What to Say to an Adoptive Family

Here’s my hope: that by now we mostly know what not to say to an adoptive, or pre-adoptive family. There have been countless articles and videos on being sensitive, and using correct verbage.

“Yes, I’m her real mom. ” (Do I look like a unicorn?!) “I think what you meant to say was biological.”

We know this by now, right? 

I could go on and on about the wrongly worded, yet well-intentioned, things I’ve heard. But, that’s not why I’m here.

Today, in light of National Adoption Awareness month, and just some good ole’ positivity- let me share instead what to say and how to support an adoptive or pre-adoptive family. 

(It should be noted that I don’t represent all adoptive families, as each one has an intricate story with different areas of need and sensitivity. But here are some helpful words and actions from my perspective and experience as a foster and adoptive mom.)

Show Up.

Show up with a text, dinner, or a coffee date. Just be there. Adoptive mamas, like any mama, long to be seen. Showing up for her lets her know that not only do you see her, but you are genuinely interested in her family’s adoption journey.

Rock Photography

“I’m sorry, I don’t know what to say.”

Adoptive families suffer particularly painful losses. The child reunifies with their biological family (bittersweet, of course). The agency suddenly shuts down with no notice. When the trauma their children have endured becomes all consuming. In these moments you can say tenderly and humbly say, “I am so sorry. I don’t know what to say.” You don’t sound incompetent. You don’t sound ridiculous. You sound like someone who is genuinely hurting for their friend, while not pretending to understand what it feels like. 

Rock Photography

Finally, ask questions and listen.

What is the number one way adoption has impacted your family? How have the people around you, in your support system, really encouraged you during the process? How has having children of a different race impacted your world view? What would you tell a family that’s considering adoption? If it feels too personal to them, that’s ok, they don’t have to answer. But asking thoughtful questions, with sincere interest, is a gift to you and to the adoptive family. 

Adoptive families are precious and complex and unique. They deserve all the support, kindness, thought, and sensitivity we can give! 


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