diverse children running in adoption picnic flickr / steven depolo
Fatherly Forum

Why Nothing Is More Insulting Than Calling My Adopted Kids ‘Orphans’

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I’m used to inappropriate comments.

In the 15 years we’ve been adoptive parents, I’ve heard them all.

“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?” (My daughter is black.)

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

Yes, most of these 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 3 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 and racism for the next hour.

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.

My children aren’t orphans. They never have been.

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 he 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.

The comments come from people at the pharmacy, the gas station, the grocery story checkout line — even from neighbors.

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.

Mike Berry is a husband, father, blogger, public speaker, Taylor Swift fan, Thin-Mint cookie consumer, and fan of slip on shoes. You can read more from Babble here: