What Not to Say to Adoptive Families: Sensitivity 101

We are 2 moms.  My wife is white, I am of Middle Eastern descent and our daughter, who we adopted, is Black.  As a result, the 3 of us make a very diverse family, and we get a lot of questions.  We expect this.

For us, Love is Love, but – as we have seen of our country in this Trump America – most of the rest of this country sees it differently.  As we move through the world, complete strangers, friends and family often make comments or ask questions that make us uncomfortable, at best.

I am writing this in hopes that people can better understand how we feel, and that more sensitivity will be considered when addressing adoptive families with questions or comments.  It is the responsibility of we, Citizens of the World, not to be ignorant.  I hope that this helps enlighten & inform people.

Don’t get me wrong, we don’t mind talking about our family.  We love that, actually.  But people ask really personal questions that wouldn’t otherwise be asked.  My advice to people is this:  if you want to ask questions, stick to the basics.  How old is she?  How are you enjoying motherhood?  What are her favorite foods?  Has she hit the “terrible twos” yet?  The rest is, frankly, none of your business, unless we choose to share it with you.

Here are some things that you should not ask an adoptive family:

How long have you had her?

This post was inspired by a recent experience while our family was on vacation, when a stranger asked this very question.

We were at an aerial tramway shuttle stop, waiting to go on an 8500 ft. trek up a mountain in Palm Springs, California.  We were at the front of a group of about 30 people.  A woman, man & young teenager cut the line, and the woman kept staring at us so I smiled at her.  In her loudest possible speaking voice, she said, “How long have you had her?”  The crowd went silent, and all eyes turned our way.  I could almost hear the air go out of L, so I answered, “Since birth.” She then said, “Since birth?! Oh, I thought that she was from another country.” I shut that shit down with silence and a blank stare right there.

Do not ask families this.  And do not make brazen assumptions about the family dynamic. Especially when it is the very first time speaking to them!  A biologically-linked family would not be asked by a stranger how long they had sex before they conceived.  Just take the knowledge that we are a different sort of family & move on.  You have no idea the potential ramifications of this sort of “interviewing” on a person’s (let along a child’s) psyche, so please just don’t.

Is she yours? ….She is?!?

When Ella was 10 months old, I was forced to detour through a department store to use their stroller-accessible elevator and that was a conversation that I got stuck having with an employee who was in the elevator with us.

It is 2017.  If people have kids with them, assume that they belong together, and leave it at that.  If they tell you that they are the parent, they probably are.

My Child

Are you worried that she will want to find her real mother? 

No. And we are her real mothers.

We have celebrated the fact that Ella was adopted from the beginning.  It was the most important day of our lives.

Adoption Day!

Ella won’t have to look for her birth parents, if she decides to try to connect, because we have contact with her birth parents on a regular basis, so that will always be an option for her.  That contact with her birth parents has given us an avenue to learn more about them, and has given them the knowledge that Ella is part of a family who love & adore her.  We have the chance to tell them that the life that they wished for her is the one that she has.  No worries at all here.

The decision to learn more/visit with/have a relationship with her birth parents  is Ella’s choice, and a family matter.  Consider the fact that you have little to no information about the situation before you jump to the deep stuff.

Are you worried about the fact that she doesn’t have a male role model in her life?

No.  Why assume that she doesn’t have wonderful male role models in her life?  She has male relatives and we have close male friends.  We are a 2-mom family, but we don’t live on an all-female compound on an island.  The world will provide her many opportunities for balance and the chance to meet male-identifying folks.

Didn’t you want to have your own children?

I do have my own child.  I didn’t give birth to her, but that doesn’t make her any less ours.  Do people ask you why you didn’t adopt?  Adoption is a legal, permanent process, which ends with court papers which legally bind us as parents to our child.

Again, what path people travel to love a child who happens to be adopted is a personal matter.  If Ella looked like me, nobody would ask this.  If they do not offer the story, perhaps it would be more constructive to ask what the adoption process was like for a particular family, if you really want to know.

God bless you for what you’ve done. You saved a life.

Thank you, but why?  We wanted a baby, so we adopted.

The gift was to us, not the other way around.  Our child is not a charity case.  She was a newborn in perfect health.  Many families want this very situation.  I wanted nothing more than tot be a mother.  I feel like the luckiest person on the planet for this gift of my daughter.  And, please, don’t forget that.

How much did you pay for her?

Um… here’s a nice cold can of None of Your Business.  Drink it.

I’m sorry, but we did not purchase a car or a house.  We adopted a child.  The fees for adoption depend on many things.  Unless you are planning to adopt, you do not need to know this information.  If you really need to know, open with the reason you’re asking and then we can talk.


How could they have given her up?

This hurts my heart to hear.  It comes from a place of judgement, and it isn’t okay.  First, Ella was lovingly relinquished at the hospital, at birth, and we brought her home from there.  I don’t know why the decision was made, but I get the feeling from my interaction with her birth parents that it had everything to do with what was best for Ella.  It is, in reality, the greatest act of Pure Love imaginable.

Children are placed for adoption for more reasons that anyone can possibly comprehend.  In many situations, parental rights are revoked by the courts because parents have failed to care for the child at the most basic level.  In the case of a voluntary relinquishment, it probably boils down the fact that birth parents don’t feel that they can provide that basic care, plus, adequately..

We made the conscious choice to become a family.  Some aspects of our adoption process & life are private.  We are not a less than authentic family because we came to be through adoption.  So please, be sensitive to the privacy that every family deserves.  Consider how these questions might affect the parents and the child.  Talk with us about our family.  Make observations about our dynamics if you like.. Just do it with respect.

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  1. Very well said. Another question I hate, especially when my two children are present, is; are they siblings? I reply “yes, of course”,they reply “No, I mean do they have the same mom”. “Yes, they do,do your children?”

    1. Incredible, isn’t it? I don’t know how old your children are, but I assume they’re present when these types of things are asked. I feel invaded by people when they think it’s ok to question or comment without thought in front of them

    2. Ugh! So demeaning! I read a great response today: “That’s a really inappropriate question.”
      Directness, especially in front of the kids, teaches them that it’s ok not to answer. I’m all for that!

  2. We are African American and so is my son ( though he’s darker and looks nothing like me or my husband) so we get a lot fewer of these nosey remarks. However my favorite is when they ask about his “real” mom. I’m like,”Please! I’ve been peed on, pooped on, thrown up on, cried all night because he was sick and I couldn’t fix it, kissed his boo boos and received more slobbery kisses and hugs than I ever thought possible. WTF does a REAL mother do?” Or I take a breath, give them a smile that doesn’t reach the eyes and say, “I am his real mother.”

  3. wow, I was so impressed and motivated by your story, it seems to me that world is till beautiful due to people like you who are driven by pure love. Awesome work, keep loving the little one.

  4. Love this! Thank you for sharing all the answers so nicely despite the awful questions you get. I’m sure its not easy. Keep on rockin’ mamas.

    1. Thank you so much! I will be posting much more (especially since November is National Adoption Month) so stay tuned. And best wishes on your journey. I hope its as wonderful for you as it has been for us so far ❤️

  5. I am so sorry to hear of these very insensitive comments that have been shoved your way by people not thinking before opening mouth/inserting foot. We have both family and friends who’ve adopted, but when everyone is white and especially when everyone is hetero, these questions are less common and less insensitive. Thank you for publishing this honest piece about your experiences; I hope others can learn from it.

  6. Such a beautiful post. Disgusting to know how people can be so indifferent and not see the beauty in someone’s life. I would say trash such people to the nearest dustbin and move on. They are the ones who don’t believe in connecting their heads to their tongues.

  7. What a cutie. My in laws have taken custody over their nephew since I can remember its not the same but adopting shouldn’t be tainted like so many put it out there to be.

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