Plus the one question you should ask yourself.
I’ve written before about the questions you should never ask about adoption. Don’t get me wrong, I love talking about my experience as an adoptive parent, but rarely do the questions I receive focus on me. Instead, they ask about the details of my son’s story and his birth family.
My go-to answer to any adoption question is, “Why do you ask?” It’s my polite, direct method of making the person stop and consider their motive. If you have a specific question for me because you’re considering adoption, I will happily answer it. If you are looking to support a friend or family member who is an adoptive parent or adoptee, ask away. But if you’re prying simply out of curiously, stop yourself. Before you ask an adoptive parent or adoptee ANY question about adoption, first ask YOURSELF, “What is my motive? Why do I want to know?”
Is your question anything more than small talk or gossip? Would you ask any other parent at this dinner party the same questions about their child? If not, you probably shouldn’t ask at all.
Below are ten questions you should never ask about adoption, along with suggestions of what to say instead.
Why did their mom give them up for adoption?
First things first: Proper adoption language is “placed for” not “given up.”
I understand that it’s hard for many people to imagine placing a child for adoption. Birth parents do so for many reasons – age, finances, lack of emotional support, substance abuse, health issues, mental health, circumstances surrounding the conception or pregnancy, education or career pursuits. Regardless of the reason, it’s not appropriate for adoptive parents to share the details. Those details belong to the birth parents and adoptee.
The first step to understanding adoption and all forms of non-traditional motherhood is this: Pregnancy and parenting are two separate experiences. Pregnancy does not intrinsically lead to the ability or desire to parent. Nor is pregnancy necessary to a person’s ability or desire to parent.
How old was their birth mom?
What you’re really asking is “Was she a teenager?” If she was, you understand why she chose adoption. If she wasn’t, you feel justified in judging her. There is no scenario in which asking this question is appropriate.
Where are they from?
Parents of transracial adoptees are asked this question a lot. Oftentimes, the answer is Missouri. Or one of the other 49 United States. It’s important to remember that not every Asian baby is an international adoptee.
Instead say: Would you mind me asking where they were born?
Do you talk to his birth mom?
Navigating birth family relationships is difficult under the best of circumstances. For most people, there are many ups and downs. If you genuinely want to learn more about open adoption, ask a more general question to give the person an opportunity to share whatever details they’re comfortable sharing.
Instead say: If you’re interested in sharing, I’d love to hear more about your adoption and your family.
How much did they cost?
This one is all about semantics. I didn’t buy a baby. I paid for the process of adoption, just like biological parents paid medical expenses to have a baby in a hospital. But adoption in America can be devastatingly unethical, leaving some adoptees to feel that they were bought. That is why this question can be so triggering.
As an adoptive parent, I don’t mind when people ask me about the cost. It’s important to me to raise awareness about ethics within the industry, the questions both expectant and adoptive parents should ask, the fees they can expect versus red flags, etc. Questions like this can serve as a point of entry for that discussion, but it’s important to ask the proper way.
Instead say: If you’re willing to share, I’d love to learn more about the process and costs of an ethical adoption.
Are you going to have kids of your own?
As both an adoptive and step parent, I get asked this a lot.
My children are as much “mine” as they could ever be. That said, they do not belong to me any more than you belong to your parents. Biology does not guarantee a certain relationship with a child. The reality is, 27% percent of Americans – 67 million people – are estranged from their parent(s). Having “my own” kid means nothing to me.
The bigger issue with this question is that it’s inappropriate to ask people about their family planning. Not just because they might be experiencing infertility, but simply because it’s none of your business. Period.
Did you try to have your own kids?
This question is a minefield for those experiencing infertility. For the rest of us, it’s just tacky. I chose to adopt because my mother is adopted. Whenever someone asks me this, I respond with a flat “no,” then sit back and watch confusion come over them.
Instead ask: What lead you to choose adoption?
Are you going to adopt more kids?
For the record, this one isn’t offensive from an adoption standpoint. It just goes back to my previous comment: Stop asking people about their family planning. It’s always inappropriate.
Unless their last name is Duggar, in which case, go for it and report back to me.
Are you going to breastfeed?
You cannot imagine how many people asked me this. Yes, it is possible. No, I didn’t do it. And no, you shouldn’t ask this question, even of biological mothers. Fed is best, and how a parent choses to feed their child is a personal choice.
Why didn’t you tell me you were adopting?
There is no set timeline for adoption, and for many people, the wait is agonizing. Some couples announce as soon as they make the decision to adopt and others wait until the baby is home and parental rights have been terminated. Adoptive parents don’t owe you a heads-up, just like pregnant people don’t owe you a first-trimester announcement.
Instead say: Congratulations! I’m so happy for you!
Jessica Butler is the co-founder of Raise, 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.
Fantastic article. Spot on . As an adoptive parent I am amazed at how people will ask intimate details about my child’s birth when they would never ask about the vaginal experience of a birth mother. There are lots of roads to becoming a parent., all valid.