Things You Should Avoid Saying When Discussing Adoption

Things You Should Avoid Saying When Discussing Adoption

Promoting positive language around the topic of child adoption.


As an Asian-American adopted by white parents, I've had to battle with coming to terms with my Japanese and Chinese heritage and cultural identity, as well as my adopted identity. There was a very small population of adopted kids in my elementary school and high school classes, so a lot of the kids understandably didn't truly know how to talk about the topic of adoption around me. There were certain phrases that they would say that irked me one way or the other, and I never knew why. At the end of high school, I made an adopted affinity club, where we talked about the different phrases that we all communicatively agreed were offensive, hurtful or could be phrased better. We discussed how reinforcing positive language around adoption may make the topic seem less isolating, foreign to others, and more normal overall. So, here is a list of 5 things you probably should avoid saying when talking to someone who's adopted, and/or discussing the topic of adoption in general. If you've never been in either of these prior scenarios, then consider this a learning moment!

1. "Who are your real parents?"

By saying this, it makes it sound as if someone's adoptive parents aren't their legitimate parents. So-- does this mean that your adoptive parents are 'fake parents'? Growing up with two Caucasian parents as an adopted Asian child, I already felt enough that I didn't belong. I loved my parents but I wanted to look like them like all my other friends in elementary school and preschool did. So, when someone asked me a question regarding where or who my real parents were, it made me feel more isolated and ashamed that I was adopted. A positive substitute for "real parents" is "birth parents'.

2. "Why don't you look like the rest of your family?"

Ok-- saying this is in the first place may not be the best way of going about what you're trying to really say. Sure, we all sometimes see someone who doesn't look anything like their parents. In these cases, the person you're asking may be adopted, but also may very well be blood-related to their parents, which would be awkward as well. In the case that they are adopted, this question may make them feel uncomfortable and further isolated. If someone doesn't know the person they're asking this question to very well, the best option would just be not to ask. I know that I'd personally like to blend in, and not be pointed out as "that adopted girl" or "that girl with white parents." But, if someone insists to know the answer to this question, they could ask politely "I was just curious- do you happen to be adopted?" And maybe add something positive after that such as, "- if so, that would be really cool!" However, even this may make an adoptee uncomfortable, so tread lightly. Every adoptee is different, each at their own level of acceptance. Personally, since I've had a long battle with the reality of me being adopted, and emerged grateful about and content with it, this type of question would not be too uncomfortable. However, I'd rather be the first to open up to someone about adoption rather than someone asking or confronting me about it. If someone has a friend they think is adopted, they should wait until the potential adoptee mentions it before they start asking more questions.

3. Making a joke that someone (who's not adopted) is adopted.

I'm sure we've all heard the stories or seen on television where an older sibling tells their younger sibling that they're adopted as a joke. This "joke" is used cruelly to make the younger sibling feel as if they're not a real part of the family. But this is not the reality for many adopted people. Even though I'm adopted, for example, I don't feel any less part of my family than any of my friends do with their families. But this joke and its connotations make kids afraid of being adopted from a very young age, which can cause them to have a skewed perspective of adoption as well. Therefore, when these kids are talking to peers who are adopted, they may make the adopted feel guilty or bad for being adopted, since in these kids eyes, "being adopted" is their worst nightmare.

4. "What happened-- why were you given up?"

Other ways to phrase this would be to substitute 'given up' with 'put up (for adoption),' 'given away,' and 'abandoned.' Using these words can make adoption sound more dramatic, traumatic, and negative than it is (and it really isn't any of the previously listed.) In many cases where a child is placed for adoption, the birth mother just cannot support the baby and needs to find him or her a new home. The birth parents most likely loved their child, but just couldn't support him or her. Saying that a child was "given up" or "abandoned" creates a negative, pitiful scenario around the often positive experience that is adoption. Instead of using these terms, one can consider using the phrase "choosing adoption" or "place a child for adoption" or "make an adoption plan." Promoting positive language around adoption will make the subject less uncomfortable for adoptees and others alike. I think opening this conversation is very important and crucial, as the world may need to begin being more open to adoption, as a current issue that we are facing (in developing countries) is overpopulation. Adopting kids from countries such as India and China, where birth rates are highest, may be a key solution to this problem! For this to happen, we first need to start positively talking about the subject!

5. "Oh, I'm so sorry."

Something I've always been puzzled by is why when I tell people I'm adopted, I often receive pitiful comments and apologies. While this response may stem from people being uncomfortable or not knowing what to reply, I just never understood why adoption had such a bad societal stigma. I never thought being adopted was a bad thing-- being adopted has only given me more opportunities in life. My birth parents were both 18 when they had me, and they were not even together at the time; I doubt they could have given me the education, worldly experiences, and other opportunities that my adoptive parents have given me. I'm grateful that my birth parents were so selfless that they made the decision of choosing adoption rather than raising me as their own. They realized they couldn't give me a full, opportunity-rich life, and wanted me to have just that. So when people apologize to me, it makes me feel as if it's bad to be adopted, where in reality, I can't be more thankful that I am!

Promoting a positive discourse around adoption will make adoptees feel less alienated within their families and also within society. Adoption is beautiful, and adopted families are as legitimate as families who did not adopt. This topic is really close to my heart, so if anyone has any comments, questions, or more, please feel free to reach out to me via email: Keep the positive language goin'!

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I'm Not 'Spoiled,' I Just Won't Apologize For Having Great Parents

Having supportive parents is one of the best things that ever happened to me.


When I tell people that I am the baby of my family, there is always a follow-up question asking if I am spoiled. As I was a child, perhaps the situation was a little different because I did not receive material things but instead got my way or rarely was punished. I was most likely spoiled rotten in that sense, especially by my grandparents. Fast forward to the age of 19 and I can say that my parents give me everything that I need, not necessarily everything that I want.

But I still don't think I'm spoiled.

I might legally be an adult, but my parents still provide for me. I may live at school during the semester, but my parents don't charge me rent or utilities when I am at home. My mom still does my laundry. They pay my phone bill monthly. When my mom goes grocery shopping, she doesn't have me chip in to help. She will make sure the bathroom is stocked with tampons or shampoo so I don't have to worry about it. The both of them make sure I have the sufficient needs to not be hungry, cold, or without shelter.

They do all of these things because they want what is best for me.

While they pay my student loans, I give them money to cover it as well as a little extra each month for different expenses. If we go out to eat, I do offer to pay but often get shut down and end up leaving the tip instead. I help around the house and sometimes make trips to the store for food or cleaning supplies, not asking for money to be paid back.

I have a job that gives me decent hours, but my parents understand that money for a college kid is tough.

I pay for my own luxuries such as makeup, cute clothes, even to get my hair cut. Spoiled is typically defined as "damaged by having been given everything they want." Do I want another dog? Yes. Do I have one? No. Do I want a swimming pool in my backyard? Yes. Do I have one? Again, no. That is because both my mother and father still believe in working for what you want and even their daughter doesn't get a free pass unless it's her birthday or Christmas. Do I still have everything I could ever need? Yes.

My parents do the exact same thing for my brother and sister who are older than I am.

I know if I have a problem, whether it be financial or crucial, I can turn to them for help. A lot of people my age don't have parents like I do and I am extremely grateful for them and everything that they do. Thanks, Mom and Dad.

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True Tales Of Growing Up In A BIG Family

Spoiler alert, I get tackled a lot.


I was born into a fairly large family. I have upwards of twenty-something first cousins, many of who are around the same age as me. It has honestly been both a blessing and a curse to have so many people around me all the time. Some of my favorite memories come from family gatherings where all of my cousins were there. However, since most of my cousins are male, there has also been a lot of physical violence where people get hurt, even if the intentions were innocent. I have so many stories about my family, some of which I won't share here because they are a little bit inappropriate, but others are too good not to share.

The first story I want to share is from this past Easter. Most of my cousins on my Dad's side were at my Papa's house celebrating the holiday. There was so much food we could probably feed a small army. Some of the older cousins decided that we were going to play a game of whiffle ball. All of the cousins who were playing were at least sixteen and some of them were much older. Many of us had or are playing sports in High School or College so this game of whiffle ball got extremely competitive very fast. I ended up being the Umpire/pitcher because I played softball for so long. The game ended with my brothers winning and my other cousins upset that they lost, but it was still one of the memories I will cherish the most even though I definitely threw out my shoulder pitching.

I can remember playing a game of football on Thanksgiving when I was young (maybe five or six). This game, not unlike the whiffle ball game we played at Easter, got super competitive super fast to the point where even I, as a six-year-old, was being pushed and tackled to the ground by much older boys. I honestly can't remember much about that game, maybe I got hit in the head too much, but I do remember having so much fun playing with my cousins.

I've been on a cruise two times in my life, both times with my extended family. One cruise was to Mexico when I was very little. What I remember about that cruise was getting extremely sea sick and that the cleaning staff would make towel monkey on our beds. The cruise was to Alaska when I was a lot older, I think I was fifteen. Since I and my cousins were much older on that cruise, we caused a lot more trouble and were able to get away with it. Every night we would go to the pool and swim. Then, we would go to the buffet and only eat pineapples and mac and cheese. We, also, may have or may not have gone into a bar to sing karaoke. While the cruise was fun, I wouldn't have had such a great time if I wasn't with my family.

While sometimes they can be a pain, having so much family has taught me a lot about communication and playing right. Again, I only have scratched the surface here in regards to the plentiful stories I have, many of which are so much funnier. I love my family so much and I would never trade that in for the world.

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