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Adoption Etiquette

Since most people who have not been touched by adoption are not familiar with adoption-friendly language I thought I would provide a few pointers aka adoption etiquette.  I have been blessed to have three wonderful children, two biological and one through an international adoption.

I know that for me before I became an adoptive mother I had no idea that saying certain things could be incorrect or hurtful.  I think that because most people don’t have experience with adoption that they don’t know what to say—my advice –say CONGRATUALTIONS!  Trust me, it’s a very exciting time when a family is formed or is being extended.

So here we go…

-Family’s who have adopted do not just have “adopted children” they are “adoptive families”. It is a title the whole family shares not just the child.

-Some birth mothers like to be called “biological mothers” and some like to be called “first mothers”

-We celebrate Gotcha Day—it’s the day we got her!  Some families celebrate –forever family day-this is just as special as a birthday since this is the day the family got created or was expanded.

Some people just don’t want to always be answering questions about their child’s personal history. So, when you see a child that looks different from their family keep in mind that they might not want to discuss everything. If you are just dying to know you could drop a hint like “Your daughter has such beautiful dark eyes” or “I love her skin tone” and leave it up to the parent if they want to offer more information.

-Please never ask, “Where is her real mother?” Besides the fact that the adoptive mother is also a “real” mother often times if you don’t know the person well this is a much too personal question to be asking.

Another phrase to avoid is “Where did you get her?” If you are curious about where the child was born you could say “Where was she born?” or “What is her ethnicity?”

-And please, please never ask a parent “How much did she cost?” There are fees involved with adoption just like there are hospital fees when you give birth to a baby. My answer to this question is that she is PRICELESS!!!  Unfortunately there is no adoption insurance that helps to pay for these fees. Unless you are seriously considering adoption and want to know the fees for personal reasons please don’t ask.  And if you really are serious, I’d be happy to tell you all about what to expect.

Ultimately we adoptive parents have been there ourselves so we understand that not everyone knows adoption etiquette. Just try to remain respectful of boundaries and conscious of the words you use. The vast majority of people are just curious and want to know about adoption but there are a few that are just malicious.

Some things that I never thought twice about before but that now bug me are…

-When people or agencies use the term adopted for animals, highways, or even dolls

-Telling me that my child is lucky (We are the lucky ones)

-When somebody says in front of her “How could anybody give her up?” or “How could her mother not have wanted her?”

-When someone introduces my daughter as… “This is Kathleen’s daughter Kristen, she is adopted.”

It is difficult to know what each person’s boundaries are so if you are curious about adoption and want to know more about a family’s experience you can just say.  “I have some questions are you comfortable discussing your child’s adoption?”

For the most part if you are sincere and respectful, I will take the time to educate you and answer questions.   We do have boundaries about how much information we discuss.  For example details of her adoption journey are personal to my daughter and now that she is getting older, it will be up to her to choose whether or not to share those details but it is not for us to disclose to others.

Kaitlyn 17, Kristen 11 and Sean Eddie 3


15 thoughts on “Adoption Etiquette

  1. Dawn Lopez says:

    What a wonderful post, I’ve truly enjoyed reading it. I can’t see myself asking any of those questions, but I can see how easily it would be to offend someone or meddling around while be insensitive to other’s feelings. These are great things to know and I really appreciate that you shared your personal experience with us.

    Thank you!

  2. Some people have no filter, I learned that when I had my twins. It’s incredible the things people say. Great post!

  3. Liz says:

    It’s great that you are taking the time to help inform people about this. I can see how easy it would be to say something offensive if you didn’t know better.

  4. Paula Schuck says:

    I write about adoption also and this is a great post! It answers many questions that some might not know. Thanks!

    I agree people often ask too much in front of kids: cost is a really insensitive thing to ask. Our children were adopted hadron the domestic public system and the Cas in the city where we live. People still ask my girls some silly questions. I think some are very insensitive especially at school.

    You have a beautiful family!

  5. Ronni Keller says:

    I think you did a super job touching on all those!! Where did you ‘get’ her?? Like WalMart had an awesome sale they missed!! 😉
    My husband adopted my biological children when they were very young. We get the other awkward situation… Oh, she looks just like her dad… they always laugh and that person never understands why.
    It’s really a families personal line and everyone is different.

  6. Groovy Mamma says:

    Thank you so much for the tips but some of those questions, I can’t even believe people would have the gall to ask!

  7. Headant says:

    Someone once told my sister that one of her twins looked like she belonged to Angelina Jolie.

    These are great guidelines!

  8. Athena says:

    Having adopted three special needs children (in two separate adoptions) I totally agree with this etiquette. I found you through My Four Littles – feel free to stop by The Stuff of Success and say hi… Have a great weekend. Athena

  9. Alicia Owen says:

    Thanks for sharing! My brother and sister inlaw adopted 2 little girls after they have provided foster care for them. My sister inlaw has told me they get the craziest, rude comments from random people in public, like the “where did you get them?” question. Evidently just because a Caucasian couple have 2 African American children people automatically assume they were adopted from overseas somewhere. The thing that gets me, though, is the town we live in has a decent sized African American population! Anyways, they do the family day thing too. 😉

  10. Carlene Cooke says:

    Loved your story!

  11. Jaime says:

    My hubby and I hope to adopt someday, but I’m too nervous to ask adoptive moms many questions – mostly because I’m afraid of making a gaffe like that!!! I hope someday to be able to celebrate a “forever family day!”

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