “Adoption has its own intricacies and nuances, but we are excited to confront those head-on and grow our family.”

4: “Any child would be lucky to have you as her parents!”

Many adoptees have expressed that they find it offensive when a child is called upon to feel indebted to his or her parents because of the adoption. The “lucky” child is supposed to feel grateful for being rescued by the superhero parents. The truth is, the parents are the lucky ones. They are ones who were yearning for weeks, months, even years to become a family. The person expressing the “lucky” statement to the parents-to-be is trying to offer a compliment, but unfortunately the sentiment isn’t exactly PC.

You can respond:  “I’m going to be the lucky one!”

5: “What about the kid’s real parents?”

A parent who adopts a child is the child’s real parents. The child’s birth parents are also “real.”  It’s not a real-ness competition. In this case, the person is expressing concern over the possibility of legality (can the birth parents reclaim the child?), relationship (will this be an open adoption?), or something else. It’s obvious that the commenter isn’t familiar with Positive Adoption Language (PAL) quite yet.

You can respond:  “I’m going to be my child’s ‘real’ parent. And I’m hoping that the child’s biological parents will be willing to have an ongoing relationship with my family.”

Remember, many people have no idea what the right terminology is, some have mixed emotions about adoption based on experiences or stereotypes (thank you, Hallmark and Lifetime movies), and a few might be quick-to-speak and slow-to-think. With time, grace, and a whole lot of education, your nearest-and-dearest will warm up to your adoption plans and learn to respond appropriately.

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Rachel Garlinghouse

Rachel Garlinghouse is the author of "Come Rain or Come Shine: A White Parent's Guide to Adopting and Parenting Black Children," "Black Girls Can: An Empowering Story of Yesterdays and Todays," and "Encouragement for the Adoption Journey: 52 Devotions and a Journal" (co-authored with Madeleine Melcher). Rachel's adoption education and experience has appeared on MSNBC, NPR, Huffington Post Live, ABCNews.com, Babble, Scary Mommy, Portrait of Adoption, Slow Mama, I Am Not the Babysitter, and more. Rachel is a mom of three children, adopted domestically and transracially. Learn more about her family's adventures at White Sugar, Brown Sugar or on Twitter @whitebrownsugar.

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