By Melinda Munson
You wouldn’t believe the comments. A majority of the remarks come from strangers at Walmart or Costco. My favorite question is when someone meeting our family for the first time asks, “Are all of these kids yours?” I nonchalantly respond, “Yeah, most of my children have different daddies.” This is particularly satisfying when we’re at a conservative church event.
My husband and I are the parents of seven children, five of whom were adopted. Our kids range in age from three to 18 and vary in skin tone and cognitive ability. We learned early in the process that how we talk about adoption matters. For example, our first social worker taught us to say “He was adopted” versus “He is adopted.” It’s the small difference of making the verb past tense but consider the impact. Adoption is an event that happens once in front of a judge. While it has life-long consequences, a child doesn’t continue to be adopted each day.
Most people are supportive and well-meaning, but occasionally someone will speak about adoption in a way that is inappropriate. It probably wasn’t their intention to cause harm, but my children are affected by the thoughtless words. Below are five statements we’ve heard multiple times and hope to never hear again.
How much did he cost?
People are genuinely curious how much it cost to adopt our son from India. Because he’s not an item from the grocery store, the way this question is worded is offensive.
I don’t look down at my friend’s beautiful new baby and ask, “How much did your insurance charge you for this one?”
Feel free to research adoption costs online or if we have an established relationship, ask privately, when there are no children around.
Which ones are your real kids?
Instead of “real” use the word “biological.” While I am not biologically related to a majority of my children, they are my real kids. I clean up their very real vomit and deal with their very real attitudes every day.
Another helpful word is “birth parent.” Two of our adoptions are open adoptions, meaning we have ongoing contact with our birth mothers. We FaceTime several times a month and one birth mother visits twice a year.
Can you send him back?
We’ve heard this more than once while grappling with a child’s behavior. Please don’t ever say these words. First of all, who would we give our child back to? The mother who wasn’t equipped to raise him in the first place? The state that is already overwhelmed with kids in need of homes? It would be tragic to rehome a dog. Imagine doing that to a child.
Adoption is legally binding. Sending a child “back” is considered abandonment and has legal repercussions.
They’re so lucky you adopted them.
When a person says, “She’s so lucky you adopted her,” they’re really saying: “She’s fortunate she has someone to love her and meet her basic needs.” Would someone say this to our biological children? Probably not.
While this comment is always said with the best of intentions, it doesn’t build self-esteem. Compliments on our parenting are always appreciated, but not when they bring shame or insecurity to our children.
Could you not have kids?
This implies that adoption is an inferior way to build a family, a second choice because something was broken. Again, this is a discussion that should take place in private between two parties who know each other well. This is not a conversation I want to have with a stranger in an aisle of Walmart, while multiple kids tug on my pants.
Questions about adoption are healthy. Thankfully, we no longer live in a society where adoption is an embarrassing secret. I wrote these words with the intent of educating, not intimidating or stifling conversation. If you’re curious about us, a good conversation starter might be: “Tell me about your family.”
The most important thing to remember when speaking to an adoptive family: If you wouldn’t say it to a biological child or parent, think twice about saying it to us.
And just for fun, the next time you see me, ask me if all those kids are mine. It’s my favorite question.