While we appreciate the sentiment, adoptive and foster parents can’t help but cringe when they hear the phrase.
I’m hardly the first person to make this point. A quick Google search of “stop calling my adopted child lucky” will pull half a dozen articles on the topic. And yet, it’s a “compliment” we adoptive parents continue to receive: “Your child is so lucky to have you.” While we appreciate the sentiment, adoptive and foster parents can’t help but cringe when they hear the phrase. For those new to the conversation, here’s an explanation of why it’s so triggering, and what you can say instead
It negates our child’s trauma.
Even under the best of circumstances, adoptees face the realization that their biological parents were unable to raise them. Many adoptees and foster children face trauma that extends far beyond that — abuse, neglect, fetal malnutrition and prenatal exposure. Ironically, the more trauma a child faces, the more we parents are told how lucky they are to have us. But I think you’ll agree that “lucky” is the last word you’d ever use to describe the narrative above.
It disrespects our child’s birth family.
“They’re so lucky to have you,” implies that a life with their birth family would be less lucky. Maybe that true, maybe it’s not, but regardless, you should never say anything that undermines a child’s birth family, ESPECIALLY in front of the child. Even when it’s said with the best of intentions, the phrase has a judgy connotation.
It reinforces the savior complex of adoption.
Adoption and foster care have long been associated with moral superiority, a religious calling, and a savior complex, which is disrespectful to both the adoptee and his birth family. Adoptee Diane Watts addressed the issue in a recent post saying, “When ‘adopt’ is used as a synonym for charitableness and goodness, it becomes a vision of heroes saving a pitiable and needy thing. I’m not a sad puppy that was rescued. I was loved and wanted, and both my birth and adoptive families did so much to make sure that I had the best life possible.”
Before adopting Levon, I was a stepmother to Jackson and Henry for seven years. I spent the first several of those celebrating birthdays and holidays with my husband’s ex-wife and their children. Graduation dinners surrounded by her extended family and mine. Her brother’s children spent a week with us several summers in a row, and we even took her nephew on a vacation to visit my parents. I love my stepsons as my own. I treat them exactly the same as I treat Levon. Yet the number of times I’ve been told that they’re lucky to have me: Zero.
Here’s what to say instead.
This conversation recently came up on a friend’s Facebook page. She’s a fellow adoptive mama, and her sweet friend commented: “When I know better, I want to do better. Is there something else I can say?”
Yes! I find that when most people say, “He’s so lucky to have you,” what they’re really trying to say is, “You’re such a good mama to him!” So just use those words, and give that mama the praise she deserves!
Jessica Butler is the co-founder of "Raise Magazine," stepmother of two, and adoptive mother of one. Prior to "Raise," she was a writer on USA’s "In Plain Sight" and TNT’s "The Last Ship." She and her husband, writer/producer Warren Bell, co-created the Nick at Nite series "Instant Mom," based on her life as a stepmother. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and six-year-old son, Levon.