7 things NOT to say to an adoptive family—and what to say instead

“So how do you make sure the baby you get looks like you? How do you make sure he's white with blue eyes?” Our friend’s voice was tender and caring, inquiring about our upcoming adoption, even though his questions cut through me like a dagger.

I remember thinking through my response slowly, explaining why that a “look” was not something for which we we are looking. I shared that adoption won’t ever be a secret or anything we are ashamed of, and that we will celebrate the beauty of diversity and embrace any culture into our family.

This was the first of countless, unintentionally offensive, anti-adoption conversations we have had since beginning our journey in 2015.

I became a mama by adoption, so this journey is sacred to me.

It’s both tragic and beautiful, grievous and joyous. With one family’s immense loss, another family gains their whole world.

Adoption can be beautiful and I’ve known since the get-go we were privileged to be pursuing it. I also knew it was a serious journey requiring delicate attention and a fierce love willing to get uncomfortable for the sake of our child.

Me? I am so beyond blessed by adoption. I always say I’m the luckiest one of the bunch. It made me a mother. And adoption has made me a better person, through and through.

One of the most obvious problems regarding adoption in our culture today is the lack of positive or healthy language surrounding it. Words are so powerful, no matter the intent, and I am here to learn alongside you how to love everyone just a bit better.

Here are seven things not to say to an adopting or adoptive family, and what you could say instead—

1. “How much did it cost?”

Whether you’re asking about the adoption or the child, stop yourself. First, remember that children are not purchased. Second, ask yourself why you’re asking this. This is actually no one’s business and is quite possibly one of the most personal questions you could ask.

If you want to know more about adoption fees in general, and what that could look like for your family, ask something like this: “What are the average fees for domestic/international adoption?”

2. “Are you going to adopt a black baby?” Or to an existing transracial family: “Did you want to adopt a black/latino/asian/white/different-race baby?”

Again, ask yourself why you’re asking this question. If you’re genuinely wanting to learn more about other cultures and what challenges transracial families face, ask something like this: “Are you open to adopting transracially?” or “What are some ways I can celebrate you as a transracial family?”

3. “Do you also want/have children of your own?”

It is of utmost importance to realize children by adoption are absolutely our own children. What you could ask instead is, “Do you also want/have biological children?” if it is your business to ask at all.

4. “Did their parents die of AIDS?”

This is a question asked of so many white mamas raising black children. The first assumption is that our black children were born in another county where AIDS is prevalent. The next assumption is that AIDS is the only problem and there aren’t any other reasons children might be placed for adoption.

Instead, don’t ask this question. The details of their children’s story as well as their birth family’s stories aren’t anyone’s business.

5. “Is he your real son?” or “Where is your real dad?”

Oftentimes classmates who aren’t familiar with adoption ask children of adoption or foster care where their real dad or mom is. I was recently talking to a teen adoptee who shared how frustrating and hurtful this is.

Every parent is real. Every child is real. No one is playing pretend family.

6. “How are your own/real children handling your adoption/foster care?”

Sometimes when families pursue adoption and foster care, they have biological children already in the home. If you are concerned about their processing the adoption or foster care and genuinely want to check in, ask “How are your biological kids adjusting and/or preparing for the addition to your family?”

7. Any sort of horror story.

For some reason, people love sharing the stories they’ve heard from Oprah or the neighbor down the street about a family falling apart. It’s almost always pegged at the child who was adopted. This is far too common and extremely unloving, unfair, and not okay. Please don’t share a story like this.

I love adoption. I love families by adoption and foster care. I also love everyone else and believe we can continue spreading positive and helpful awareness about adoption and foster care.

If you would like to read more about positive adoption language and what terms to use or not use, read Adoption 101: Positive Adoption Language.

We all love our friends and want to support them as best as possible, especially on such a journey as the adoptive or foster care journey. One very overlooked and immensely powerful way to do this is to brush up on what not to ask and what to ask or say instead.

Your hearts are beautiful, dear mama! And please know that your adopting friend is lucky and thankful to have a friend like you in her life—one that cares enough to get educated and learn how to best love adoptive families.

Natalie Brenner is a wife, mom to virtual twins, and photographer living in Portland, Oregon. She is the best-selling author of This Undeserved Life. She likes her wine red, ice cream served by the pint, and conversations vulnerable. Like you, Natalie is a fierce believer in the impossible and hopes to create safe spaces for every fractured soul. She’s addicted to honesty. You can love Jesus or not, go to church or not: she’d love to have coffee with you. Natalie is a bookworm, a speaker, and a lover of fall. Connect with her at and join her grace-filled email community.

Natalie has also written the eBook, Financing Your Adoption with Fundraising, which is free here.

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