Menu

“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 a “look" was not something we were looking for. 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. 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 to 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.

When I was expecting my first child, I wanted to know everything that could possibly be in store for his first year.

I quizzed my own mom and the friends who ventured into motherhood before I did. I absorbed parenting books and articles like a sponge. I signed up for classes on childbirth, breastfeeding and even baby-led weaning. My philosophy? The more I knew, the better.

Yet, despite my best efforts, I didn't know it all. Not by a long shot. Instead, my firstborn, my husband and I had to figure it out together—day by day, challenge by challenge, triumph by triumph.

FEATURED VIDEO

The funny thing is that although I wanted to know it all, the surprises—those moments that were unique to us—were what made that first year so beautiful.

Of course, my research provided a helpful outline as I graduated from never having changed a diaper to conquering the newborn haze, my return to work, the milestones and the challenges. But while I did need much of that tactical knowledge, I also learned the value of following my baby's lead and trusting my gut.

I realized the importance of advice from fellow mamas, too. I vividly remember a conversation with a friend who had her first child shortly before I welcomed mine. My friend, who had already returned to work after maternity leave, encouraged me to be patient when introducing a bottle and to help my son get comfortable with taking that bottle from someone else.

Yes, from a logistical standpoint, that's great advice for any working mama. But I also took an incredibly important point from this conversation: This was less about the act of bottle-feeding itself, and more about what it represented for my peace of mind when I was away from my son.

This fellow mama encouraged me to honor my emotions and give myself permission to do what was best for my family—and that really set the tone for my whole approach to parenting. Because honestly, that was just the first of many big transitions during that first year, and each of them came with their own set of mixed emotions.

I felt proud and also strangely nostalgic as my baby seamlessly graduated to a sippy bottle.

I felt my baby's teething pain along with him and also felt confident that we could get through it with the right tools.

I felt relieved as my baby learned to self-soothe by finding his own pacifier and also sad to realize how quickly he was becoming his own person.



As I look back on everything now, some four years and two more kids later, I can't remember the exact day my son crawled, the project I tackled on my first day back at work, or even what his first word was. (It's written somewhere in a baby book!)

But I do remember how I felt with each milestone: the joy, the overwhelming love, the anxiety, the exhaustion and the sense of wonder. That truly was the greatest gift of the first year… and nothing could have prepared me for all those feelings.

This article was sponsored by Dr. Brown's. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

Our Partners

My husband and I always talked about starting a family a few years after we were married so we could truly enjoy the “newlywed” phase. But that was over before it started. I was pregnant on our wedding day. Surprise!

Keep reading Show less
Life