Positive Language in Adoption (10 Things NOT to Say)

Adoption is a sensitive issue, and people who have not experienced it, cannot begin to imagine what it’s really like. I want to emphasize that this post is not to make me appear defensive, and I do not intend to offend anyone, but rather to keep it a somewhat light-hearted, comic style satire. As an adoptive parent, I feel that it’s my responsibility to my children to educate others on positive and negative language surrounding adoption. While I believe that people generally are not trying to be insensitive, the words that come out of their mouths sometimes just make me want to smack them.

*Editor’s note: I am not shaming anyone with this post. I do realize that sometimes people really truly are being kind and honestly are curious and have no ill intention. However, some really need to think before they speak. In the same respect, please think before sending me a nasty email or leaving an ugly comment. This post is meant to encourage healthy discussion, not to shame anyone for their thoughts and opinions. Also, I want to make it clear that I actually have heard each of these questions, often by people who barely know me. Thank you!

Ten Things NOT to Say to an Adoptive Parent - A satirical look at the things people say when they don't know any better

I have had strangers, and even friends, ask the following questions or make the following comments:

He Looks Just Like You! Using Positive Language in Adoption

1. He looks just like you, it was meant to be! or even better She looks just like he could be yours!

Actually, he is mine, and so is she. We may have fair skin, or similar noses, but I am completely aware of the fact that they do not share my DNA, and really don’t need to be reminded of it. Just tell me they’re beautiful – I will happily agree even if I can’t take credit for that.

how much did he cost. Using Positive Adoption Language.

2. How much did he/she cost?

Got him on sale, and I had a coupon!!

Babies do not cost money. Adoptions cost money. And it is rude to ask what an adoption costs even if you phrase it correctly. If you are truly interested, ask for some websites to do some research on your own.

do you know her real mother. Using Positive Language in Adoption

3. Do you know anything about their real mother?

I am their real mother. I am going to raise them, sit with them when they are sick, bandage their owies, and pay for college. Their birth mother gave birth to them, and for that I will always be grateful, but they are mine and I am their real mother.

Are you going to have children of your own. Using Positive Adoption Language

4. Are you going to have any children of your own?

See above. They are my own children and I will love them more than you can know.

You'll get pregnant now. Using Positive Language in Adoption

5. You know you’ll get pregnant within a year now.

Sorry, it’s physically impossible, and unless God decides Jesus needs a sister, I will not become pregnant now that I have adopted. Yes, we all know our cousin’s secretary’s sister who got pregnant three months after adopting. But this doesn’t happen in a statistically significant manner. And you have no idea what kind of fertility struggles someone may have gone through before adopting, so it’s better not to mention this to families adopting their first child.

was mom on drugs. Using Positive Adoption Language

6. Was her mom on drugs? Are you worried she might have problems later on?

Darn! I forgot to send in the warranty papers for the money back guarantee! First of all, the circumstances regarding my children’s births are none of your business, thankyouverymuch. He is my son, she is my daughter, and if any medical issues arise, I will deal with them the same as you would your children.

why did they give him up. Using Positive Adoption Language.

7. Why did they take him away? or Why did she give him away/give him up?

Again, none of your beeswax! “They” did not “take him away,” and she did not “give him away” or “give him up.” Parental rights of the birthparents are terminated for specific reasons, because it is in the best interest of the child for their safety and well being. (In the case of open adoptions, the positive language would be to say that the birthmother “chose adoption.”)

are you going to tell him. Using Positive Language in Adoption

8. Are you going to tell him he’s adopted?

The noneofyourbusinessgetoutofmyface response is becoming wildly popular. Adoption is rarely a secret in families in this day and age. It is part of their life story and it’s something we are open about. As is developmentally appropriate, my children will always know that they are incredibly loved and came to our family in a special way.

is she yours. Using Positive Language in Adoption

9. Is she yours? (I haven’t personally heard this one, but other’s have, so it’s worth sharing, and it’s the one I have the best answer to)

Nope, she’s on loan from the daycare down the street. Just taking her for a test drive to see if I want to keep her. (Here’s your sign…)

And my personal favorite…

he's so lucky. Using Positive Adoption Language.

10. He’s so lucky.

Correction, I am the lucky one. They have changed my life in ways you can only imagine.

You want to see how lucky I am?

A little girl and boy is sitting in the grass
If you haven’t already clicked the “unfollow” button, thank you for reading all the way through! Like I said earlier, this was meant to be a light-hearted, satirical post and I hope that it was received as such! I am not attempting to condemn anyone, but to merely shed some light on the feelings of the adoptive parents and children and the issues they deal with.
I welcome your feedback and questions!!

Kristin Maxwell

Kristin Maxwell is the creator and main recipe developer, writer, and photographer of Yellow Bliss Road. A self-taught cook and self-appointed foodie, she specializes in easy, flavorful and approachable recipes for any home cook.

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  1. Just found this post – You are so truthful! Can I contradict you? here goes: your kids are so lucky to have such an honest mommy 🙂
    Love your website and all your recipies.

  2. I loved this post! We are adopting our 5th and 6th child officially next week. We have 6 total: 4 came to us through adoption. We are not all the same race, so we get a lot of stares and confused looks because it’s our middle 2 that different skin color. I have 2 kids – eight days apart; both adopted separately and you can tell when people are trying to figure it out. I was in the grocery store and the cashier said, “I’ve heard that if the parents are different races, twins can be born where one is black and one is white.” I’ve just learned to smile. But yes, I get these question, a lot!

    I also saw the comment about the name change below. Our youngest adopted daughter was 2. We kept all the first names the same. We’ve changed weird spellings, but we also gave them new middle names sine most of them didn’t know their middle name anyway. The exception was our oldest adopted son who was 6adopted at the time.

    But thank you for bringing awareness to this topic. It’s so important!

    1. I love your beautiful story Kayla, and how each adopted family is so unique. Thank you for sharing!

      Oh, and yes I did change her middle name. I had completely forgotten about that!

  3. Thank you, Kristin. You have summed it up very well and your responses are so good that I have written them down and I’ll practice them. Especially the NOYB, TYVM.

    I wanted to ask you about name change. Did you change the names of your little ones? How did you tell them to justify the change. I am at that stage and in little over a month I’ll be home with my toddler and I am struggling to find words for it, apart from my truth which is: I am the mother and I really wanted to give you your name.

    1. I did change my son’s name because he was only a few weeks old. My daughter was 2 though, and I didn’t want to make it confusing for her. I did change the spelling because it was unusual and I wanted her to have a more common spelling.

      I would encourage you to think about it this way. Kids in adoption suffer great loss. They come to you with only one thing that is their own – their name. If they are old enough to know their name, I would have reservations about changing it. Could you maybe make it their middle name?

  4. My adoption for my little 2 year old boy is going to be July 29! I am beyond excited. He came into my life last January, and I was in no way thinking I would have him forever, but the Lord works in mysterious ways. My daughter is 18 and my other son is 13. I have been asked so many of those questions and more!!! People in general just don’t get it. Did I mention he is mixed? So that in itself raises more questions to the wondering eye. He is perfect, and he is mine!

  5. Love this we recently adopted April 23 2019 to be exact
    We have had her since she was 4 months old
    God choose us to be her momma and daddy she blessed us so much we are the lucky ones
    Thank you God for your amazing gift

  6. Thank you for sharing. We are foster parents and get some of the same questions. The one question I hate the most is, “They are so cute, are you going to keep them?” Right in front of the kids! We started fostering before we had our bio kids. One month after we had our first placement my wife got pregnant, go figure.

    1. Oh that’s an awful thing to say! People need to learn to filter. I’m sorry you had to hear that!

  7. I love this post, it would be so nice if people were more sensitive to adoption. I adopted my nephew by birth and sometimes at family gathering I will get asked “is that Michael’s (my brother) son? “No, he’s my son, I adopted him”.
    I also have family that doesn’t consider me his mother and refers to me as his aunt even though they hear my son call me mom. I don’t appreciate the position this puts him in and felt I had no other option but to cut them out of our lives. Which is also horrible because my son is close to them.
    It would be so nice if their was more awareness of the sensitivity of adoption.

    1. I completely agree, and I’m so sorry for your situation with your extended family. What a lovely thing you did and I’m sure you feel like the lucky one. Have a great day!

  8. So glad to see some honesty! I agree most people don’t realize how “innocent “ or “well meaning” comments can hurt—or irritate lol. I am a soon to be adoptive mom. I am also a grandmother of 6 and one still in the oven. My oldest daughter is 30 and my youngest will be seven in August. I get secret (not too secret—it’s fun) pleasure from people’s faces when I have my B and my oldest daughter’s B and am asked if they are fraternal twins. Yes they are the same age, look similar and act almost identical. I of course tell them the truth—that’s my 3rd granddaughter and the other is my daughter. I have fielded most of the other questions and have my favorite to add: “Aren’t you too old?” ? I enjoyed your article, all we can do is educate and illuminate.

  9. Thanks so much for saying exactly what I thought when hearing these questions! I am a mom, he is my son…can we just leave it as such?!?!

  10. Dear Kristin. Thank you so SO much for posting this AND I agree wholeheartedly with everything you’ve said. My husband and I have recently been approved as adopters here in England and it’s been a whirlwind of a child placement time when our little girl found us within the first 11 days of our approval panel. It’s been two and a half months of meetings with her medical adviser and foster carer and we go to matching panel in less than 2 weeks. Like you, I’ve been perplexed by what others have said — from the uneducated words to down right rude. Mine that’s not on your list are if my husband knows how to change nappies and this one well wisher hoping my daughter would like her name. The former, well…d’uh obviously we’ll both be getting hands on experience at the FC’s over the 8 days introductions and the latter, we have elected to keep our girl’s first name as it is part of her identity plus who’s child (birth or adopted) has an awareness early enough to be able to say that they rather have another name unless you’re Zowie Bowie that is. I have to add that said friend just assumed we had given our girl this name but still its bloomin rude to judge our tastes (regardless) to say she hope our girl will like her name. Just do NOT go there. So thank you for your eye opener, mini education and echoing what all adopters face. Wishing you much love from across the pond. Happy Easter.

    1. Congratulations on your adoption, Geraldine! I’m glad you enjoyed the article. I do get asked from time to time if I named my kids. My son was 9 weeks old so I gave him a different name than the one he was given at birth. But my daughter was 2 so I elected to keep her name, although I did change the spelling to something less complicated. I have cousins on each side who have Rileys and they both commented that I stole their child’s name. Good grief, right?! Anyway, I wish you the best with your new family!

  11. I just have a question. I haven’t ever adopted a kid but my bf has adopted three. Why is saying she looks like she could yours offensive? My friends daughter really looks like her. We tell her that all the time and she seems to love the fact God gave her a mini me. Anyhow I just want to understand so I can be more sensitive if need be. Lastly I’m sorry that people say things like how much did she cost?. People are idiots!

    1. Hi Carrie, I appreciate your question and that you want to be more sensitive. I’m not sure how old the child is, but as she gets older, biology may become more and more of an issue to her. My kids get a little uncomfortable when someone says they look me because they know it’s impossible. I think it also makes them wonder if there is someone out there who they are biologically connected to who DOES look like them. I think that particular statement can be a gray area because even best friends may hear that kind of thing. But if there is already a sensitivity to biology it can cause uneasy feelings. I hope that makes sense. I think in your case if the child had been adopted and raised by you, she might feel different.

  12. I just have a question so I can better understand parents that adopt. Why is saying they look like you offensive? My bf adopted three kiddos and her daughter really looks like her. We say it to her all the time and she always seems grateful to God that she has a mini me. Anyhow I wouldn’t want to offend anyone esp my bf. I can’t even begin to tell you how shocked I was at some of the things people have said to you!! I’m sorry people are idiots.

  13. I am an adoptive mom also. Thank you so much for this post. I can’t tell you how many times that “real mother” line has been spoken and I bristle every time. Since no parent is imaginary, the parent who is there to raise, guide, nurture, and love is most definitely the child’s REAL mother/parent. Thanks again for this post.

    1. It’s definitely a tough one – my daughter used the term the other day in fact, talking about the woman who gave birth to her, and that was hard to swallow. We talked about how we are both “real” mothers, and that seemed to help.

      1. My husband and I have adopted 6 children. 3 boys – brothers, and 3 girls – sisters. The way we explain it in our home is similar to what Wendy says above with the addition that all moms are “real”. In our case, you have a birth mom, a foster mom/family, and a forever mom. We believe that God intended the children we have now to be with us from the beginning, however had to find a different way for them to get to us since I wasn’t able to have them. Our children have all embraced/understood this really well.
        Enjoyed your article Kristin. SO true! I’ve heard all 10 at one point or another. If you can’t laugh at it, and roll with the punches then you probably shouldn’t do it.

        1. Congratulations on your forever family! I love your sentiment about taking time to get to you.

  14. I love this post and I can completely relate as an adoptive mom. I get these types of comments a lot! It’s so annoying, but I try to remind myself that they just simply don’t know any better. Thank you for educating.

    I would also add “bad-mouthing” the birth parents like “Wow! That’s nice of you to adopt, but I just can’t imagine ever giving my kid away.” Or “was she young and troubled?” Actually, “she” is an amazing woman and it was a very difficult decision for her to make. She was a good person just in a bad season of her life. Life is complicated, but this momma is eternally grateful.

  15. Loved your message. Our oldest daughter came to us through adoption.
    When she was 5 months old we found we were expecting,
    We have been blessed by Stephanie in more ways than I can remember.
    and now our youngest daughter is blessing us with grandchildren in much the same manner.
    Here’s to building loving families, with all love we can muster.

    1. Thank you for sharing your story. Yes, families are built in all kinds of ways, each story unique and beautiful!

  16. These are some hilarious responses, thanks! Personally, I’ve heard most of these questions in 29 years of parenting, ppl are nosy by nature, I think, but you would think common sense would kick in & at the very least, ppl wouldn’t ask such things in front of your kids. I get still get seriously annoyed when perfect strangers, in line at the store, for instance, decide I MUST need their expert, condescending, long winded hair care lessons because I couldn’t possibly care for hair unlike my own. I can’t get used to that one. Lol

  17. I just ran across your site while searching recipes on Pinterest. I am an adoptive mom of a beautiful girl from China. I too have heard a lot of these comments. The one that left me speechless was “It is easier to leave your child at daycare if you didn’t birth her yourself”. WHAT?? By the way, the answer to “How much did she cost?” is PRICELESS! God bless!