My husband and I adopted 4 boys throughout our 10 ½ years as foster parents. As with most situations with which people are unfamiliar, they often say things before they think. We have developed a tough skin and serious sense of humor when enduring the comments that are ignorant and sometimes just plain insensitive. (If only people knew how many times we thought, but didn’t say, ‘Really?!?! Did you really just say that?’)
For those of you that don’t want to peg out on the idiot meter when conversing with adoptive parents, here are a few conversational dos and don’ts.
Some initial comments/questions that get asked are, “Why did you adopt?” Which really translates to “Which one or both of you are infertile?” Believe it or not, we’ve been asked that second question, as well. Just so you know that scores pretty high on the idiot and insensitive oaf meter both.
What usually follows is this admiration which deems us great heroic, sacrificial, noble, and other condescending flattery as if our kids are a ‘mission’ more than our family. I point out that the ‘heroes’ in my house are the boys whose first parents failed them, who endured more than most adults do in a lifetime and who wake up each morning and try again. At this point conversations sometimes turn awkward…for them. I’m usually ready for the next ridiculous question.
Do not use the terms ‘natural’ or ‘real’. Especially in such sentences as “Do you have any ‘real’ children?” Real! Look at my extra-large capacity washer and dryer, my grocery bill or my event calendar and I’ll show you who’s real. Or there are those, thinking they are using some socially appropriate term asking if we have any ‘natural’ children. I guarantee you our sons are 100% organic, just ride home with one or more of them in the car after July’s football conditioning…that’s natural!!!
Do not rave about my ignorance of the pains of childbirth. Yours took place in a hospital, lasted at most 72 hours, and had the options of drugs. Mine took place in my home and in court, took 2-4 years, I already knew the child I might ‘lose,’ and there was no offer of drugs to reduce the strain.
Don’t ask me about my kids’ history. If you want that kind of drama and scandal, watch Jerry Springer. Our family’s story is not for syndication.
Here’s one of the most classic of my experiences, which leaves me repeating the statement, ‘not every thought should be spoken aloud.’ A coworker came by my office to visit one day shortly after I had adopted my first son. She was asking some general questions about the process of adoption. Then she said she just didn’t think people could love an adopted child as much as one that they gave birth to. Wow! Again, did she really say that?! I thought a second, trying to recover from that outlandishly insensitive comment and then said, for clarification, “so you can’t love someone as much as one you give birth to?” She agreed, somewhat satisfied that she had been understood. I then concluded, “So you really can’t love your husband all that much. You didn’t give birth to him.” She quickly protested that “that’s different.”
“Exactly,” I agreed, “Different, but no less. Just like adoption. We met, fell in love, and formed a family.” I think she had to get back to work then.
So now that I’ve shared the don’ts for talking to adoptive parents, what are the dos? They might sound familiar. Ask me about the first time I laid eyes on my sons, what their favorite first foods were, what we like to do as a family, when their birthdays are…. You know, just like you would a ‘real’ family.