10 Things Not to Say to Adoptive Parents

10 things not to ask an adoptive parent...
10 things not to ask an adoptive parent...

Author Tracy Hahn-Burkett has a five-year-old daughter adopted from Korea

and an eight-year-old biological son. Whether well-intentioned, curious or inappropriate, Hahn-Burkett has had many a question lobbied in her direction regarding her daughter and their family make-up. Hahn-Burkett offers you, the curious, some advice before you speak. Along with ten questions one should not ask an adoptive parent, she gives her blunt responses.

1. "Is it difficult to love a child who isn't your own?"
My children are my own - both of them. Yes, I know what you mean. And I repeat: Both of my children are "my own."

2. "I could never love someone who doesn't share my biology."
I'm sorry your heart is so limited. And presumably your spouse doesn't share your biology, so I'm sorry for him or her, too.

3. "She/He's so lucky."
If there are adoptive parents who haven't heard this one, I don't know them. Yes, my adopted child is lucky, just like her brother who was born to me - just like any kid blessed with a good family. Moreover, my husband and I are lucky to have her as a daughter. My daughter is not lucky, however, by virtue of having been adopted or because she's been adopted by an American family. Her life story will always be one that begins with wrenching loss of family, country, language, culture, and all things related to the place and people from whence she came. She will have to figure out how to incorporate all of this into her identity at some point, no matter how much we love her.

Related: "It's hard when my daughter asks about her birth mother"

4. "That's great; it's so much easier than having the child yourself."
Clearly, you have never adopted a child. What, exactly, is easy about it? Is it the hundreds of questions prospective adoptive parents have to answer along the path to adoption, questions that go to the heart of what kind of people they are and dissect every aspect of their lives? Is it committing to a lifetime of knowing that at anytime from toddlerhood through adulthood, your child may come to you with wrenching questions about his or her origins and your answers may be unsatisfactory? Is it knowing that the very fact that your child is yours means that somewhere a woman will probably grieve every day of her life for the child she could not raise? Is it missing the early months, sometimes years, of your child's life? Is it telling your child when he or she asks to see baby pictures, "Sorry, I don't have any"? I could go on, but you get the point.

5. "She's just like a little China doll!"
Yes, thank you, I think she's cute, too. But she is not Chinese and she's a human being, so please don't characterize her as an inanimate stereotype. And if you're going to gush and coo over her, please consider that blond-haired, blue-eyed boy standing right next to her. He's my kid, too. He's pretty cute, too. And he can hear you.

6. "Her 'real' mother was probably a prostitute."
I'm her "real" mother, and so far as I can recall, I have never been a prostitute.

Related: Birth parents find adopted kids on Facebook - Should they?

7. "What kind of a person would give up such a beautiful, sweet child?"
This comment is often accompanied by a clucking of the tongue. In general, the kind of person whose options are limited in ways you have never even had to imagine. Birthmothers are not bad, immoral people. Very few, if any, birthmothers who relinquish their children do so lightly. For most, it is a searing, heartbreaking decision that will haunt them forever. Also, please understand that when you say things about my child's birthmother, you are commenting about the woman who gave my daughter life and whose genes remain an inseparable part of her - forever.

8. "People who adopt children from other countries just want an 'exotic' child."
Alternatives: "People who adopt children from other countries just don't want black babies" or "People who adopt children from other countries are shirking their responsibility to adopt at home." Very few parents who choose international adoption do so because they don't like "dark" kids or because they want an "exotic" child. The systems of international and domestic adoption differ in fundamental ways, and most parents who choose to adopt educate themselves thoroughly and then pick the program that is best for them.

Related: The adopted mother's dilemma - Should you label your child as "adopted"?

9. Anything in Chinese - addressed to the Asian adopted child
This happened to me when my daughter was a year old. A woman in an elevator said something to my daughter in Chinese, and by the time I figured out what had just taken place, the woman was gone (thereby robbing me of my opportunity to deliver any sort of snarky reply). My daughter is American, has lived in this country since infancy, and the language she understands is English. Why would you assume anything else?

10. "How much did she cost?"
Another one we've all heard, generally more than once. But my child is not a melon; I did not pick her up at the store. She cost me nothing. I did, however, spend quite a bit on adoption fees to support the process and travel costs, just as I spent quite a bit on medical care, etc., in conjunction with the conception and birth of my biological son. If you truly want to learn more about the financial aspect of either process, I will be happy to discuss that with you. If you're only interested in knowing in order to pass judgment, it's none of your business.

- By Tracy Hahn-Burkett

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