“You can change the course of your life with your words.” Anonymous
Words are powerful tools. Through them, you express our thoughts and feelings. Your fears, worries and stressors. Accomplishments and successes. There is magic within speaking words. An invisible energy to cause countless reactions and responses. You can spread love and healing in one breath, or inflict pain and hurt with another. Words have the power to both encourage and destroy those around us. That’s why it’s important to be mindful and choose what we say wisely.
This is especially true if you don’t personally know the history of your audience. For instance, adoptees. Each and every adoptee has their own story and hidden insecurities. Certain words can trigger deep emotions and wounds that were purposefully concealed. It’s ok if you don’t fully understand or how to relate. Communicate that. Try and be as sensitive and considerate of others’ feelings as possible.
Even if you have the best of intentions, you never know how your words will impact someone else. Here are some examples of things you should never say to an adoptee.
“You look nothing like them.”
I was in jr. high, speaking to a friend of my mom’s between classes in an echoy hallway. I had just told her who I belonged to. Eyes widening in surprise, she said the remark, sending her voice vibrating off the walls and throughout the building. I cringed at the echo, and was suddenly aware of curious heads snapping in our direction as they passed. To make it worse, she immediately followed up with, “are you sure you’re a [family last name]?”
Her implication stung. In the moment, I laughed it off and mustered up a rehearsed response, which seemed to satisfy her enough and conclude our brief chat. But, inside, I was embarrassed, humiliated and wanted the ground to swallow me whole.
Shame and guilt are two things that adoptees struggle with when it comes to adoption. Doubts and low self-esteem about identity are close behind. It isn’t easy knowing you came from another family and not understanding why. Not being able to have answers, and feeling ungrateful if you were to ask. On top of that, being publicly labeled as different by a trusted friend of the family is miserable. It feeds into an adoptee’s worst fear of not belonging. Of not fitting in. It’s highly insensitive, rude and causes nothing but pain and emotional distress. Definitely something you should never to say to an adoptee.
“Your mother loved you so much she gave you up.”
This statement as a whole is as confusing as it is hurtful. It suggests that adoptees should be grateful for the trauma and agony our birth mothers went through to choose adoption. As if, in some way, it’s our fault or that we had any say in the matter. Maybe you intended to provide comfort? Reassurance? Unfortunately, your words had the opposite impact. With the aforementioned in mind, here’s how your statement came across: “Aren’t you happy your birth mother didn’t decide to kill you?” This, in turn, can lead to misinterpretation: love equals abandonment.
Each and every adoption story and situation is unique. While some adoptees are truly happy with their adoptive families, others are not. I know adoptees from both sides of that reality, and have listened to their stories. Heard their reasons why.
But, when it comes down to it: we didn’t ask to be adopted. We didn’t openly invite feelings of rejection and abandonment into our lives, nor would we ever. Rather, a lot of us grew up wondering if we were wanted. What we did wrong. What was wrong with us. Adoption happened without our consent. So, even if you have good intentions behind these words, you should never say this to an adoptee.
“Sometimes I wish I was adopted.”
I’ve heard parents use this to dismiss their children’s strange behavior. I’ve also heard children say this when they want different parents, or siblings when they didn’t like each other. When they wanted a “trade in.” But, being adopted isn’t something to joke about. It isn’t a quick fix, or something that should be used to explain xyz. Hearing biological family members say this about each other is a gut punch every time. Why would you ever wish to be taken away from your DNA, and answers about your origin?
It is never ok to make humorous jabs about adoption. Ever. So many adoptees are sensitive to this, whether they communicate that or not. There are those of us who stay silent. Who laugh along while our stomach content sourly churn around. To us, you are implying that we were adopted because there’s a problem. That there’s something wrong with us. But, as stated above, this is just giving voice to one of our darkest fears. It causes us to wonder if it’s true.
Careless and sarcastic words about adoption inflict deep emotional damage. So, instead of flinging jokes like this one around, be sensitive and considerate of others’ feelings. Think about the impact of your words before you say them.
“You aren’t my real sister, you’re my ADOPTED sister.”
Between 10-12 years of age, I started babysitting my two younger sisters anytime our parents ran errands. The series of events leading to this outburst of my middle sister escape me, but I still vividly remember the fateful seconds following. In all reality, I had most likely tossed out a, “Because I’m your sister and I said so.” A weak attempt to assert my newly-given authority.
Then, her statement. Dripping with anger.
From a very young age, I knew I was different. That I didn’t look like my sisters or parents. I also didn’t enjoy the same things they did, and constantly wondered where I had gotten my likes and dislikes. I was acutely aware that I didn’t blend in with my legal family. Like many other adoptees, I didn’t like attention being drawn to it. Being reminded at all was bad enough. Having one my sisters use it against me…
Knife, meet heart.
Things You Should Never Say
Words can change someone’s life. For better or for worse. When used for worse, the impact leaves a deep mark that never comes undone. Once spoken, words cannot be taken back.
I have come to terms with the above statements in my adult life, though it doesn’t erase that they’ve all left permanent damage. Adoptees are not immune to hurt. Whether the incident happened yesterday or years ago. It’s so incredibly important that you pay heed to the words that you speak. That you think about how it might come across.
**Blog Post Disclaimer: As I’m only one adoptee, I’m not trying to make any blanket statements for all adoptees out there. We all have our own stories and experiences. However, the core injuries to our souls through others’ words are similar. Similar does not mean the same, but rather common ground. If there are other adoptees who have experienced any of these statements, or others like them, please feel free to share. We would love to hear from you.**
Adoption Choices of Nevada
If you are currently in the process of adopting a baby and have any questions or concerns, feel free to contact, Adoption Choices of Nevada. You may visit the website here or contact us by 775-825-4673 (Reno Office) or 702-474-4673 (Las Vegas Office). Our hours are Monday through Friday, 9am-5pm PST.
Support Adoption Choices
Adoption Choices, Inc. is partnering with Crowdrise, a fundraising website for nonprofits, to help our adoptive parents and birth parents with much needed financial assistance. We understand that expenses keep clients from fulfilling their dreams. Both with birth parents making a plan for adoption, and with adoptive parents growing their family. It is our mission to provide financial assistance through grants and scholarships, awarded annually in November, in honor of National Adoption Month. Funds assist adoptive parents with matching and placements, adoption finalization and helping birth mothers improve their lives through higher education — and much more.
However, we can’t do it alone. Please read up on our programs and donate money where you are able. Your donation will make a huge impact.
About the Author
Rachel Robertson is a published journalist, book editor, certified Publishing Specialist, and aspiring novelist. She graduated from Central Washington University (CWU) in March 2011, having found her writing voice within the Creative Nonfiction genre and grew to work as a freelance book editor for small presses all across the United States.
In June 2018, she embarked on an internship with Virginia Frank and came on board with Adoption Choices Inc., Not for Profit 501(c)(3), in December 2018. Between her mutual passion with adoption and surrogacy, and her own personal history with adoption, Rachel is excited to research and share topics each week that will spread awareness and better serve the faithful patrons of Adoption Choices Inc.
When Rachel isn’t haunting her local Starbucks or Barnes and Noble, she’s avidly pouring over her Writer’s Digest subscription or cozying up with a cup of tea and book. She currently resides in the beautiful Pacific Northwest with her beloved wife and Border Collie.
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“Adoption Stories: 10 Things Not to Say to Someone Who Is Adopted.” WeHaveKids, WeHaveKids, wehavekids.com/adoption-fostering/Adoption-Stories-What-Not-To-Say-to-Someone-Who-Is-Adopted.
Barra, Angela. “5 Infuriating Things Non-Adoptees Say To Adoptees.” The Huffington Post, TheHuffingtonPost.com, 12 Mar. 2017, www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/5-infuriating-things-non-adoptees-say-to-adoptees_us_58c4f9e1e4b0c3276fb785ef.
“Damaging Things You Should Not Say to an Adopted Child.” AptParenting, AptParenting, 4 Mar. 2018, aptparenting.com/things-not-to-say-to-adopted-child.
Lendroth, Susan. “8 Things You Should Never Say to an Adopted Child.” Good Housekeeping, Good Housekeeping, 21 Mar. 2018, www.goodhousekeeping.com/life/parenting/a33002/things-not-to-say-to-an-adoptee/.