What to Say, What Not to Say: Tips for Non-Adoptive Parents

"Is that your real mother?" "Is she your real sister?"

Adoptive parents say they’re often asked questions that they believe people would never dream of asking non-adoptive parents. What non-adoptive families may not realize is that these questions – however well-intended – may feel intrusive or insensitive.

Experts and adoptive parents offer these tips for what to say, and what not to say when talking with members of an adoptive family:

• Don’t ask personal questions.

• Don’t talk about the child in public.

Don’t use the term "real." Instead, talk about "birth parents" and "birth siblings." Adopted children are, in fact, living with their real parents, who are bringing them up. They are also living with their real brothers and sisters, who are growing up in the same family.

Don’t refer to the birth parents as the "natural" parents. The implication is that the adoptive parents are unnatural.

Don’t tell people that they are selfless for taking someone else’s child or suggest that the child is lucky. "First, these are our own children," says Kathryn Creedy of Celebrate Adoption Inc. "Second, adoption is really a very selfish thing. People adopt for just one reason: They are looking for what is inherent in most of us, children of their own. They can’t or choose not to do it in the traditional method so they adopt."

Don’t tell horror stories unless you can prove it only happens in adoptive families. "The human condition is complex and to ascribe a problem as being solely attributed to adoption is incorrect," Creedy says.

Related reading:

What All Families Need to Know about Adoptive Families

Personal Questions and Thoughtless Comments: Tips for Adoptive Parents

Resources: Web sites and books for kids and their parents