When someone announces a pregnancy, congratulations frequently come easily and naturally. On the other hand, an adoption announcement doesn't always get the same reaction. I speak from experience; my two children are adopted. My son came to us when he was 3.5 years, and our daughter came to us when she was 10 months.
Sometimes people can say and ask some strange (and even hurtful) things when you announce an adoption. Here are some examples of comments that didn't work for me or I found intrusive. I doubt these questions would be asked of a pregnant woman or biological parent.
Things not to say
- 'Where did you get him from?' Asked to me as I introduced my son to a neighbour. This isn't a nice question to be asked on your own let alone in front of your child. For me, it showed a mawkish interest in his background and reminded me of what I might say to someone with a new puppy.
- 'My sister adopted, but sadly it didn't work out.' People can be keen to share negative stories about adoption. It's really deflating when you're on a high. And I'll tell you a secret: adoptive parents have already heard of such stories.
- 'Oh I didn't know you couldn't have children'. I can have children, I've just told you I'm adopting! Families come in different guises.
- 'He/She is so lucky'. I heard this a lot. Some very close friends told us that our son 'had fallen on his feet'. Adoption is serious, the background of children who are adopted is serious and they are no strangers to hurt. I'd always counter with it by a beaming smile and a correction of pointing out that it's we as parents who are the lucky ones.
- 'What do they remember about their other family?' This is a private matter. I would give a kind but bland response that gives no information.
- 'Gosh, you must really want children if you adopt'. This was said to me just last month and my children are now 13 and 6! I can only marvel at how much judgement goes into such a short statement.
- 'Are they brother and sister?' Er, yes. They are both my children, we are a family, of course they are siblings.
- 'Do they know they're adopted?' Is the Pope a Catholic? Of course they do, but this is really a personal question not be asked of an acquaintance.
- 'Ooh I'd love to adopt'. Please only start this type of conversation if you really mean it, otherwise it sounds as insincere as the sentiment behind it.
So that's the stuff that's not so good out of the way. Here's some suggestions of what to do.
Things to say and do When Someone Announces They are Adopting
- Say 'Congratulations!' Tell us how you are happy about the news. It sounds like a no-brainer, but honestly, it doesn't happen all the time.
- Send a card. We've saved all of ours and they move me to tears reading them. Plus, they're a lovely memento for the children. It's a major family event and it deserves to be marked.
- Ask to see photos. Like most other parents, we want to show pictures and bask in the glow of compliments about how beautiful our children are.
- Ask us how we are finding being parents. Adoptive parents can feel different from 'normal'/'real'/'birth' parents (I did and still do at times). This question is a great way of making us feel included.
- If you've got time (I can talk for hours about my kids) ask us about the children. Asked in an open way, it's not intrusive and leaves the adoptive parent in charge of what information to share.
What to do When the Child Arrives
- Wait. This is particularly important when the children first arrive. You might be desperate to meet your new nephew or niece or neighbour, but it might be too much for the family. You can wait, but the child/ren can't. When my sister and her family visited too soon, my son thought he had another new Mummy and Daddy.
- Ask what you can do to help. It might simply be to be at the end of the phone; it might be to do some shopping and cooking. Just like all parents, newly adoptive parents need support. We did with our son, far less so with our daughter, but it was still appreciated.
- Buy a gift (not obligatory, of course). When our daughter came, we arrived at the school gates with her to collect our son. The next day we received many gifts for our daughter, some were from people we didn't even know. The gifts were cherished and acknowledged how precious her arrival was to us.
- If there are other children in the family, consider buying them a little something. It's hard adjusting to a new sibling and it can be very challenging to assimilate an adopted sibling.
- Be kind. Cut adoptive parents some slack; they might be a bit sensitive and all over the place. They may have waited for years to be a family and when it finally happens, it can be quite overwhelming. Once our son arrived, we were shattered, shell shocked, ecstatic, scared, self-conscious and had no idea what we were doing.
- Finally, if your curiosity gets the better of you and you blurt something out inappropriate, then acknowledge it. Don't ignore it, we all make mistakes, just say you're nervous or not sure what to say. Maybe your honesty will open a conversation.
I hope this offers some insights on what to say and do the next time you hear some great adoption news.