Complimenting Parents For Choosing Adoption Is Deeply Problematic

by Rachel Garlinghouse
Originally Published: 
Please Stop Complimenting Me for Adopting My Children
Rachel Garlinghouse/Instagram

“God bless you,” a woman stopped us at the park, her hand placed lightly on my forearm. I was puzzled. It was a typical early summer park trip, where my four children and I would walk around an extensive track before visiting the playground. She continued, “You gave these children a good and loving home.” She smiled warmly, glancing at the kids. How did she know I was “good” and “loving” simply by observing us walk by? She didn’t. She simply assumed that I was, because my kids were clearly adopted. I’m white, and my four children are Black.

I simply smiled back and kept walking, uninterested in continuing the conversation with her. My kids were anxious to get to the slide, and I knew that responding with truth would only extend the run-in. I certainly understand that the woman was trying to compliment me. I’m certain she had no malicious intent. But her praise of me was misguided and completely unnecessary. Being a multiracial family by adoption is simply who we are with no accolades needed.

When children are adopted, their parents often become the recipients of savior or superhero comments from strangers. They superficially sound lovely. Adoptive parents, like all parents, are proud of their children and their family. The journey to adopt can take months or years, and require background checks, interviews, home inspections, court appearances, tons of paperwork, social worker check-ins, and travel. It can be quite the intricate, frustrating, and lengthy process. When we finally are called a child’s mom or dad, we are over-the-moon happy.

However, complimenting parents for choosing adoption is deeply problematic. My kids aren’t charity projects, accessories, or trends. We didn’t rescue them from dire situations. They are not expected to be grateful for being adopted. That’s not what real family and real love is.

Adopting my kids wasn’t a tit-for-tat situation. We adopted because we wanted to become parents. I had been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease that could make pregnancy dangerous for both mother and child. There was also the risk of passing the disease on to biological children. Yes, you read this correctly. We adopted out of purely selfish reasons. We wanted to be parents, and adoption was the best route for us. We didn’t adopt in order to garner attention or praise, and we certainly didn’t adopt so that we could spend our days basking in grateful adoptee glory.

When someone says our children are better off with us, they are making judgments based on stereotypes. Any Lifetime or Hallmark movie will teach society that birth parents are conniving, sexually promiscuous, financially irresponsible, young individuals who didn’t deserve to become parents. The adoptive parents are superior in every way. What really happened in our family is that birth parents chose us, among a sea of potential parents, to adopt our children. We have ongoing open adoption relationships with our kids’ families. These relationships are sacred and beautiful, and we are very thankful for them.

I know people love a good story, but unfortunately, the “good” they seek is detrimental to my kids. We’ve been asked what country they are from, were they foster children, how much did they cost, why their real parents didn’t keep them, why we didn’t have our own children, and much more. If some of the verbiage shocks you, good. (Yes, these are things people say to us, often.) It means you probably aren’t someone interrogating my family.


When someone seeks to put down birth parents, to elevate us as adoptive parents, and to make sure the adoptee is caught in the middle, forced to feel thankful for being adopted by us, it is harmful. The adoptee should be allowed to feel as they do. Many adoptees experience a slew of emotions because of their adoptions, including disappointment, sadness, confusion, uncertainty, isolation, and feelings of rejection. This is the reality, though society loves to force a “be grateful” narrative on adoptees. The assumption is that adoption is all glitter, rainbows, and butterflies, and that adoptees are the consolation prize.

People have told me it’s silly to be offended by “every little thing,” which I recognize is a form of gaslighting. If someone says that using certain phrases, words, or questions is harmful to a person, why would someone be a total jerk and keep using them or adamantly defend their right to offend others? I am certainly not offended by every little thing, but I am fiercely protective of my children’s privacy and right to feel as they do.

I’ve been asked many times, “Well if I can’t say any of that, what can I say?” I think if you spot a family who appears to be formed by adoption, the best thing someone can say, if they say anything at all, is, “You have a beautiful family.” It’s appropriate, it doesn’t other anyone, and it doesn’t place expectations on the adoptee to spill their story or express gratitude.

If I share a tidbit of adoption information, you could always ask, “Can you tell me more about that?” versus demanding that I dish the nitty-gritty details. My children’s adoption stories are sacred and private. They aren’t for public consumption, and they really aren’t up for debate or judgement. They are not adoption’s poster children. It’s especially important not to start grilling us in front of our kids. Newsflash: they have eyes and ears. They can see you and hear you.

Demanding our family answer your interest is downright rude. Would you go up to a random person in a wheelchair, lean down, look them in the eye, stroke their wheelchair, maybe play with some gears or switches, and begin interrogating them with questions like: Why are you in a wheelchair? How much did your wheelchair cost? Do you think one day you won’t need a wheelchair anymore? Have you ever tried not using a wheelchair? Of course not.

Adoption and adoptive families like mine are absolutely interesting. I get the curiosity. However, just because we look different, such as multiracial in my family’s case, or aren’t biologically related, doesn’t mean you get an all-access pass. This starts by not “blessing” me for adopting my children. I am not superhero or a savior, and my children aren’t required to appease you.

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