6 Phrases and Questions That Offend Adoptees

Adoptees have the undesirable distinction of having been separated from their parents, perhaps abandoned, maybe not by choice, but separated nonetheless. For many, this is traumatic. It can lead to skepticism in relationships, as well as a general lack of trust. Not always. Not for everyone, but for many. Sometimes, often-used terms or questions can be offensive to adoptees, even if they’re not meant to be. Here are some of the more popular ones.

1. Blood is thicker than water.

Everyone knows the meaning of this. It is often used when one takes sides in a given situation, and is intended to express the opinion that you should always back those you are related to by blood. Not only is this an offensive term for many adoptees, it’s also insulting to victims of familial abuse and to those who base their respect for a particular individual on their character rather than on their genealogy.

2. Do you know your real parents?

Using the term “real” parents implies that you have fake parents.  I consider the parents who raised me to be my parents, and I know that many adoptees feel the same.  The terms “biological parents” or “birth parents” are typically more palatable. Some people prefer the term “first parents.”

3. You should be grateful!

This is usually a knee-jerk reaction when someone first finds out you are adopted, but it’s one that can be highly offensive. Not all of us grew up in normal, loving households. And even if we did, it is a basic human right to expect a decent upbringing. Expecting an adoptee to be grateful without understanding his or her particular circumstances is a bit presumptuous.

4. You’re lucky!

Along the same lines as #3, don’t automatically presume that adoptees are lucky for having been adopted. Many of us have very difficult upbringings, and don’t appreciate the assumption that just because we are adopted, we have been “saved.” In many instances, this is not the case at all. We were still abandoned by our biological parents. We still may have grown up in a difficult situation.

5. What’s your family medical history?

It’s usually the first thing the doctor asks when he or she comes in for your appointment.  “I’m not sure,” I usually say, “I’m adopted.” It’s in the record. I’ve answered this question the same way for many years. I know doctors are busy, but taking a minute or two to glance at the chart before entering the patient room could go a long way.

6. Do you have any siblings?

When I hear this, I cringe. I have two adoptive “brothers,” one of whom abused me when I was growing up. The other was more disruptive, which made for a highly chaotic household. On the other hand, I have three biological half-siblings who finally learned about my existence, but are not interested in connecting. My sibling experience has been one that hasn’t been all sunshine and roses, and I imagine that many adoptees are in the same boat.