Friday, April 25, 2014

Translating Adoptionese

I started writing this post a while back but for whatever reason, never got a chance to finish it.  And ya'll, I'm so glad because Kristen at Rage Against the Minivan just posted THE FUNNIEST video on this very subject the other day!  So, it's best we start off with this lovely little gem to give you an idea of what we're talking about today.

If you wouldn't say it about a boob job,
don't say it about an adoptive family.

Yup. Believe it or not, I get all of those questions, phrased just like that, ALL the time. And no, they are not asking about my boobs. Now, don't feel horrible if you've let one of these slip.  I'm sure I said a few before we went through the adoption process, too. Adoption lingo is new territory for a lot of people, and sometimes that little filter between our head and mouth gets all clogged up at just the right time to make for some awkward moments like in the video.

So, I'm here to help navigate these crazy new waters with you. Here's a list of common questions and comments that we hear. I'll do my best to explain how to rephrase it or explain why it's completely inappropriate so you can become a fluent in Adoptionese.  Here goes...

  1. "Is she your real kid?"

    This is one happens ALL. THE. TIME.  As funny as it is in the video, this is one that can hurt in real life, especially if the kids can hear, which is usually the case.  Let me explain once and for all: there are no fake kids. None. Every child is a real child. The appropriate terminology here is biological.
  2.  "Where'd ya get her from?" or "Where'd ya get that baby?"Like he said in the video, "she's not a fashion accessory" I just happened to pick up on a whim or on a clearance rack. Simply ask, "Where was she born?" or "Where did you adopt from?"
  3. "Could you not have your own kids?" or "Could you not have real kids?"

    So a reminder, the terminology you're looking for is biological.  However, unless you know someone very well, this is not at all appropriate and for most people is a private issue. So if you are checking out at the grocery store and see a multiracial family that you have never met, leave this question off the list.  Personally, I don't mind this question because I'm a pretty open book, and I absolutely love a reason to start talking about adoption. But to be sensitive to people you come across or even friends you know, try asking in a delicate manner which gives the person the opportunity to open up or to bow out gracefully: "I think adoption is great. What made you decide to adopt?"
  4. "How much did she cost?" or "Was she expensive?"

    This is NEVER appropriate to ask in front of a child or to a complete stranger.  And you do not pay for a child- that is trafficking. There are a ton of expenses involved in an adoption, yes.  Those expenses are for numerous things like agency fees, documents, home studies, social workers, couriers, orphanage fees, travel documentation, lawyers, airfares, hotels, court fees, etc.  But if this is something you are truly interested in, a simple google search should help you figure it out without embarrassing or humiliating someone, including yourself.  If you want to ask a friend you know, simply ask about the costs involved in an adoption, NOT the cost of a child.
  5. "What happened to her real/birth mom?" or "What happened to her real family?"

    Adoption, while it is a wonderful thing, is born out of brokenness, grief and loss. This is a very private issue and one you don't need to ask. EVER. Just for some perspective, click here to see the pain and heartbreak on these parents' faces as they abandon their children at a baby hatch in China.
  6.  "They really don't want girls in China, huh?"

    Um, don't go there.
  7.  "She looks like a China doll."
    Just don't.
  8.  "So you want to be like Brad and Angelina?" or "You're going to be like Brad & Angelina."

    Please. Make. It. Stop.
  9. "Are you babysitting today?" or "Are all those kids yours?" or "So you're collecting a basketball/baseball/football team."

    Believe it or not, I get this one a lot!  I find it kind of funny, and I expect it now because I have to be honest, with two kids that look a lot like me and one that doesn't, well you can see it coming. It's an honest question and a way for people to try and figure out your situation.  It does get old, but it's not offensive or inappropriate.
  10.  "Does she know she was adopted? Are you going to tell her she's adopted?"

    This one is sometimes whispered to me so no one else will hear. I wish people would whisper some of the other ones! Adoption is not a bad word or a bad thing at all! We openly talk about adoption at home. At 2 years old, Zoe knows she was born in China and can find it on the map. Adoption is a beautiful thing, another way for God to knit a family together, making it whole. And honestly, if we didn't tell Zoe, well, see number 9 and the picture below.

  11. "Weren't there any American kids you could adopt?" or
    "Why don't you adopt from the US?"

    Be ready if you ask me this because I will ask you the exact same question. I read a statistic today that said if 1 family in every 3 churches in the US adopted a child, we would adopt every child in need of a family in the US. Yet, tens of thousands age out of the system every year without a family. There are millions, MILLIONS of children across the planet that need homes. God put China on our hearts so that's where we pursued Zoe. Right now we are waiting on our fourth child in Ethiopia because God broke my heart for their orphan crisis.
  12. "You know, now that you have adopted, you'll get pregnant." or "You adopted and got pregnant, yup, happens every time."

    Stay far, far away from the first one. People who have struggled or are struggling with infertility have probably been down a tough, painful road that has left scars. Telling them they will get pregnant is like driving a knife right into their heart. Adoption isn't a fertility cure. And adoption isn't always a "Plan B." Some of us chose it as "Plan A" and were overjoyed to also have biological kids.
  13. The Horror Stories.

    As soon as I tell someone Zoe is adopted, it's not unusual for that person to unload on me the worst adoption story they've ever heard from their brother's friend's cousin's wife's sister who read an article about it on the internet. Maybe it's the only other time they've heard the word adoption?  Whatever the reason people feel the urge to vomit up these stories, it is NOT okay. We love our adopted children and don't want you to rain on our family's parade. And believe me, anyone who has adopted has researched everything on the topic and has been all but strip searched for their background checks. Nothing you can conjure up will surprise us or suddenly make us second guess this thing we have ALREADY done.
  14. "I have always wanted to adopt, BUT..."
    I welcome this conversation if you're serious and might be open to talking about possibilities. But if this was just a one time fleeting thought you had and you're simply trying to find common ground with me, please don't. It will make you look foolish.
  15. "She's so lucky" or "You're amazing for doing that."

    There's no way to sugarcoat it: Do. Not. Say. This. I know you have every kind intention but it does not go over like you think it will. She's not a charity case. She's my kid. If you want to say something sweet, try, "She is awesome. You're so lucky/blessed to have her in your family." That will bless us beyond measure.


  1. Please don't attack me...I'm kidding, kind of. Since you said Zoe knows she was born in China, I would ask if Zoe understands what it means to be adopted? I realize she's young and might not understand it at two years old, but that would be a knee-jerk question that I would likely ask.

    I did enjoy this post a lot. I laughed a little. Thank you for sharing :)

  2. lilshrimpit- Don't worry, your questions are safe here! I'm an open book, and you won't upset me personally by anything you ask. Are you talking about #10? It's completely 100% okay to ask if someone was adopted! Just make sure you use the word adopted and not the whole "real kid" thing. If you're not sure if it's appropriate, you can always ask someone where they were born or where they are from originally. That can start great conversations.

    Maybe I didn't explain it well, but adoption is NOT a bad word or something that has to be whispered. We love adoption because it made Zoe part of our family! No, Zoe can't grasp the meaning of adoption yet, but we have already started talking about it in ways she can understand at 2 years old- where she is from, the house she lived in with the kids (we sent a care package to them), etc. If China is mentioned she gets all excited because she knows it's "hers." With Zoe looking nothing like the rest of our family, it's something she would figure out eventually anyway :)

  3. Laurie that's the one that makes my hubby cringe!

  4. Our guys are grown men now. But I can still hear the people saying these. Oh how I wish I had heard the boob/baby equivalency back then. As it is, I am chuckling and filled with gratitude for the family God grew us.
    My least favorite comment of all time as we were struggling to become a family, "Be thankful you don't have children. Arms won't ache; heart won't break." WOW! Really?
    Thanks for bringing our family's journey back to the front of my mind. It's easy to not actively remember these things.

  5. As we prepare to set upon a journey that you have already made (once so far anyway), I am grateful for your words. They give me pause and give me a pretense upon which to prepare my heart for the inevitable, especially since more than likely our child/children will not 'look' like us either. At the same time, I must believe that most (definitely not all) people have sincerely good intentions with just poor verbage. I have not even met my future child and I feel a extreme protectiveness that may even surpass that of my bio kids because I know without doubt that my bios have grown up in safety and love and that the next child God picks for me will have a much different story. I am prayerfully even now asking God to still my anger at ignorance and use every opportunity to His ultimate Glory. I am prayerfully hoping God will use the differences in our family to open up beautiful conversations and to plant seeds that will grow in the hearts of others for the care of the orphaned. Let my life be a testimony to the Lord! Thank you, again, for the encouragement! ~Angelia

  6. Kim, wow, that's a rough one! Glad you enjoyed the video :)

  7. Angelia- I totally understand where you are right now. My eyes were really opened as I started following people's adoption journeys through blogs and books, and it was a great way to begin to prepare my heart and my head. I love your words and your heart!