Item #174 From The List Of What NOT To Say To An Adopted Child

I know you meant well. I know you were, in your feeble way, trying to make my child feel comfortable.

But you didn’t. You made him feel singled out and confused.

When assigning a Family Tree project and addressing your group of children, just talk to the whole group. Use words like “family” and “parent” and “grandparents” as if everyone in the group has a family and a parent and a grandparent.

Because we do!

We all do. Families form in different ways, to be sure. But you don’t need to single anyone out. Each child will find a way to complete the assignment that fits for him.

And if my son had brown hair and blue eyes like his father you wouldn’t have even considered saying…

Item #174 – “That’s ok, #1son. Just use the information from the parents you live with now.”  And when you saw the confused look on his face (because he understood the assignment until you tried to “clarify”) you go on to say, “Not your real parents but the parents you live with NOW.”

Real parents? Are you kidding me?

We are his real parents. We may not have physically given him his 46 chromosomes but we have given him food, shelter and love from the moment we first held him in our arms.

We were there for his first tooth. We rushed him to the hospital when his fever spiked to 106. We laughed with his infectious laugh. He held our fingers, one in each hand, before falling asleep those precious first few nights. We held him when he cried, when he was sick, when he wanted simple cuddle time.

We took him to pre-school and proudly watched him at his kindergarten graduation with adorable cap and gown. We jumped up and down when he rounded third base to score the winning run. We read with him every night. We worry about every sniffle. We stand on the porch watching him walk two houses down to a friend’s house, hiding behind the pillar, hoping he doesn’t see.

We know to give him his medicine during pollen season. We anticipate his frequent bloody noses when the weather is dry or the pollen is high. We know that he is allergic to certain antibiotics. We have his pediatrician on speed-dial.

We are his real parents. We are as real as it gets. His biological parents made a heartfelt, incredibly difficult decision to allow us to be his real parents. And we will be forever grateful.

Our son has a family. A real family. To call his own. He knows who his parents are. Who his siblings are. Who his grandparents are. Even his great-grandparents. So, no need to explain things to him.

He knows who his real family is.

No need to clarify.

Just wanted to let you know.


Filed under Be-Causes, family, Soapbox

27 responses to “Item #174 From The List Of What NOT To Say To An Adopted Child

  1. Oh please tell me about it! I’ve experienced this as adopted person myself and my kids have too. The family tree was the one thing that both my kids did at school and drove me insane.

    At one stage the words “fake parents” was used about us, to one of my daughters.

    Just wonderful.

  2. monica

    I would send this beautifully written piece in an envelope addressed to the teacher!
    If she is going to do this project every year…..someone needs to TEACH her a few things!

  3. Well said! (And, that picture is precious 🙂 )

  4. Hmph. Ignorant people. I agree with Amanda–adorable photo.

  5. OH MY DAYS! What kind of thing is that to say in this apparently enlightened age?! Maybe suggest that she doesn’t clarify things unless a child needs them to! 😉

  6. Send this to the teacher … it is something they definitely need to read and hopefully learn from so they do not do something similar again.
    Another great example about how really stupid statements can come tumbling out of our mouths when we do not “think” before we speak or are ignorant about what we are speaking about.
    Thanks for a great post and adorable picture.

  7. You’ve taken something so full of emotions and written it out beautifully. How dare the teacher say that? How foolish! How painful!
    Real family is built by love, not chromosomes.

  8. Yes, definitely send this to the teacher. Or post it on a bulletin board at the school. Sadly, sometimes very well-meaning people can create enormous problems.

  9. Oh, I cringed just reading that little “clarification”. My two, little sisters are adopted and we encountered this hurtful scenario way too many times. I’ve dumped many a friend after “No, I was talking about your real sister” came up in conversation 😦

  10. That picture says it all. Hopefully one day people will be educated and thoughtful enough to realize how their words come across. In the meantime, thanks for this post.

  11. AGH! She DIDN’T. I had a horrible moment when my daughter said something insensitive to an adopted child – but she was SIX. The school needs to be told about this.

  12. Wow, we have yet one more thing in common. I am a mom to an adopted gift of a son as well.

    People can be so arrogantly and ignorantly stupid……(that’s the nice verson.)

  13. Real parents….as opposed to sperm and egg donors.

  14. Thank you all for your sweet, supportive comments. I wrote this last night after my husband came in to share with me the uncomfortable scene. I was livid. He handled it all much better than I would have. It was a volunteer parent, the den leader of cub scouts, that made the huge blunder. We learned in our adoptive parenting classes to never say anything you wouldn’t want your child to hear with regards to adoption. While I probably would have felt compelled to put her in her place – thus embarrassing my son more, my husband gently explained to our son how ignorance sometimes reveals itself in many ways. While she meant well, she was completely wrong in her asumption about parents in general. That she probably just didn’t know any families formed by adoption. He felt that sometimes it’s better to take care of our child’s feelings than to worry about someone else’s ignorance. (I’m just so glad I wasn’t at that den meeting!)

  15. I hope you said something to his teacher because she really needs a lesson in sensitivity and common sense!

  16. You know that expression – you can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family?

    Sometimes, we can choose our family – and we are all so much better off, and no less a family.


  17. Are you kidding me? What an idiot. I’m sorry he was singled out like that.

  18. She (the den leader) is going to feel awful when she realizes what she did, but she won’t learn unless someone talks to her. Future kids need her to get enlightened. I hope you can fix her.

  19. People who don’t know better need to be educated. This one needs to know not to single kids out. That’s all. If it’s done without shaming, she’ll be grateful. As will all families with adopted children.

  20. What a wonderful picture. The den leader didn’t get it but it sounds like your husband did even in the moment…perhaps the family tree project will be an opportunity to help the den leader learn more about about “real families.”

  21. I agree with all your other lovely readers: I’m sorry that happened, and you need to send the den leader this post. And something to the greater organization, so they have a brief mention in den leader training about being sensitive to all sorts of people.
    Hopefully your son forgot all about it. You won’t, but maybe he will.

  22. There is no end to the stupid things people (often well-intentioned) will say. Thank goodness your son has parents who will help him handling these remarks. You husband is correct…there is no changing these people or preventing the comments, you can only take care of your son’s feelings.

  23. Seriously, who says crap like that? Sometimes I want to cry for our educational system.
    And 106, holy sh%t. Now that must have been a scary day.

  24. Well said Jane. And you are right. No need to clarify. That picture says it all.

  25. So far we have not had this sort of thing happen even when doing a family tree. The teachers have merely assigned it without comment knowing families are made up in different ways. Of course, they have tons of experience and training for this sort of thing. Poor wolunteers often are left to stumble and bumble awkwardly as they are involved with kids and families to help not hurt or hinder. We all have had to learn how to answer questions both rude and polite ones. I tried to remember this was an opportunity for grace to be both extended and taught. Admittedly it was not always easy. I am so sorry this happened and hopefully, amends have been made and lessons of kindness learned.

  26. Kristin

    Haven’t read your blog in a while, friend. What a shame- but I agree with the others, that a kind, brief explanation of how her comment was taken by your son is in order.
    As you know, I have a Doberman- a breed still suffering from bad press. Every breeder I have ever met makes sure to tell us to get him out in public to be an “abassador for the breed”. Perhaps not a great analogy, but adoptive families should educate others in the same way. Only by gently correcting the misconceptions of others can we change them.

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