Some years ago, one of my son’s schoolteachers learned she and her husband had successfully navigated an often-tortuous process and could become adoptive parents. They were being allowed to adopt two-year-old twins, a boy and a girl.
“Why don’t you have your own baby?” asked a little boy in her class at the time. It was a question echoed by some of the other parents. The teacher – a friend of mine outside the classroom – struggled to answer politely. While a five-year-old can be forgiven for coming out with whatever is on his mind, you’d think grown-ups would be more sensitive.
If you know someone who’s adopted a child, here are a few things they really won’t want to hear.
1Don’t you want your own baby?
Some people adopt because they can’t have kids. Others can, but choose to give a home to a child that needs one.
Maybe they’d really like a baby, but the reality is there are far more older children in need of an adoptive family. Or perhaps they’re simply more comfortable giving a home to a toddler or teenager.
Whatever the reasons, it’s simply none of anyone else’s business – so don’t ask. Instead, celebrate with them as you would with anyone who has announced they are to become parents.
2Which one is your real child?
Some families include both biological and adopted children – and those parents consider them all as ‘their’ children, in the same way they consider themselves to be the ‘real’ parents.
This question sends the message that only biological children count as part of the family, and it’s even worse if the adopted child hears you ask; it makes it sounds as though he or she has less status in the family than their siblings. Biology isn’t the be-all and end-all.
3What’s their background?
Or, alternatively – Why was he/she given up? What happened to their real parents?
The answer to these questions is invariably deeply personal and not something the family will necessarily want to tell everyone, even if they know all the details.
It’s also the child’s story; the adoptive parents will choose the right time to share it with them, and it’s up to the individual how much they tell other people.
4How much did it cost?
This makes it sound as though the parents popped down to the supermarket and picked their child off a shelf.
Depending on where you are and where you adopt from, there are likely to be fees involved – but if you really want to know, there are other ways to find out. Google is your friend.
If you’re considering adoption yourself, reframe the question and ask about organisations that can give you more details on the whole process. Otherwise, steer clear.
5I bet you get pregnant now you’ve adopted!
Statistics show the rate of post-adoption pregnancy among infertile couples is the same as among those who don’t adopt, so there’s no reason to assume this is the case. Yes, some couples might conceive naturally after adopting a child – but it’s by no means the norm anywhere other than on television or in Hollywood films.
It’s also worth remembering infertility isn’t the only reason people adopt – so a pregnancy may not be the blessing you assume it would be.
6What will you tell them about their real parents?
First, adoptive parents aren’t just taking temporary care of a child until he or she finds their biological family – and using the word ‘real’ can be extremely hurtful.
Second, attitudes towards adoption have changed; the days when a child wouldn’t be told about their history have long-gone. The family will address the issue when the time is right, and frankly it’s nobody’s business but their own how or when this happens.
7Be careful – adopted children have issues
You know what? Everyone has issues. Every child will have experiences that shape their future selves and may or may not make them prone to mental illness, attracted to someone who’s bad for them, or likely to develop anti-social behaviour.
There may be things in an adoptive child’s history that need careful handling and professional support, but it doesn’t follow that they’ll be more difficult to raise or turn out badly. This kind of statement does nothing but cause additional anxiety for the adoptive parents.