It was a beautiful evening as my best friend and I sat in our vehicle, parked along the river, ready to go for a leisurely stroll (so weird I use to do things leisurely!). We were mid conversation, when a man who looked to be in his mid-fifties walked up to my vehicle and knocked on the window. Thinking he wanted directions, I rolled the window down. Now for clarification, we were sitting in my Nissan NV, as very conspicuous 12 passenger vehicle, with 8 little child stickers along the side.
Man: “Hey there! This is quite the vehicle! What do you need such a big vehicle for?
Me: “Oh I’ve got 8 children, this is how I get them around.”
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Man: “Oh wow…you gave birth to 8 children?”
Me: “No…(not sure how to end the conversation with this man)…I adopted them”
Man: “Ohhhhh, thank goodness! I was about to tell you how sorry I felt for your uterus!”
Having a strange man about to offer up his condolences for your uterus on the side of the road is definitely up there on my strange encounters list…and I’ve tried ketchup cheese (a mash-up of cheese curds and weird ketchup…I don’t recommend)!
It likely comes as no surprise to discover that adoptive and foster parents hear a lot of weird and unique comments during their parenting journey. I belong to an adoptive parents group and some of the comments they have shared have been out there! In terms of being easily offended, I am relatively low on the sensitivity meter and don’t get easily offended by most of the adoption/foster care comments out there, mostly due to the fact that the majority of them come from a place of naivety, versus malicious intent. Some of the comments, however, really can be quite offensive, and many of them can be damaging when children are within ear shot…which the majority of the time, they are. So lets review the top offensive comments out there and improve communication with those walking this journey!
1. I feel sorry for your uterus!
Ha! That is a bonus one. Under no circumstance should you ever comment on a stranger’s uterus. This one should just be common sense.
2. Are they all yours?/Are any of them yours?
I know most people don’t mean anything by this question, and as an adoptive parent I know you are trying to mentally figure out the make-up of my family. This question, however, is usually spurred by seeing my family, which means my kids can likely hear you. There is never a time a child should feel like they are not mine, not included, or somehow different. They are ALL my children, regardless of how they joined my family. Differentiating between how a child joined my family is not relevant in any way and can be damaging and hurtful to the child who hears it.
3. Are any of them siblings?
Yes. They are all siblings.
This question is very similar to number three in that it can deeply hurt a child within ear shot. Children being raised through either adoption or foster care, are raised as siblings. They are not referenced in their family as “their adopted sister” or “my adoptive brother.” In fact, many foster parents don’t even reference foster children as “foster siblings” anymore. Knowing how children are biologically related to one another is private and not something you should be asking, especially in front of the children (I personally don’t mind being asked who is biologically related when children are not around, but many do)!
4. They are so lucky!
I know the urge to comment on how lucky a child is to have joined a loving family is strong, but adoption and fostering is so incredibly complicated, and to narrow it down to one descriptive word as “lucky” is very demeaning. Children through adoption have lost their biological family at a minimum, let alone anything else they may have endured in their past. Foster children are not able to live with their biological family while they navigate one of the biggest challenges of their lives. While we can all agree that a child being a part of an adoptive or foster family can be beautiful, redemptive, loving, and many other positive things, lucky should not be on your list of choice words. And just to drive this one home, comparatively, it would be like telling a mother whose child was kidnapped that she was “lucky” because she had a top notch detective assigned to the case. It is just a word best not used.
5. Are they crack babies?
I am a little saddened I even need to comment on this question, so I’m going to be a bit harsh with this one. THIS IS NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS. Moving on. (And side note, the term “crack babies” should be abolished from your vocabulary)
6. You signed up for this!
Adoptive and foster parents have a lot going on. The are usually navigating special needs, multiple families, specialist appointments, added family dynamics, grief and loss for their children and themselves, and many other complicated emotions. Due to this, they sometimes need to vent. I cannot begin to tell you how many times I have taken a moment to vent about a challenging part of my journey, to be slapped back with “well you signed up for this.” Why yes, I did sign up for this, but does that automatically mean I can’t find it hard? If a parent is struggling with their child, do you say to them “Well you signed up to be a parent!” Or if a woman is struggling with her husband, would you snap back “Well you signed up to be married.” No. You wouldn’t (well…at least those with some core empathy skills wouldn’t). The same goes for adoption and foster care. Regardless of whether we signed up, knowing the challenges we would encounter, we still need support and a listening ear as we navigate through these trenches. Otherwise, Susan, when you come to me and tell me you have lung cancer, my first response is going to be “Well you signed up for this smoking all those Marlboro Slims!” (Just kidding, I don’t even know if that is a real cigarette…and I would never do that…because, you know…empathy).
7. You’re a saint!
The truth is, you don’t need to be saint to adopt or foster children. I don’t think saints could handle all the swearing to be honest. Some people chose adoption as a way to build their family, while others went into adoption or foster care to provide a home for a child that needed one. This is not sainthood, it is responding to a need. Those are two very different things. In fact, if my child is within hearing distance of you making this comment, they are likely muttering under their breath about the chores I make them do or the slime ban I instituted. We are just like any other parents out there. Some days we do great, and other days we fail. A child, however, should not ever feel like they are a charity case that was taken in by a “saint.”
8. Do they have any problems?
I’m sure many people have heard that children through adoption or foster care often have special needs or behavioral challenges. While this may be one aspect of some adoption or foster care placements, it is not anyone else’s business what their private diagnoses or challenges are. Of course I am more open than many on my blog in an effort to educate and support others, but strangers at the grocery store do not need to know my child’s personal story. If you genuinely would like to know about adoption or foster care to find out if it might be the right fit for you, then a better way might be to simply ask if you can ask some questions about adoption or foster care at a time when children are not present.
9. How much did he/she cost?
Some forms of adoption have a cost associated with them, while other do not. Fostering doesn’t cost anything, but does provide maintenance payments. The money involved in all of these, however, is private. No child wants to be referenced with a monetary amount attached to their head. Again, if you are genuinely interested in adoption or foster care and want to find out if it is financially feasible, then please ask for more information, but do so at an appropriate time when children are not present. Most adoptive or foster parents are happy to support others interested in this journey! Do not ask out of pure curiosity though, especially around children.
10. Wow! Their hair is so beautiful! Can I touch it?
I know this comes from a good place, a place of awe and wonder, and it likely is meant as a compliment; But it isn’t. Many adoptive or foster parents are raising children with different ethnic backgrounds than themselves. As much as you might admire their beauty in someway, they are not pets. Please do not ask or suggest touching another child. An appropriate compliment about a feature you admire is one thing, but try not to attach it to race, and definitely do not attach it to touching children.
11. I could never do that!
This is another one of those comments that is likely meant as a compliment but can have negative connotations attached to it. It implies that the child must not be worthy if “you could never do that.” To a child, they don’t want to think of themselves as impossible, hard, or unworthy, yet that comment implies exactly that. Because you know what? You could do it! And there are more than 70,000 children in foster care in Canada, and 30,000 of them waiting for adoption, and more than 400,000 in foster care in the US, and more than 100,000 of them waiting for adoption! And guess what? Sainthood not required!
12. What did their parents do?
In both adoption and foster care, it is automatically assumed parents somehow did some unforgivable act or heinous crime. The truth is, there are many reasons children don’t live with their biological family. Sometimes for foster care a parent has passed away and other times they are sick in the hospital. Sometimes in adoption a parent makes a plan to place their child for adoption, and other times they are removed and then placed for adoption due to abuse or neglect. There are many reasons, but none of them take away the fact that they are still my child’s parents. Whatever name you want to give them, first parents, biological parents, or mommy so-and-so, they are still the parents of my child. They have a connection to them; a bond, and referencing some negative act they may or may not have done, whether true or not, is rude and hurtful for a child, and can affect how they view their own biological parents.
I want to end by commenting that although many of these comments are rude, hurtful, or unnecessary, I do realize they are usually not from a malicious place. Hopefully, however, this post makes you think twice about how you speak to adoptive or foster parents, and their children, and helps create more mindful conversations! And if you do have questions about adoption or foster care, just ask me!!
Have you ever had crazy questions or comments directed at you? Feel free to share them in the comments!
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Cindy Singleton says
This is a great post! Although some of those comments people say to adoptive or foster parents are startling, I can see how many people may make them without thinking first. So kudos to you for giving us all food for thought!
Oh my! I birthed 10 of my children before adopting – so the man would then given my uterus sympathy………. gee thanks.
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