10 Questions Not to Ask Adoptive Parents

Adoption Language Etiquette

Unless you are part of an adoptive family yourself or know adoptive parents, you probably aren't familiar with words that connote positive adoption feelings. Certain phrases and questions can imply that an adoptive family is inferior. So that you can tell which statements might be considered mettlesome to an adoptive parent, here's an adoption etiquette primer.

It's All in the Family

Foremost, details about adoption belong to the family. When talking to adoptive families, respect their privacy. Be careful what you ask, especially if the adopted child is nearby. You don't have the right to know how much the parents paid for the child, the circumstances leading up to the adoption, or the names of the biological parents. You can ask what country the child was adopted from, how old he is, for example.

Remember that sometimes an adoptive parent doesn't divulge information with his child about the adoption of his sibling until the children are old enough to grasp the family history. Accept that doctors, family members, baby-sitters, and teachers all deserve and will require more detailed information than you will or might receive.


Saints, No. Parents, Yes

Ninety-two percent of adoptive parents have been called "saints," says author David A. Kirk in his book Shared Fate: A Theory and Method of Adoptive Relationships (Ben-Simon Publications). Even such praise can be unsettling: If parents are "special" for adopting, it implies that it takes an extraordinary person to take on an unlovable child, a charity case.

Don't Use Disparaging Language

Use what the experts call "positive adoption language." For example, don't call a biological mother a "real" mother. Isn't the real mother the one who changes diapers, cares for an ill child, and drives him to school? If the biological mother is called "real," then is the adoptive mother "fake?" Similarly, an adopted child is not "given away," or surrendered; his biological mother made an "adoption plan." Why? To ensure a loving home for a child she could not bring up herself.


Adopted Kids Are Not "Chosen!"

You may think this is a compliment, but it can put an unreasonable burden on a child: Because she was chosen, she has to be perfect to be worthy. Besides, it's not truthful -- the adoptive parents were chosen over other applicants.

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