Passionate About the Westchester County Area
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What to Say, or Not to Say, to Adoptive Families

What to say or not to say to adoptive familiesI want to preface this blog post by telling you that this is the hardest topic for me to talk about or write about. I have three children. My youngest is adopted. Obviously so; my adopted daughter and I couldn’t look more different. She has the gorgeous, luminous brown skin of her Ethiopian ancestors, while I have the pale, almost translucent skin of someone whose ancestors are surely Nordic and have never seen the sun. Together, we stand out in a crowd.

Adoption invites a lot of questions, from adults as well as children, and the seemingly endless questions can be overwhelming. Some days she comes home from school crying. It crushes me. As an adoptee she will deal with this feeling of grief throughout her life. As an adoptive mother, it’s my job to pick myself up, and guide and support her through it. We started by teaching her, and her siblings, that most people who ask questions don’t mean to wound, and are just curious. We instead shifted our focus on how our children can respond to questions, and how to draw lines between what they want to respond to and what makes them uncomfortable.We made a list of questions they would get, and we role played answers. 

The most common question I receive as an adoptive mom: “Why did you adopt?”

Sometimes the person asking the question is considering adoption. Sometime’s the person is just being nosy. I got this question once at a supermarket. Here’s the answer I give regardless of the situation: “The reason I chose to adopt a child is a really personal one. But I can tell you I am so happy I did.” That’s it. I try not to be annoyed by the question, but I have never asked any mom why she chose to have children. Starting or growing a family is a personal decision. No one is entitled to the reason why.

The most common question my daughter receives as an adoptee: “Who is your real mommy?”

We teach her to explain that we are her “forever family”.  Her birth mommy was unable to take care of her, and we are lucky to take her into our family. Unfortunately, this line of questioning comes often with follow up questions. Children will sometimes ask my daughter if she was sold. Recently she got into some trouble at school when she shouted at a boy, “I am not an American Girl doll! You cannot buy me in a toy store!” 

Adults will ask what me what happened to her birth mother, or why our daughter was given up for adoption. That’s not an easy answer. Again, it’s private. The man I just met at a block party isn’t entitled to the answer. Neither is my great aunt over Thanksgiving dinner. My daughter’s history, how she came to be mine, is her story to share or keep to herself. That is important for every adoptee to know. They don’t need to justify themselves. Declining to answer prying questions isn’t just a good survival skill, it’s good manners. 






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One Response to What to Say, or Not to Say, to Adoptive Families

  1. Kris
    Kris April 4, 2017 at 5:55 pm #

    Ellen, I love this article. Thanks for sharing. As someone who was adopted at birth I too got all those questions, followed in my pre-teen/teenage years with annoying or sometimes rude comments – it’s amazing to me how many people there are out there who ask questions about the most imtimate details of life without any thought. Good for your daughter for standing up to that boy (even if she did get in trouble). One thing that I found helpful is to make connections with other people who were adopted. I didn’t know anyone outside my family who was adopted when I was younger but as I got older it was great to have someone who had walked in my shoes! At the end of the day it’s love that makes a family and that’s the most important part. 🙂