Have you ever had a friend or family member walking through the adoption process, and you felt unsure of what to say? Or maybe you said something you thought would be fine, but it wasn’t received as well as you expected?
Let’s talk about it…
You see, adoption is complex. On one hand, it’s a celebration! As my husband and I were adopting our son who had been in our care for multiple years, we felt so honored and excited that we got to care for him and be family to him in a permanent way. In many ways, adoption (and foster care overall I want to add) is a beautiful gospel opportunity to provide a home to those who need a home and a family to those who need a family. It’s a celebration!
On the other hand, though, adoption and trauma go hand-in-hand. On Episode 168 of The Forgotten Podcast, April Guffey shared that “trauma is a pre-requisite to adoption.”
Let that sink in for a moment.
For a child to need adoption, they have to be separated from their first family, creating a primal wound, a lifelong sense and longing for family the way that God created it to be. Even in cases where a child may not hold any specific memories of their biological parents, every child is likely to experience feelings of abandonment and to question their self-worth after being separated from their family.
That’s the side of adoption that creates tension in a child’s story.
Why Does This Matter?
Recognizing the complexity of adoption is an important reality for all of us to acknowledge and understand. The reality is that both an adoptive family and a child being adopted often feel great tension within them. On one hand, there is gratitude and excitement. On the other hand, there is the tension of trauma and the weight of the situation overall. Acknowledging that tension in the situation alone can be such an encouragement to the family involved.
And it doesn’t have to feel awkward. Sometimes it can feel like you have to say something incredibly personal when you might not have played a personal part in their journey before that point. That’s not the case! Keep it simple and keep it true to the role you have played in their life.
If you have walked with the child or with the parent(s) through the hard, it’s meaningful to acknowledge it. If you haven’t previously walked with the child or the parent(s) in that way, it may not be as helpful or natural to do so at an adoption celebration.
The most important thing, and my goal for this article, is to simply help you be aware of your language so you don’t end up minimizing an experience or coming across insensitive to the complexity of the process and situation that led to this moment.
So let’s dive into some practical support:
Phrases You May Want to Avoid Saying
Here are some phrases you may want to avoid when you’re talking with someone who is adopting a child (and why):
- What a lucky boy/girl. (Children who have experienced trauma don’t feel “lucky” to have experienced the circumstances they have experienced in life and the cards they were dealt. While they may hold gratitude for their adoptive family, this is a word to avoid.)
- You are the perfect family for [name]. (While caring for a child certainly hits a point where it’s hard to imagine your family without them, many children who have experienced foster care or adoption feel that the perfect family would have been for their original family to be healthy enough to stay with.)
- You are such a deserving family. (This phrase can minimize the child’s experience to elevate the adoptive parents or their family.)
- [Name] already knows you as “mom and dad” anyway! (Depending on their age, a child doesn’t necessarily choose to refer to a caregiver as “mom or dad,” outside of the context of the situation they find themselves in. This is a simplification that isn’t necessarily helpful.)
- We all knew this was coming; we just wish it didn’t take so long! (In the case of foster care before an adoption, that journey can be really stressful on a child, on foster/adoptive parents, and biological parents involved. In some ways, a phrase like this can minimize that stress by suggesting that the outcome was always known or determined and the time spent in the process didn’t matter.)
- [Name] is right where they belong! (Again, this is a phrase with great intentions. However, suggesting a child inherently belongs with someone else can minimize the pain of separation from a family, and even other siblings in many cases, that they love dearly.)
- God has planned this for you. (While some things may indeed be true—nothing happens outside of God’s control—there are times where the timing and delivery feel incomplete and therefore unhelpful or hurtful.)
If you’ve said some of these before, it’s okay! I totally understand why you might say these! I have likely said them before as well, and I think a lot of it depends on your connection to the person you’re talking to.
Mostly, some of these phrases can simply come off as a little insensitive, especially if said at the wrong time or in the wrong company, so they’re typically better to avoid altogether.
Phrases That Are More Helpful to Say
Here are some phrases that are more helpful when communicating with a family who is adopting a child:
- A simple “Congratulations!”
- We are so grateful for [name]’s life!
- I’m sure the road to this day was anything but smooth, but we are cheering you all on!
- General expressions of excitement that don’t include words like, “Finally!”
- You are so loved.
- We are so proud of you.
- We’re so thankful to know you.
- Calling out specific qualities of the child that you love. (“We love your spunk” or “You are always making us laugh.”)
When you’re celebrating with a family about an adoption, I hope this gives you some practical language you can use to support and encourage that family well. Your support is needed!
Want to learn more about adoption? Listen to episodes of The Forgotten Podcast featuring adoptees.
Looking for resources tailored to children in foster care? Check out our book series:
Growing up with foster siblings, Sarah was exposed in small doses to the realities of foster care. As an adult, Sarah and her husband Jonah felt a desire to be foster parents and had their eyes opened to the world of child welfare. She is passionate about caring for families in need and bringing awareness to her church and community. Sarah enjoys exploring new places, trying new restaurants, volunteering at church, and spending time with family and friends.
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