6 Things NOT to Say to Adoptive Families

Megan Moore

Contributing Writer
Updated Aug 18, 2022
6 Things NOT to Say to Adoptive Families

Rather than tell me my child who lost everything is lucky, try saying, “I am happy you get to be a family” or “What a blessing he is.”

As a mother of biological and adopted children, I have heard my fair share of comments that were unintentionally painful. It is important to give people the benefit of the doubt and assume that they are well-intentioned. But it is also important to learn that some sayings cause more harm than good. 

If you know a family that has grown through adoption, here are some sayings to avoid and a few that are always welcome:

1. Do You Know Anything About His Real Mom?

I am his real mom. I feed him, bathe him, care for him when he is sick, and tuck him in at night. Everything about our mother-son relationship is real. The appropriate word here is “biological” or “birth.” As in: “Do you know anything about his birth mom?” or “Are you in contact with his biological family?” The wording of those questions is correct. However, take a huge dose of caution before asking this. You should be very close to the family to ask this sensitive question. 

Many adoptive parents are incredibly protective of their child’s history. Consider why you want to know the answer to this question. If it is just curiosity, please don’t ask. If you are involved in the child’s life and want to make sure that you say the right thing or avoid sensitive topics, a better question would be, “Is there anything specific you want me to say or not say when your child is around?” 

2. Could You Not Have Kids of Your Own?

There are two issues with statements like these: 

1. How someone has children, when they have children, how many children they have–these are topics we can just, in general, avoid commenting on. If a couple is experiencing infertility or if they choose to adopt before having biological children is something that they can share with you when they want to; they do not need to be asked about it. 

2. My adopted child is my own child. Just like I am his real mom. There is no difference in my love for my children or my treatment of them based on if they are adopted or biological. They are mine, and I am theirs. 

Again, please consider why you are asking this question. If it is out of curiosity, please refrain from asking. However, if you are thinking about adoption and want to know the reasons behind someone else’s adoption as a way to gather more information for your own decision, adoptive families are generally happy to discuss that! Simply say, “I am thinking about adoption. What led you to make that decision?” 

3. I Bet You’ll Get Pregnant Now!

Not only is this statement statistically inaccurate, but it is also hurtful. No matter how many women you may know who have gotten pregnant after adopting, it is not any more likely to happen than getting pregnant at any other time. Some families adopt after experiencing infertility, so this statement can be extremely painful. They have hoped and wanted and prayed and have not yet been pregnant, so they choose to love a child through adoption. This comment just makes them hurt again. Worse, it demeans the adopted child. This is a child that was desired and sought after. 

Getting pregnant or not does not change the deep love for this adopted child. We don’t adopt with the goal of getting pregnant. We adopt to have a child. Rather than talk about potential future children, adoptive families are always happy to hear, “You will be great parents!” or “I am so happy for you!” or, even better, “This child is so loved!”

4. Everything Happens for a Reason

My husband and I fell in love with a little boy and planned to adopt him. Through an unusual series of events, we were not allowed to finalize his adoption. It was heartbreaking, and we mourned this child whom we had seen videos of and named. We knew we would never know what happened to him. 

We have friends who have miscarried, had children diagnosed with terminal illnesses, and adopted children with significantly more needs than expected. All of us have heard, “everything happens for a reason” more than once, and it has never made any of us feel even the slightest bit better. In fact, it makes us want to scream, “What is the reason?! What is the reason for my child experiencing this pain?”

This statement is frequently used when we just don’t know what to say. When pain can’t be explained, and it is too difficult to process, and we don’t know what to do. It is important to remember that it is okay to just sit in pain with each other. We do not have to offer an explanation or advice. We can just be. You can always say, “I am praying for you,” and mean it. Pray for them right when you say that to be true to your word. Write it down so that you come back to it. Prayer matters, so follow through on this statement. 

You can also always say, “How can I help?” but understand that this can be overwhelming. Sometimes we don’t always know how to guide people to help us, so you may want to be more direct. For example, “I’m bringing dinner over tonight. What would you like?” or “I’d like to watch the kids while you take a nap or go out for a while. Let me know when would be a good time.”

5. He’s So Lucky!

Every child has a different story of what brought him or her to adoption, so let me use a hypothetical situation for this point: A baby was abandoned on the side of the road because his parents cannot afford to feed him. The local orphanage takes him in and feeds him, but that is about it. He is not mentally stimulated, he has very little interaction, and he is in a crib most of the day. He is adopted and taken from everything he is familiar with to live with people who do not look or sound like anyone he has ever known. 

Is this child lucky to have gotten out of the orphanage? I can see why you would think that. But is he lucky to have ever been put in that situation in the first place? To lose his birth family and everything he knows? Even for babies adopted at birth–they lose their birth families, their mother’s voice that they heard in the womb. As adoptive parents, we are fiercely protective of our children’s backgrounds, and we do not see a lot of “luck” in it. We see pain and trauma and great loss, but also love and healing. We know that we as parents are the lucky ones to have been blessed with these children. Rather than tell me my child who lost everything is lucky, try saying, “I am happy you get to be a family” or “What a blessing he is.”

6. I Could Never Do What You Do!

While intended to sound admiring, when I receive this comment, it feels like pity. Like the speaker is relieved that they are not living my life with its challenges. The truth is that you could do it if you needed to. We can all take on whatever situation we are facing when we rely on the strength of Christ. Those of us walking these challenging paths aren’t actually able to do it on our own, either. We are crying out to God regularly to help us. A phrase that would be more meaningful and to the point is, “What you are doing matters.” There is truth in that statement. Caring for orphans matters. Caring for any child matters. The encouragement that comes across with those words will be deeply felt, and we all do well with a little encouragement. 

Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/Nastco

Megan Moore is a military spouse and mom of 3 (through birth and adoption). A speech-language pathologist by training, she now spends her time moving around the country every couple of years. She is passionate about special needs, adoption, and ice cream.