Thoughts

9 Things Not to Say or Ask an Adopted Child

Me and my dad!
Me and my dad!

I’m adopted and over the years I’ve been asked so many questions concerning it.  I’m pretty open about my adoption and I love educating people about adoption.

I’ve seen a lot of posts on what not to say to adoptive parents and was inspired to put my own twist on the topic.  It’s important to know how to lovingly interact with the people around us.  So I’ve come up with 9 things that people commonly say or ask.  People are curious and that’s great, but let’s tweak a few words and phrases ;-)

9 Things Not to Say or Ask an Adopted Child

1.   “So, have you met your real mom?” or “Do you ever want to find your real mom?”

My adoptive mom is my real mom.  It says so on my birth certificate as well as by the judge who legalize my adoption.

Do you mean biological mother?  Yes, I have met her.  I had the opportunity to meet her earlier this year.

2.   “You’re adopted?!  That makes sense, you look nothing like your mom and dad.”

Way to state the obvious!  I would also like to remind you that there are plenty of biological children who look very different from their biological parents.  They might look like that long lost great uncle.  Genetics is the luck of the draw.

3.  “Do you have any real siblings?”

My sister, Laura, and I being carted around by Dad
My sister, Laura, and I being carted around by Dad

I’m never sure how to answer this, but yes, I have a sister named Laura.  She is very much real.  We grew up together, fought together, plotted against our “real” parents together, got in trouble together, played together, and the list goes on.  I also have a biological half-brother named Lee.  Since I just met him earlier this year, I don’t have a history with him… but so far, he seems pretty cool ;-)

This question is usually followed up with, “Are you other siblings adopted too?”  This is a fair question since there are adoptive couples who are unable to have children, but this isn’t every family.  Some people see a need for adoption and then adopt.  AND the answer is yes and no, my sister is not adopted, but I do have two step brothers who are both adopted.

4.  “When you say ‘mom’ do you mean your adoptive mother or your biological mother?”

“Mother” is a special word.  It’s given to the woman who raised you, cried with you and for you, taught you the ways of life, took care of when you were sick, encouraged you, protected you, disciplined you, fed you, clothed you, and you get the point.  There is a special place in my heart for my biological mother because she gave me life, but I call her by her name, Joy.  To me, she is a woman who gave me a tremendous gift.  It would be weird if I called anyone who gave me a huge gift “mom.”  Awkward.

I also want to tag on to this topic that every family is different.  Sometimes a mom or a dad may not be present in a child’s life.  A mentor, step-mom or a step-dad might be the bearer of the title “mother” or “father.”  My adoptive dad is my dad, but I also have another father figure in my life, Tom, who I consider a father.  Family isn’t always blood.  Sometimes A lot of times, family is found.

5.  “Do you remember your mom?”

I really hate this question.  I tell people that I was adopted at birth and 9 times out of 10 people still ask this.  I have no clue why!  I want to look at them and say, “I was a baby.  Do you really think I have the ability to remember her?”  The answer is no.  However, I do understand the question.  If you are speaking with a child from the foster care system, then this is still not a good question ask!  If the child remembers his/her parents, they may not want to bring up subject pending the circumstances.  It’s best to let them bring it up if they want to share with you.

Joy (my biological mother) and me striking a pose!
Joy (my biological mother) and me striking a pose!

6.  “Do you know why she gave you up?”

First of all, let’s rephrase this question.  How about asking, “Do you know why she made an adoption plan?”  The words, “gave you up,” makes it sound that I’m undesirable and/or I’m just some disposable thing.

But to humor you…. I do know.  However, this is a very sensitive and often a private subject for a birth mother.  My birth mother didn’t tell anyone that she “gave me up” until 27 years later when I first contacted her.  I understand your curiosity, but keep in mind that you are asking for the intimate details of a birth mother that you don’t personally know.  If an adopted child knows the story and feels comfortable telling you, then they will.

7.  “I don’t know what I would do if I found out that I was adopted.”

I know exactly what you would do.  You would just keep living.  Being adopted would be your norm!   I’ve lived a normal life with ups and downs and everything in between just like everyone else.  The only difference is that I’m not biologically related my mom.

Adoption seems like such a life altering thing.  In a sense, it is, but it’s not as life altering as you my think.  My parents are still my parents.  My sister is still my sister.  It doesn’t change anything about who I am.  My life was not built on a fortress of lies.

Most people say this statement because not being adopted is their norm.  Being adopted is mine.  I know nothing else.

8.  “Where are you from?” or “What’s your heritage?”

For a long time I never knew how to answer this because I didn’t know.  I have very dark hair and eyes and sport olive skin, so my family thought I was Italian or Greek.

I, personally, don’t really care about this question.  However, it does elude to a clear distinction that the child doesn’t belong within their family history.  I don’t really have a suggestion on how to ask this.   I suppose it’s a suggestion to judge the depth of your friendship of the adopted before asking this.

Oh, and it turns out I’m Irish and Native American.  Crazy mix, eh?

9.  “I bet you feel lucky that you were adopted.”

Yeah... I was pretty cute.
Yeah… I was pretty cute.

First of all, I don’t believe in luck.

Second of all, “lucky” compared to what?  Having the life that I currently have is all I know!  I would have to go back in time, live life as a biological child, and compare and contrast which life would be better in order for me to answer this question.  Keep in mind that no family is perfect.  Maybe rephrase this into a statement from your point of view such as, “I’m glad your were adopted because I couldn’t imagine my life with your friendship.”  This not only edifies them, but also gives them a chance to comment.

***BONUS***This one gets asked a lot.  It’s not a bad question, I actually love this question because I get to share my thoughts concerning telling a child that they are adopted.

“How old were you when you found out you were adopted?”

I don’t remember a time when my parents sat me down and had “the talk” with me.

Not that talk!

That one was a very awkward conversation between dad and me after bed time prayers when I was twelve… hat’s off to Dad for powering through that talk.

Little Jess
Little Jess

I grew up knowing that I was adopted.  I was taught what adoption meant and I was taught what the word “biological” meant.  Both were equally special in their own and unique ways.  My parents reinforced that there was no difference between my sister and I.  I was told that it didn’t matter how I became apart of the Wright family, but what mattered was that I was in their family.

So, there you have it.  Those are the most common phrases and questions that I hear from people.  I love talking to people about adoption, so I welcome the awkward questions and phrases.  People are just curious, I totally get it.  I’m glad to have the opportunity to bring clarity on the subject.

-J

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8 thoughts on “9 Things Not to Say or Ask an Adopted Child

  1. I’m adopted and I didn’t know until after both my folks had passed away.

    I’ve since met my birth dad and spoken with my birth mom, Dad and I get along great (of the two of them, I’m more like him). My mom — well, no one knows I exist in her family and she wants to keep it that way.

    I’m cool with that — I never wanted to do the 1980s, That’s Incredible! thing where you show up at the door with a bunch of balloons and maybe blow someone’s life out of the water anyway. (Although I do wonder 1) what her family is like and 2) if maybe she’s more upset about them finding out than she needs to be.) I’m kind of sorry about my birth mom, though, because I have two biological half-sisters and a half-brother. I always wanted a brother and I’m sorry I probably will never get to know him.

    Like

    1. Thank you for sharing your story! I’m glad you got to connect with your birth father. As far as your birth mother, I suppose that’s life. It has nothing to do with you and everything to do with her circumstances. That would be a tough thing to come out to your family about. Who knows, maybe down the road things might change for you both.

      Liked by 1 person

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