Dear World: Please Stop Referring To My Children As Orphans!

Chances are you’ve either been asked, or have heard, some doozies in your time on the adoptive journey. You know what I’m talking about. The crazy-innapropriate questions or references to your children. There’s one comment, however, that has pushed me to the edge!

Close-up of face with tape over mouth and cross drawn on it

I’m used to inappropriate comments. In the 15 years we’ve been adoptive parents, both of us have heard them all. They never cease to amaze us…

“Are they ‘real’ brothers and sisters?”

“Can you not have kids of your own?”

“Do they know their ‘real’ mom and dad?”

“Are you going to tell her she’s adopted?” (This was asked of us when we first became parents….my first-born daughter is black!)

“Is their mom on crack or something? Is that why she couldn’t keep them?”

Yes, most of these comments have been blurted out in front of my children.

The comments come from people at the pharmacy, the gas station, the grocery story checkout line — even from neighbors. I used to think they meant well, but now (especially after correcting them and having them continue the questioning) I’m not so sure. And I’m positive the elderly man who pointed an angry finger at my three black children in a Wendy’s restaurant a few years back and barked, “I don’t understand all of this,” didn’t mean well — at all. Needless to say, he provided my wife and I lots of content to talk about ignorance, racism, and disrespectful people for the next hour with our children.

Yes, we’ve heard it all in our time as adoptive (and foster) parents. Some, moderately okay — some, a genuine misunderstanding —and some, complete and total disrespect.

But there’s one comment I just can’t stand anymore. I’m fed up with it. I not only cringe when I hear it, I feel rage. I want to break something (and I’m not a violent person). It’s beyond ignorance. It’s even beyond disrespect. It’s uttered out of a total disregard for the heart of my children — yes, MY children. I’m THEIR parent. Keep that in mind as I tell you what this comment is.

You ready? Here goes …

“It’s so good that you’ve taken care of these orphans.”

There it is. The godfather of all inappropriate comments. Years ago, when my second oldest child was still in high school, a kid on her bus blurted out, “What are you, like an orphan or something?” Her response was to bluntly tell him, “NO, I live across the street from you, WITH MY PARENTS!” We cringed then when she came home and told us that he had said this. We chalked it up to another ignorant suburban kid who’s come from privilege.

But lately, I’ve had this comment said to me. Several times, in fact, over the last few months. One time, in front of my youngest son. “It’s so good that you’ve taken care of these orphans. They sure do need parents.” I don’t think my son heard, but I did. And I was visibly annoyed.

Why? Well, it’s simple.

MY CHILDREN AREN’T ORPHANS. They never have been. Yes, I adopted them, but they each have birth parents. Two of my kids have had birth parents pass away in the years since joining our family, but they did not enter our home because they had no parents. They have birth parents, but they also have us — their parents. I’m my children’s father and my wife is my children’s mother.

So, I’m asking — no, scratch that — I’m begging you, any of you who have said this, or thought this, about my family, or another — please stop referring to my children as orphans. It’s confusing and offensive to them. If you don’t know what to say, don’t say anything. If you want to know what to say, ask us quietly (not in front of them) before blurting something out that may hurt one of my kids, or someone else’s.

That is all. I’m done. I’ve said all I need to say. Oh, but to the elderly man in the Wendy’s restaurant, I do have one thing:

STOP. For the love of all that’s good and right — stop!

Now … that is all.

Question: Have you been asked this question, or worse, as an adoptive parent? Share your story with us in the comment section. You can leave a comment by clicking here.

This post originally appeared in Mike’s column on Disney’s

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  • Ooo. Interesting.

    I refer to my kids as “former orphans.” My kids were once orphans. Because their birth parents chose addictions and substances over the well-being of their/my kids, I would say they were legitimately orphaned.

    Also, if we’re talking biblically, they were orphaned according to that definition as well. They were left defenseless without their needs met. They lost caregivers and those who were supposed to show them love and safety. They were orphaned.

    I don’t EVER refer to them as still being orphans though. Now, they have parents who are willing to lay down their lives for them. They are part of a family and a community.

    How do you define orphan if none of your kiddos fall into that category? I’m curious!

    • Hey Ginger, I love how you refer to them as “former orphans.” That’s good. We would align with you on the definition of an orphan for sure. It’s just the issue with people calling them orphans now. They’re not. They have a family. Make sense?? Thanks so much for your comment!

  • Karen F Anderson

    My Aunt keeps asking or saying, “Surely they knew something was wrong with her before you got her. They had to have known at age 3.5!” I can’t convince her that a toddler living in an Eastern European orphanage is just a number and they all acted the same. Reactive Attachment Disorder is normal for ALL of them and probably most had FAS which is not really detectable that early. They didn’t have ways to test and diagnose anyway. Every Thanksgiving I hear this when I tell of the horrors of the past year. I guess I can never even tell my family what I’m going through. I have cut it down to a quarter over the past few years anyway. There is no way the family could understand or even deal with the thoughts that I deal with every minute of the day.

    • Oh no! We’re so sorry to hear this. Hang in there.

  • The number 1 most upsetting and frustrating comment I hear ALL THE TIME is, “Are they siblings?” This always come from people that know I’ve adopted but want to know the biological relationship between my four kids. The problem is, I feel like I’m lying when I say they are all siblings because I know they think that means bio sibs. But I feel like I’m betraying my kids and my family unity when I explain which ones are bio sibs and which ones aren’t. THis is always from people that I barely know and or acquaintances from school or church. My dad helped me come up with the most amazing line the other day! From now on I’m going to answer that question with, “They are all my kids and I’m their mom. In our family we don’t differentiate beyond that.” I love that! That way I’m not lying or betraying myself by giving away info that I don’t want to share and at the same time, setting a boundary AND reaffirming the unity my family has! I am so thankful to have found that.

    • Oh man, we’ve gotten this one too Sarah. You are not alone.

  • Kellie Cornwell Zapf

    Thank you!! You articulated my thoughts so well. I take issue with this too; my children still have bio parents, and one of them would love to have a relationship with them even thought he’s 38. He definitely considers us his family, but he is not an orphan, nor was he. Why do we have to label them??

  • Connie

    “So, do you regret adopting them?” or “If you had to do it all over again…” Thankfully people don’t ask this in front of the kids, but it still makes me cringe. The truth is, my adoptive kids are my kids. You don’t ever wish you didn’t have a child. Would I do some things different if I knew then what I know now? You bet. With my all my kids, whether “homegrown” or adopted, there’s a learning curve. Just wanted to let you know I appreciate your blog.

    • Hey Connie, we are so happy to hear this. And we agree…definitely a learning curve! 😉

  • Robin Owens

    My adoptive child is my husband’s birth child. I legally adopted our daughter during the adoption process I had a person ask me “why would you spend the money to do this, you aren’t changing her name or anything. How could you ask a person such a ridiculous question? Our daughter is not only our first born child she is our only daughter. The other statement that I corrected for years even after the adoption is she is your step daughter and those are her half brothers. No thank you, she is not my step child she is my child. No thank you those are not her half brothers those are her brothers. Adults when you say these things in front of our children you hurt all of them, when they were younger you created so many questions and not to mention they hurt when their sister hurts. Please stop telling our daughter how “lucky” she is to have me. No thank you, you are essentially telling my child who was abandoned by her birth mother that she is lucky, just let that sink in. I am the lucky one, she allowed me to be her mother. If you can not say anything nice DO NOT open your mouth. We worked very hard to make our family a unit of love and caring, one day we will not be here but our children will and they will need to be there for one another.

    • Michelle Sackett McKinney

      People are definitely insensitive when it come to know what to say and what not to say. We definitely are the lucky ones as their parents!