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10 Things Parents of Adopted Children Wish You Knew

Updated: Nov. 28, 2022

First thing's first: Adoptive parents are just like any other parents. They're crazy about their kids, stretched too thin between responsibilities, and exhausted. But there are some things about adoption you may not know but they wish you did.

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Don’t ask us why we don’t have children of our own

Often times the topic of adoption can become an unwanted focus during conversation for adoptive parents, especially when the children in question are present. Asking adoptive parents why they don’t have children of their own is not only quite nosy, but it assumes that adoption was the last resort to grow their family. Adopted children can understandably become sensitive to these kinds of assumptions, and no parent wants their child to feel as though they are a consolation prize or a last resort. Adopted children belong to their adoptive parents—they are their own children. There is no need to ask this insensitive question, ever.

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Every adoption experience is different

Just like no two pregnancies are the same, so it is with adoption. While some adoptive parents wait years to be chosen by a birth parent, others might be called for a placement within months. This was the case for adoptive parents Kathi and April Dunham-Filson. “We were told that same-sex female couples were almost last on the list of chosen adoptive parents,” says Kathi. “We were expecting a wait of at least 18 months, and instead we were chosen right away. Our son came to us at four days old, and we processed his adoption over the following year. We were lucky to be the exception, not the rule.” Don’t miss these 6 real-life adoption stories that will melt your heart.

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Don’t ask where the child came from

Julia and her husband adopted their daughter domestically, and yet they are still asked about her country of origin, presumably because her daughter is a different race. Julia says, “People should know that not all children that are ethnically different from their parents are from a different country. As my daughter gets older, these conversations will be even more difficult for us to explain to her. I would discourage strangers from asking people these questions as it isn’t really their business.” Questions about a child’s birth country can add to the child’s lack of feeling like they belong in their adoptive family which can be detrimental to self-esteem. It’s best to check your motives when asking any questions of adoptive parents, and ask yourself if your inquiries could be insensitive. Better yet, wait for information to be offered first. That is most polite and appreciated by adoptive families. Check out the 16 things every parent wants you to know.

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Know that all adoptions begin with tremendous change for the child

No matter the circumstances behind an adoption, it begins with the life-changing event of separation from a birth parent or parents for the child. This can be an incredible loss, particularly if the child is older, and the trauma of the separation can stay with children even after adoptions are official. Brynn Contino, a mother of six who adopted a daughter from China, tells Reader’s Digest, “With adoption comes great trauma and loss,” she says. “My daughter is 4 and it’s only been 10 months, but she’s very smart. I let her express her feelings as much as she wants and we often talk about her China mom.” If this happens in your presence, it may make you uncomfortable to witness, but be respectful. You may not know that these famous celebrities were adopted. 

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Don’t tell us that our children are “lucky”

One more thing on the list of what not to say to an adopted child or his or her parents, is that the child is lucky to have found such a great adoptive family. Not only is this rude, but it also has implications that extend beyond its well-meaning surface. Julia runs into this comment often, explaining “Telling kids this makes it seem like their birth family wouldn’t have been good parents to them, and this is not true at all. If anyone is lucky, it is us. Her birth mother chose us to raise her, and we will be forever grateful for that.” The bottom line: If you want to make an adopted child feel special, why not tell his or her parents how lucky they are to have found such an amazing son or daughter?

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Drop the “adopted” before son or daughter

For most families with adopted children, they don’t consider themselves different from any other family. Parents with children they’ve adopted don’t think of them as an “adopted daughter” or “adopted son.” They are their children, their sons and daughters. When referring to children in a family that have been adopted, it is safe to assume that it’s just fine to refer to them as only their daughter or son. These stories of older child adoption will inspire you. 

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Adoptive parents need support

Every parent needs a supportive group of people surrounding them to carry them through the jungle that is parenting. Adoptive parents are no different, and for single adoptive mothers the value of a supportive community is paramount. Jessica, a single adoptive mother, says of having a support network, “If you choose to make the decision to adopt as a single mother, make sure that you have a solid support system of friends and family as you will need to lean on them when you need help with childcare, emergency contacts, and just general support.” You can be a support to adoptive parents just as you would any other parent—offering to babysit, picking up items at the store when you’re there, and dropping off a thoughtful meal during the week. These are the 12 ways to find a babysitter you trust.

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Don’t ask if the adoptive parents worry about the future

Asking an adoptive parent if they worry that their child will search for their biological parents when they are older is insensitive at best. Like anything else, all parents differ in their feelings on the issue, and some may welcome or encourage their child to seek their birth parents when the time presents itself. Others, like Jessica, might be hesitant. She says, “As an adoptive parent, I struggle with feeling that she will eventually want to know her biological parents and fear that she may choose them over me.” This subject is one that is best left alone, and most adoptive parents can at least agree on that much. Learn more about these adoption misconceptions from an adopted woman. 

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Asking about the cost of adoption is rude

Adoption can be expensive, and the costs associated with international adoption are often widely discussed. Even so, asking adoptive parents about the money spent on the adoption of their child is tactless. If the adopted children are present when it is asked, it implies that their lives have a monetary value, and may bring up more complex feelings and discussions than their parents want to handle. Julia says of the many questions she and her husband are often asked, “Overall, people are curious about the experience, but unless the information is offered, it’s rude to ask people why they adopted, how much they paid, and the information behind it, as this is personal and private.”

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Love is the common thread of all family types

Deciding to raise a child is an important decision in any person’s life, and it is something to be celebrated. Adoptive families deserve to be celebrated and acknowledged for the unique contributions they provide to our communities. April Dunham-Filson says that she never wanted any special treatment because she and her wife Kathi adopted a child. “I just wanted people to see that we are a family,” she said. Jessica says of her daughter, “The love I feel for this child is beyond words, and no one could ever tell me she was not meant to be my daughter.” Next, read about 50 habits healthy families have.