Doug and Deanne Walker have 19 children, 10 of whom are adopted. These loving parents have been up and down and all around adoption, and seem to me to be an endless bucket of adoption knowledge and wisdom. On top of that, the Walkers are welcoming, inviting, and friendly! This series of articles covers everything from being an organized home executive to failed adoptions to finding the right agency. So as you read, imagine taking a comfortable spot on Deanne’s sofa as she openly shares her insight into each topic. Here are phrases that may offend adoptive families.
We all know that, as a whole, people mean well. But sometimes we’re a bit shocked at what comes out of their mouths. Words are much more than just words to the hearer. They’re a whole bundle of feelings all balled up and squished into one seemingly harmless sentence. This article addresses what is appropriate and what is inappropriate to say to an adoptee, an adoptive family, and to birth mothers.
I asked the Walker Family to share some of the things said to them, and how those words made them feel:
Is it hard to be adopted because you can’t see your birth family?
This was said to one of the Walker children, with one of the Walker siblings presents. It could come across to offend This child’s response: “Yes. It’s hard because I don’t really know them and I want to. It makes me sad, but happy. Sad because I can’t see them but happy to be in the family I am in.” In this case, it was the sibling who was most hurt by the question. This was her sibling! Not just some kid off the street. She felt protective and hurt at this question.
Does your mom like kids, or is she just collecting them?
This question really hurt the child. You see, she didn’t want others thinking she wasn’t loved … she didn’t want others to think she was just an object to be collected, like stamps. She knew she was loved, but to think that others might look at her like an object rather than a part of the family was hurtful.
It’s bad for your parents to adopt from another country because they take their cultures away from them.
This child’s articulate response: “Either he lives in an orphanage and he goes to a sweatshop, or we adopt him. Now he has family and will have an education.”
Are they all yours?
The Walker parents hear this question too often and it can offend. Deanne says an immediate feeling of discomfort fills her when this question is asked. Of course, they are all theirs. And while she knows this question is asked out of ignorance, it is surprising how often these words are spoken–sometimes with a chuckle, sometimes in wonder, and sometimes in shock. Deanne’s response is usually, “Yes. They are all mine. Nine are biological and nine are adopted.” And she leaves it at that.
You are saints!
Of all the statements, this makes Deanne most uncomfortable and can offend often. This statement infers perfection–it creates a feeling of pressure to not make mistakes. From Deanne: “We aren’t saints. We love children and want to give them the love they deserve even if it means we lose our lives for them. We are blessed to be these children’s parents. Many people don’t understand that each child is our gift. We are the ones that are lucky to have the privilege of being their parents!”
Why don’t you adopt from foster care? There are a lot of kids in the U.S. that need families.
This creates a feeling of being negatively judged and can offend. And one would wonder why the person asking the question doesn’t adopt from foster care his/herself! Adoption is as personal as any family matter–so to have one scrutinize the adoptive parents’ methods, decisions, choices – is invasive. Deanne’s answer that she carries in her heart is that each of their children is theirs. Their children didn’t happen to be in foster care. They were directed to their children–it never mattered what country they were from, what they looked like, how old they were. If these children had been in foster care, the Walkers would have adopted through foster care. A person is a person–and children in other countries need families as much as those in our own country.
How cute! Can I have him?
Sure, this statement is meant as a compliment–your child is cute! But the feeling that floods this adoptive mother is a giant sting and can offend. “No,” Deanne would think, “this is MY son. I waited 12 years for him and worked hard to find him.” Of course, that’s not what she would say–but it is a bit of a shock to have worked so hard for a child and have it taken so lightly by others as if a child can be had just for the asking.
Why did they give up their kid?
Well, they didn’t “give up” their child–they “placed” their child . . . out of love. They wanted to give the child a better life. It may even surprise some birth mothers that adoptive parents are offended by this phrase. Adoptive parents carry a strong love for birth mothers. We are protective of them. Their unselfish love is so admirable, and our gratitude so strong, that we defend in strength the decision of birth mothers to place their children.
Wow – you adopted. You did it the easy way.
The Walkers know that there is no easy way to get children. “Adoption is not easy! Ever. A woman doesn’t experience the physical pains of being pregnant and childbirth when she adopts, but the emotional sacrifice and struggle to get the child and deal with emotional issues through the child’s life is much more taxing at times and longer-lasting than pregnancy.” Additionally, many couples are infertile, and hearing that others think you took the “easy route” is painful. They suffer much to have a child. It’s important not to offend someone with this.
Deanne summed things up nicely: “I am of the mindset that people generally don’t say things to be mean. If something is said that is mean or uncomfortable it is because they don’t know how else to say it. For instance, our children are all ours, but some are biological and some have come to us through adoption. Our children were not “given up,” but “placed” for adoption. Even though our adopted children were not biological siblings, they are still brother and sister as though they had the same genetics.”
More from the Walker Family
Adoption.org or call 1-800-ADOPT-98.