Responding to Insensitive Adoption Questions

The adoption experience may lead you to feel like you and your family members are part of an exclusive “club” – one which many people find mysterious and fascinating, and are curious to learn more about. While others’ intentions are typically not malicious, their questions may sound insensitive to the ears of someone who IS in the “club.” Because so many of the people who ask questions are strangers, it can feel awkward to find the response that best fits each situation. Your mind may be racing as you try to decide whether to answer kindly or sarcastically, honestly or guardedly, or even respond at all. And if your child is next to you when an insensitive question is posed (which, as an adopted child, I can tell you was most often the case!), you will need to choose your words carefully in an effort to be sensitive to his or her feelings and be a positive role model in advocating adoption.

Try to view each of these occurrences as an opportunity to educate others. If someone is asking, it means they are genuinely curious and interested in learning about adoption – that means you have a motivated and captive audience with whom to share your knowledge! Below are some of the most common questions that seem to arise, and guidance on the most effective and appropriate ways to respond. Keep in mind that any questions about an adopted child should include responses that focus on both your adoptive and biological children, if applicable.

“Where is your little one from?”

He was born in Ethiopia, and his sister was born in Denver. (Responses should focus on both or all of your children, to increase the sense of equality and help the question-asker recognize the importance of de-emphasizing differences in the children that could jeopardize a sense of belonging.)

“Do you have any kids of your own?”

Yep, all three of these kids are mine. (Reinforces the idea of birth and adoptive children as your own.)

And the typical follow up question… “Oh of course, no, I mean do you have biological kids?”

I just think of all of them as mine. (Continue to reaffirm the idea that all of your kids are your own, and you do not categorize them.)

“Do you know anything about his real parents?”

Well, we consider ourselves his real parents, since we are a family. If you mean his birth parents, I think that’s a bit too personal to discuss right now. (Educate them about appropriate adoption language, and role model how to set appropriate boundaries for your child.)

“How come her parents couldn’t keep her? How could they give up their child?”

Her parents were unable to take care of ANY child, so they chose an adoption plan so that she could be raised by us, in a family that could give her everything they wanted her to have. (Once again, reinforce that there was nothing wrong with your child in particular and that adoption is a conscious decision for a healthier life for your child.)

“Did you decide to adopt because you couldn’t get pregnant?”

I feel like that’s a personal question, and I couldn’t be happier about my family, they’re perfect! (Display appropriate boundary setting, and continue to express your delight and excitement about adoption as a way of creating a family.)

“What a lucky little girl, you gave her a better life!”

We’re the lucky ones, we love her so much and she makes us smile every day! (Many people have the misconception that adoption is a way of “saving” a child from a hellish environment, and that you have made a significant sacrifice by taking in such a child – gently educate them about the give and take involved in adoption, and the benefits of it as a parent.)

As frustrating or invasive as it may feel sometimes, try to remember that you are in a position of advocacy. You can choose to respond negatively to questions from others, and accept the fact that this may reinforce ignorant or negative beliefs about the adoption experience; or you can choose to respond from the perspective of an educator and role model, and hope that you are helping others to better understand the adoption experience and consequently avoid asking insensitive questions in future situations. The most important thing to remember is that you are not really responding to their questions for their benefit, but for the benefit of your child. You are preparing him or her for the same questions you are asked, because he or she will inevitably be asked those same questions throughout his or her lifetime. Role model appropriate boundary setting, a neutral tone of voice, and education as an answer for curiousity.


Stay tuned for next month’s topic: HEALTHY COMMUNICATION

About Dr. Chaitra Wirta-Leiker

Dr. Chaitra Wirta-Leiker is an adoptee, adoptive parent, and psychologist who provides mental health support focused on adoption, trauma, and racial identity work. She is the author of the "Adoptees Like Me" book series.