Shit People Say to Adoptees

I was perusing the internet when I found this recently uploaded video. I think Li Jiang does an excellent job pointing out some of the highlights many adoptees have been asked. I really enjoyed this video, because unlike previous attempts that focus on questions targeted towards adoptive parents, this video showcases the comments adoptees receive regularly. Reflecting on my personal experiences, I think many of the comments or questions people have asked me can be categorized by common sentiment.

The Fascinated:
“I wish I was adopted!”
“Was your birthday was government issued? That’d be so cool!”

The Ignorant Inquiries:
“Wait, so you don’t know why your real parents gave you away?”
“Did your mother find you on her doorstep or something?”

The Pity Zone:
When one of my teachers found out I was adopted, she spun her rolling chair around and began to cry. Between shallow breaths, in a hallow voice she uttered, “I just think you’re such a strong, beautiful person and your parents are so incredibly lucky to have you. And your birthparents would be so proud of who you are today. It’s just makes my heart grieve so much that they’ll never know you because you are such a grace!”

Regardless of the intent, malicious or benign, it is tiring to constantly be reacting to these kinds of statements. I don’t want to be the object of someone’s fascination nor do I want to be pitied for the way my life began. It’d be unacceptable to ask a child of a single parent why their other parent left or a child of divorced parents if they feel less loved by their step-parent. These types of questions about adoption are just as insensitive and just as offensive.

I’ve never been too good at snarky or witty comebacks, and so when confronted with these situations, I tend to answer the person’s question and then add my thoughts on why it’s actually not “cool” to not know my birthday or why my adoptive parents are just as real as my birthparents. If a person brings up conversations of this nature repeatedly, I feel no need to answer their questions. From the time I was young, my parents always assured me that I didn’t need to respond to these harmful comments about my adoption. “That’s personal” or even “I’d appreciate if you didn’t ask that” are responses that I have given on multiple occasions.

Adoptees: Are these questions/comments/remarks you’ve heard before? And what’s your preferred method of dealing with them?




13 responses to “Shit People Say to Adoptees

  1. Can so relate to your words. I remember a few times when I squeaked out the fact that I searched for my first family, the response from the other person was “how did that make your adoptive parents feel?” Like we aren’t even worthy of feelings. No wonder we live disconnected.


    • Adoptees should most definitely be allowed to have our own thoughts and feelings. That’s a perfect example of how the AP perspective is prioritized over the adoptees’ in common rhetoric.


  2. The word real doesn’t belong in our lives. I just remember being surprised that people were surprised to learn I was adopted…and the reactions weren’t usually just accepting and acknowledging, which was what I think I was looking for. I am still trying to find language to describe my families after reuniting with both birth parents (27 years now!) I’m glad you’re shedding light on ignorance here. Do you say first family? Birth family? Real family would apply to both families…and makes me cringe.


    • I use both birth family and first family, mostly because I grew up saying “birthparents.” I prefer the term first family and agree with you that all of my parents are real.


  3. Thanks, RTB, and the many other people adopted as children who have been sharing their experiences, criticism, and wit, in their own words.

    I’ve gotten more of the “fascinated” comments than ignorantly disrespectful, nasty ones. When I was younger, I didn’t know how to respond, except to politely answer their inquiries, and I didn’t mind responding. Now, I have less tolerance, so I don’t answer, or I give them a lecture on child-trafficking, children’s rights, the history of adoption, the roots of capitalism, imperialism, and examples of ethnocentrism.

    I’ve heard “Your parents must be so proud of you. If I could adopt 3 people like you, I would”. I was speechless, but made a mental note to educate her and keep a distance. We’re friends, but not BFF. We have other interests (and concern for children and families) in common. I tell her about trafficking, corruption, exploitation by Disney, etc. Sometimes I’m firm with her. But I also keep a distance – I don’t want to be a walking advert for adoption.

    With a friend who tried to “comfort” me with generic platitudes/ assumptions about me or adoption (“There are problems in biological families too” or “You should forgive yourself”), I schooled him for the rest of the evening, then continued after we separated when he tried again to be “sympathetic”, sprinkled with “I understand/appreciate you’re trying to be nice, but you really don’t know what you’re talking about, and this is why… If you want me to be nicer, then help make this world a more just and equal place. Help fix some of these systematic discriminatory practices. Here are some things you can do”.

    Lately, I’ve been going on the offensive and asking them if they know anyone who has adopted or who wants to adopt. Depending on who and how they answer, I can better gauge how much historical information/re-education they may need about adoption.

    If I’m lazy and fed up, but want to keep the peace (often strangers), I simply ask “why do you ask?”, “why does it matter?”. I sometimes use child trafficking interchangeably with adoption, because from what I’ve seen, there isn’t much difference.

    And as I’ve become more vocal about social injustices at the policy level (in my own way), another friend suggested that I stick to policy issues, and don’t insert my personal stories/emotions into my advocacy. That has helped shield me from many direct, personal, verbal attacks to mask their defensiveness and deflection. I don’t spend as much time or energy defending myself or their impression of me and hopefully, the focus remains on the policies.

    After all, my goal with advocacy is really less about me, than about children, families, communities/societies, and the nations that create them.

    Sorry, a much longer answer than you probably wanted.


    • Depending on who and how they answer, I can better gauge how much historical information/re-education they may need about adoption.

      This is very reasonable. I understand how a person could get very tired of being asked rather personal and even impertinent questions over and over, but, on the other hand, there are many well-intentioned people who deserve a civil reply.

      One of my (many) fears about raising my daughter is that she will learn much of how she ought to handle this issue from me, and that, if I handle it badly, SHE will learn to do that. It’s therefore quite helpful to have this sort of perspective and suggested course of action.


      • Jim, I think even if an outsider looking in is “well-intentioned,” good intentions alone don’t justify being intrusive or mandate a reply. The best piece of advice my parents gave me on dealing with others’ observations, questions, and comments was that I didn’t need to answer them if I didn’t want to. As your daughter gets older she can better gauge the intent behind a question and determine for herself how personal is too personal.


    • Thanks so much for your answer. I don’t mind that it’s long at all. I really like using this blog as a medium of dialogue. I think it’s interesting that your attitude and methods of dealing with these comments have changed over time, and I can tell that is happening to me, as well. While I used to answer with elements of my personal story, I find that now I am much more likely to bring up the political and socio-economic issues involved with adoption.


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  5. Yeah, people will always say such things, and worse. They always have, always will. The question is, what your response will to the situation that you are experiencing. That is where meaning matters. Good luck.


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