There are several phrases that well-meaning people say that are sometimes not the best possible thing to say at a given time. For instance, a funeral is not always the best place to say “Well, I’m sure they’re in a better place.” We’ve probably all said that. I know I have. And some people may not be bothered by it at all, but there exist safer things to say. Another example might be trying to comfort someone who is going through cancer with “This too shall pass” or the old favorite “Joy comes in the morning”.
But I’m guilty of all of these and I’m not writing to beat you up about what you’ve said wrong in the past. Well maybe a little. I want to give you a few not-so-great things that are often said to adoptive parents, potential adoptive parents, or those struggling with infertility. These are in no particular order and some are completely stolen from friends who’ve shared these with me.
For starters, if someone says they’re adopting don’t ask why. A few times people have actually said, “Why would you adopt? You can’t have kids regular?” Immediate throat punch is the result. Instead consider this as an option: “That’s awesome! Congratulations! How can I pray for you specifically?” That leaves it open for the person to share any struggles they are having with infertility or just the adoption process in general.
Here’s a big one. Please don’t assume that because someone adopts that means they will all of the sudden become pregnant. I know right now you are listing off couples in your head that you know personally that this happened to. That’s great! But it DOES NOT happen for everyone. So for you to say, “Oh, I’m sure you’ll get pregnant as soon as you adopt. It happened for Bob & Susie and Bill & Nancy and...” it just causes all kinds of problems. For one, you may be building false hope because you are not, in fact, the Giver of Life. Also, in some people’s eyes it devalues adoption. As if to say that if you’re faithful in doing that then God will truly bless you with a child. It’s just all wrong. The antithesis is also accurate. If someone is adopting and becomes pregnant avoid the oh-I-just-knew-as-soon-as-you-started-adoption rhetoric.
Also, if you hear someone is struggling with infertility Please don’t offer them your kids in jest. It’s not funny. I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard things like that! People say, “Ugh! You just think you want kids. You can keep little Johnny for a weekend and I bet you’ll change your mind.” We want the child(ren) God has for us. So you can keep your rotten heathen and your comments to yourself.
When someone is adopting older children (as in our case) please don’t patronize with phrases about not having to deal with crying at night or diapers, etc. Not all people choose to adopt older children to avoid stinky diapers and sleepless nights. We will have plenty of trials of our own and grieve the time lost with our adopted children, all of the time lost.
I am hesitant to add this one and I want to tread lightly as I do. This doesn’t bring the pain like some of these others might, but it can sometimes be tiring to answer the question “Any news yet?” On the surface the question is obviously caring and in no way is it hurtful, but it is a constant reminder that there is no news. We still want people to care and be involved. Just understand that on any given day we might be asked that same question 5 or 6 times each. I would offer this as an alternative: “We are still praying for you and your kiddos!” or maybe “Let me know if there are specific ways we can pray.” It just alleviates the pressure to share all of the mundane details involved in waiting. And yes, waiting for the elusive travel date is as bad as it sounds. Grueling in fact. Know that we will be glowing when we have news and happy to share every little detail to the point that you will wish you hadn’t asked.
I don’t have as many of these because we are still pre-adoption, but here’s a couple just for balance.
If it is obvious that someone has either adopted, kidnapped, or is babysitting the children they are with in the grocery store, then it is obvious. No need to ask, “are they really yours?” This could be confusing, especially for older children. Just smile and tell them how cute they are or call the police or both. I can’t wait for the day that someone cocks their head and asks if the four black children are ours. “Yeah, weirdest thing, right? They came out so dark.”
Some people are bothered by being asked if they are all siblings. If they are all adopted by the same parent then they are all siblings! Pop quiz: One biological child, one adopted from Africa and two adopted domestically. Are they all siblings? If you answered ‘No’ then you are on your way to a disgusted look before you know it. Don’t make parents answer the details of that question...to you (a stranger)...in front of their kids.
All that said...
Please don’t apologize if you’ve said these things to us. You may know who you are, but we don’t remember so let’s leave it that way. We don’t hold grudges and have laughed away most of it knowing that we’ve put our foot in out mouth more than we’d care to admit.
Please feel free to add in the comments your own examples of awkward things people have said to you.
And above all of this please know that the thoughts contained in this email are my experiences and may not be true for everyone. I only offer what’s here as a guide in trying to say what’s in your heart. If you mean well and want to offer your friend or loved one some expression of tenderness and caring in whatever it is they are walking through there’s one phrase that ALWAYS fits: I love you.
Thanks for reading.