Adoptive families are often asked rude and embarrassing questions. Largely, the questions are asked by people who truly WANT to understand their friend’s adoption but are unsure of what kinds of questions are acceptable. Everyone has heard the stories of what not to say to adoptive families, but what are some things that you CAN ask? You do not want to offend, but you genuinely want to understand and support the adoptive family. Nosy people and strangers tend to make the adoptive family more guarded and less likely to share. The level of your friendship with an adoptive family will most likely determine the appropriateness of your question and the type of reply you might receive. Here are a few suggestions of safe questions friends can ask adoptive families.
1. What can I do to help you?
THIS IS HUGE!! Meals. Shopping. Coffee. Laundry. Cleaning. Coffee. Childcare. Fellowship. Coffee. Those are all things that you might be able to offer an adoptive family as they adjust to life with their new addition. They have been through so much to get to this point and may be surviving on sheer adrenalin. A strong support system is crucial when you bring home a child, whether adopted or not. Most families don’t always know what they need or when they need it. This article reminds us that “every parent needs a supportive group of people surrounding them to carry them through the jungle that is parenting. Adoptive parents are no different, and for single adoptive [parents] the value of a supportive community is paramount…You can be a support to adoptive parents just as you would any other parent—offering to babysit, picking up items at the store when you’re there, and dropping off a thoughtful meal during the week.” And bringing them coffee. Definitely coffee.
2. What night can I bring you a meal?
When we brought home our second son, some people brought meals. Those meals arrived on the nights when we were the most exhausted. One morning, a friend brought over donuts for the family and coffee for me. It was bliss. A few weeks later, a friend offered to watch our boys so we could enjoy a kid-free date night to dinner and a movie. What a treat that was! I did not ask for these things; people saw a need and chose to bless us by filling it. That is what a support system does. Like most people, I find that it is hard to ask for help, even when I need it. When a person asks how they can help (and follows through!), it can be the kindest, most generous, and definitely the most-needed question ever!
3. Would you like a new addition/adoption shower?
This can be a biggie! Sometimes the adoptive family has a long time to prepare for their new addition. Sometimes the baby comes very quickly. Sometimes the baby isn’t a baby but an older child instead. Sometimes they were prepared for a girl, and God brought them a boy or vice versa. Every child should be celebrated. No matter the age of the adopted child, there are “startup costs” and needs associated with preparing a home for that child. I know of a family who was adopting two teenage boys. Her friends and family threw them a “new addition” shower complete with tons of packaged snacks for the hungry boys, gift cards for clothes and shoes, as well as traditional boy things like balls, bats, gloves, AXE body supplies. The family had not planned to adopt two older boys, but that is who God brought them. The new addition shower was such a blessing to that family, and it was the community’s way of welcoming the boys to the family and their neighborhood. SO. SWEET. (Please note that the family may decline your offer, but you can be sure that they will be touched that you DID offer. Even if they decline a shower, I can promise you they will not turn away gifts of diapers, wipes, and gift cards).
4. What suggestions do you have for families considering adoption?
Adoption is not something you jump into randomly. It is a conscious choice and a purposeful calling that requires much tenacity, flexibility, and patience. When you ask this question, keep in mind that every adoption is unique. There may be similarities between adoptions, but there is no exact path of predecessors to follow. Talking with adoptive families about their experiences can help you navigate the sometimes murky waters of the adoption world. We can learn so much from each other. This question is a safe question if you truly are looking into adopting.
5. What did your adoption process entail?
It is no state secret that the cost of the adoption can be pretty steep; however, it is important to remember that the costs are not “paying for a child” but rather the “fees go to pay social workers and attorneys, to complete court and government paperwork, to cover travel, medical, foster/orphanage care, and other expenses. It is not to ‘buy children.’ It is also no secret that the adoption journey can be a rigorous and lengthy process. When you ask about the adoption process, you are leaving room for an adoptive family to answer as in depth as they are comfortable with. Most adoptive families like to talk about adoption but tend to guard the privacy of their child’s story; so, don’t be offended if you get a vague or general answer.
6. Where was your child born?
Personally, I do not mind questions about where my children were born. I actually find it a bit amusing that sometimes people think that adopted children have to be adopted “from” somewhere other than where you live. My children were born in small towns about 35 minutes away from me and look a lot like my husband and me; but not everyone has the same story. Some people have adopted from countries or nationalities different than their own. That being said, comments that are stereotypical to certain ethnicities or nationalities are hurtful. Asking where the child was born can be a great way to learn about the adopted child by allowing the adoptive family to share as little or as much as they want. If the family chooses to engage in this question, a great follow-up question could be, “What are some things you might do to incorporate your child’s birth heritage into everyday life?”
7. In Conclusion
These are just a few questions you might consider asking an adoptive family. I am sure that there are many more safe questions you can ask as a friend. If you don’t know the family, you don’t have a right to ask questions unless they first bring it up in conversation. If you have a good relationship with the family, you can gently ask appropriate questions. In general, steer clear of questions regarding money or their relationship with the child’s birth family. Never infer that adoption is an inferior option to building a family or somehow is “plan B.” Ask open questions to allow the adoptive family to respond with as little or as much detail with which they are comfortable. You will find that most adoptive families LOVE to talk about their children. Don’t be afraid to ask. If you can’t find the proper way to ask a question, tell the adoptive family that you would like to learn HOW to talk about adoption in a non-offensive way. I will be willing to bet that they would be delighted to help you learn!