Conversations With Adoptive Families: The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly

“They’re so cute! Are they adopted?”

“What IS he? Is he half-black and half white, or half-black and half Asian? If he’s half-black and half-Asian, you’re lucky because half-black/half Asian kids are the most BEAUTIFUL! I really wish I had a half-black/half Asian baby!”

“My daughter also adopted two bi-racial kids! They’re fun!”

“Your daughter is so cute! She looks like an Asian Cabbage Patch doll.”

“Where did you adopt them from?”

“Is she white-white, or Indian-white?”

“They are SO LUCKY you adopted them!”

You would think in this day and age the sight of a transracial family wouldn’t be such an unusual thing. Unfortunately, the above comments are just a few of the insensitive things people have said to us over the years.

Don’t get me wrong–I love to talk about adoption and how adoption became a part of our family’s story. However, there are times when questions and comments about our family’s situation are inappropriate.

(Quick aside: there are a variety of family structures in this big world. Don’t assume every transracial family you encounter is an adoptive one.)

Many people don’t realize adoption is a complicated tapestry of events and emotions. It’s easy to focus on the joyous aspect of adoption. While it’s true that adoption IS a miracle, it’s a deeply bittersweet miracle.

Adoption, by nature, is rooted in grief and loss. There’s the grief and loss experienced by the birth mother and her child, and sometimes adoptive parents are processing their own feelings of grief and loss.

We also need to consider the rights and privacy of the children in these situations. While there are many lovely adoption stories of birthmothers making the ultimate sacrifice, this is not always the case. Kids are often placed for adoption due to traumatic events. This could be in the form of abandonment, severe abuse and neglect, or a death in the family.

If you are a stranger or an acquaintance who is just “curious”, these details are 100% none of your business. 

Remember that a child never has control of the circumstances that led to his/her adoption. Prying questions are a violation of a child’s privacy, and if the child is present it’s a double whammy of inappropriate.

 Is it ever okay to ask?

This is tricky, because I believe adoption stories are just as miraculous  as birth stories (I always feel a pang of empathy for adoptive moms when women get together and relive labor and delivery experiences.)

I also think it’s important to demystify the adoption process and share for others who might be interested in growing their family through adoption.

While our story is certainly no secret, there are varying levels as to when or how much information I am willing to share. When it comes to questions or comments about my kids, context and intent are key.

Over the years, I’ve gotten better at sussing out the intention behind people’s questions/comments. Some people are just nosy and want to pry. However, if intentions seem decent and my kids are not within earshot, I’m usually happy to share some details of our adoption story.

Here’s some examples of what’s appropriate and what’s not:

If you’re a friend or acquaintance and are pondering adoption as an option for your family, I’m more than willing to chat in private.

If you’re a fellow adoptive parent, it’s nice to talk someone else who understands the challenges and joys of adoption.

If you’re a close friend, you probably know the entire story anyway.

If you’re my child’s doctor/teacher/caregiver, there are things you need to know about my child and his/her background.

If you are a casual acquaintance who we’ve known for awhile and are curious about our family, hold off on the questions. It’s best to wait for us to share when or if we’re ready. You can live with your curiosity until then.

If you are a stranger on the playground/in the line at the store/at a school function and are curious about why my family is transracial, you will get no information from me.

Here’s the most important rule of thumb: If you are wondering whether a question or comment is appropriate, it’s best to not say anything, especially if the kids are present.

But your kids are so cute! I want to compliment you.

Then do that. Just leave your assumptions about race and adoption out of it.

Some good examples:

“What beautiful children.”

“Such cute kids!”

“Your family is adorable.”

Because you know what? You’re right. My family is beautiful. So let’s leave it at that.

MKF's Kids

Photo by Click by Kate

Meghann is the mom of 5 kids. She is a Lecturer at the University of Iowa School of Journalism and Mass Communication and an Owner/Partner at Brand Driven Digital. Meghann was elected to the Coralville City Council in 2017 and is currently serving her first term. She serves on the Board of Directors of the Coralville Community Food Pantry (Vice-Chair) and on the DVIP Board of Directors. She is also a member of Johnson County's Juvenile Justice and Youth Development Policy Board. Meghann is passionate about her family, her community, and is a proud pop culture nerd.


  1. “… It’s best to wait for us to share when or if we’re ready. You can live with your curiosity until then.” So true. Just because you’re curious, it doesn’t mean it’s okay to ask inappropriate questions.


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