Etiquette

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etiquette

In adoption, refers to the polite way to discuss or mention adoption-related issues or to refrain from mentioning them.

Most adoptive parents, adopted children and adults and birthparents would probably appreciate some generally accepted basic rules of etiquette regarding adoption. The following list is a set of several rules the authors have drawn up, based on their knowledge of adoption, for the friends and relatives of individuals whose lives are somehow affected by adoption:

  1. If a woman says she is considering placing her child for adoption, it is impolite to react with extreme horror and exclaim, "How could you give up your own flesh and blood? I could never do that!" A woman who is thinking about adoption would prefer to hear empathetic comments, such as, "That must be a hard decision to make."
  2. If a couple is considering adopting a child, it is impolite to say, "You mean you can't have kids of your own? How sad!" It is also not polite to tell about your cousin who waited nine years on a waiting list or ask how much money the adoption will cost. Instead, it is preferable to say something like, "That sounds very exciting."
  3. If a family member or friend discovers someone has just adopted, it is inappropriate to ask if the "real mother" is known, what she looks like, how old she is and whether or not she is married. It is even less acceptable for the mailman or supermarket checkout clerk to ask these questions. It is appropriate to say, "Congratulations! How wonderful!"
  4. If a family has adopted an infant from another country, it is inappropriate-and silly-to say, "How wonderful! She will be bilingual!" (Yes, people do say such things.)
  5. In the case of an intercountry adoption, it is impolite to ask if the child was abandoned or had many unusual diseases or if the mother was starving to death.
  6. It is always impolite to refer to a child's adoption in front of the child over age two as if she or he did not exist.
  7. If a family has a biological child after adopting, it is unacceptable to tell them it is too bad they did not wait a little longer before adopting.
  8. When a family adopts an older child, it is impolite to ask them if the child had been abused. If they wish to discuss the abuse (if it happened), they will bring it up.
  9. It is impolite to ask an adopted adult if he plans to "search" for his birthparents. Adults who do not wish to search will feel embarrassed and may think they have to explain why they do not wish to search. Adopted adults who wish to discuss a planned or past search will talk about it if they wish.
  10. It is equally impolite to ask a birthmother if she plans to search for her birth child or if she is worried he or she will someday search for her.

These are basic rules of etiquette for individuals who have not adopted. Hopefully, individuals who have adopted, placed or were adopted will also follow them. As Miss Manners stated in response to a question from an irate adoptive parent about prying questions from others, "Telling people pleasantly that there are things you refuse to discuss with them sets an excellent example for your baby." (See also TERMINOLOGY.)


Judith Martin, Miss Manners' Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior (New York: Atheneum, 1982).

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