I assume that I get this response more frequently because of my profession, but you would probably be shocked at how frequently I hear, “Just like Moses!” when I tell people that we are in the process of adopting. (Yes, Moses was adopted. Remember, mother places him in basket, daughter of the Pharaoh finds him, Moses’ mother nurses him and then he was raised in the palace as Pharaoh’s grandson before leaving to lead the Jewish people into Israel.)
We have all been there–when we don’t know what to say, we often say the wrong thing (and sometimes, the really wrong thing). And even though it is usually said with the right intentions, a verbal misstep can be not just awkward, but actually very painful. So here is some guidance on what not to say when you hear that someone is adopting:
1. “Now you’ll probably get pregnant.”
Statistically this is just not true. Many people who adopt are doing so because it is their only option and hearing this minimizes what brought them to this place. My guess is that this is at the top of every single woman, lesbian couple or heterosexual couple’s list as the most painful thing that people say.
2. “Aren’t you afraid the birth mother will come back and take the baby?”
I would like to give big thank you to the many adoption-based Lifetime movies for this incorrect assumption! Each state does have different rules about how long a birth mother or father has to change their mind after signing the initial paperwork. However, after that there is no legal way that a birth parent can change their mind. When you hear about something like this on the news, it is because somewhere the proper, legal protocol was not followed.
3. Statistically inaccurate statements about drug or alcohol use.
No explanation needed, this is just rude.
4. Anything which begins with “Why don’t/aren’t you…”
Please remember, this person has already thought about all of the different paths to creating a family and has chosen the one which works best for them. Most likely this decision came after many, many, many hours of research, consultation and personal reflection.
So, now that that’s clear, what can you say?
1. “I am so excited for you.”
We were incredibly excited when we announced that we were starting the adoption process and continue to feel buoyed every time someone else expresses their excitement for us.
2. “What can I do to help?”
Admittedly, one of the most uncomfortable aspects of the adoption process is the feeling that you have to market or promote yourself. We have always been very clear with our friends and family that they should only do what feels right for them. That being said, whatever you are willing to do will definitely be appreciated, as will just making the offer in the first place.
3. “Just like Moses!”
This one is exciting to hear, both because it means that people are actually listening at temple and because it is a reminder that adoption is a lot more normative than we might first think. (Although for clarity, I am not hoping that our adoption process will be exactly like Moses’.)
Yes, often people say the wrong thing. But almost every time I have shared our story with someone, it has been a positive experience. The reality is that it is truly incumbent upon each of us to learn how to best support our friends, family and even random people we chat with in the grocery store.