How To Help Your Family Understand Adoption And Foster Care.

Author of 5 books, podcaster, parent trainer, husband and father.

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There's no question you will cross paths with rude, degrading, and just plain disrespectful people on the adoption or foster care journey. It will happen in the grocery store check-out line, the soccer fields, even the classroom. People can be mean. But the last people you'd expect this from are your own family members! However, it happens. Here's how to respond when it does.

Off-handed remarks. Well-meaning, but clueless, words. Rude statements. Disrespectful glares. Hateful interactions.

If you’re an adoptive or foster parent you know exactly what I’m talking about. Unfortunately you’ve been there a time or two. You’ve stood by helpless in the grocery store line while the clerk asks intrusive questions about your daughter’s past. You’ve seethed inside after a doctor’s appointment where your pediatrician went on and on about the medical history of your son’s “real” mom and dad.

But the moments that blindside you are the disrespectful, off-handed, even hateful interactions you find yourself in with extended family members.

This happened to us with our first daughter when she was a newborn. It was no secret that she was ours through adoption. She’s African-American and we’re… well…“pasty” has been used to describe us in the past! We were 3 states from home at a family reunion and the off-handed comments just wouldn’t stop, regardless of how blatant we re-directed or changed the conversation.

Learning How to Respond.

It’s not a matter of if it’s going to happen, it’s a matter of when. You’re going to come face to face with a family member who doesn’t understand and makes the comments to you or your children to prove it. The bottom line is that the majority of the world just doesn’t get why a person chooses adoption, or signs up for foster care. This has never been more true than with extended family. We’ve been there and we’ve walked next to many adoptive and foster parents who have as well.

Here’s how to respond:

  1. Kind conversation. The most important thing you need to keep in mind is that your extended family may not understand adoption or foster care. Familiar with it? Sure. Understand it, or why you’ve chosen to do it, no so much. Often, a grandmother, uncle, mom or dad, has the good intention of looking out for you- especially if you’re fostering a child that is extremely difficult. They’re blunt for a reason: they love you but they also misunderstand. Therefore, approach them with kindness. Keep your first few conversations cordial. Listen to them, even if they say things that burn you up inside. You may be the only example of adoption or foster care your family sees.
  2. Open questioning. One-on-one (not in front of your children), allow them to ask any questions they have. Invite them to do so. Even if the questions are a bit inappropriate. You’re doing this in order to eventually enlighten and then redirect. More on that in a moment. Remember, they most likely misunderstand why you and your spouse have chosen this path. So, get it all out in the open by allowing open questioning. Spend adequate time dialoguing with them and learning their perspective and why they say the things they say.
  3. Enlightenment. After you’ve spent adequate time in conversation, allowing them to ask you open questions, take the opportunity to enlighten them. Share with them your heart for adoption or foster care. Walk them through appropriate adoption or foster care lingo. Focus on how beautiful and amazing the children you are raising or caring for are. Do not entertain rude remarks, offensive statements, or give too many details on your child’s story.
  4. Firm re-direction. Once you’ve enlightened them by sharing your heart, and spotlighting the beauty of your children, re-direct. Point them toward a positive viewpoint of adoption and foster care. Paint a clear picture of the future, and how your decision to adopt or foster is yours, not theirs. Be kind, but firm. Remember- your goal is for everyone to have a positive, healthy view of adoption and foster care (to the best of your ability).
  5. Clearly defined boundaries. Finally, set clear, defined boundaries moving forward. Be honest and tell them that the things they’ve said in front of your children are offensive and hurtful and you will not tolerate it anymore. Extend grace but then define crystal clear boundaries. Your first priority is to care for and protect the children you’ve been blessed to raise, or care for. Everyone else comes second. You will not change circumstances with your family until you set clear boundaries.

As Far As it Depends on You.

There’s a verse in the New Testament of the Bible that says, “As far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” I love that verse because it says “as far as it depends on you.” In other words, choose peace, do your best to accommodate, but if that’s not working… put some distance between you and the person you can no longer live at peace with.

Never has this applied more to your extended family and your choice to adopt or foster. As far as it depends on you, live at peace with them, be kind, allow the questions, enlighten, re-direct, and set clear boundaries. But if that doesn’t work (and you really have tried), it’s time to put some distance between you and them.

It’s your life, it’s your family, it’s your decision, and these are your children. You were chosen to be their mother, their father, their care-giver. You owe nothing else to anyone in this world.

Have you dealt with a misunderstanding family member? How did you respond?

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Mike and Kristin Berry are the Co-Founders of The Honestly Adoption Company and have been parents for nearly two decades. They are the authors of six books, and the host of The Honestly Adoption Podcast.

Sarah Gray

Sarah Gray is the executive assistant to Mike and Kristin Berry. And she is the best in the land. In addition to providing a warm and friendly response to the many emails our company receives on a weekly basis, she also manages Mike and Kristin’s speaking and meeting schedules, and makes sure that team events go off without a hitch.

Nicole Goerges

Nicole Goerges is a Content Contributor & Special Consultant for The Honestly Adoption Company. She works with Mike and Kristin as a recurring co-host for the Honestly Adoption Podcast, and co-host of Kitchen Table Talks, exclusive video content for Oasis Community, along with Kristin. She is a fellow adoptive mom, and former foster parent.

Matt McCarrick

Matt McCarrick is the Content Production Specialist for The Honestly Adoption Company. If you’ve loved listening to our podcast, or enjoyed any of the videos trainings we’ve published, you have Matt to thank. He oversees all of our content production, from video edits, to making sure the tags are correct on YouTube, to uploading new videos to Oasis, to hitting publish on a podcast episode, he’s a content wonder!

Karen Anderson

Karen Anderson is the Community Engagement Specialist for The Honestly Adoption Company. She spends the bulk of her time interacting with, and helping, people through our various social media channels, as well as providing support for Oasis Community members through chat support or Zoom calls. In the same spirit as Beaver, Karen is also passionate about connecting with parents and making them feel loved and supported. Karen is also an FASD trainer and travels often, equipping and encouraging parents.

Beaver Trumble

Beaver Trumble is the Customer Care Specialist for The Honestly Adoption Company. Chances are, if you have been in need of technical support, or forgotten your password to one of our courses, you have interacted with Beaver. He is an absolute pro at customer care. In fact, he single-handedly revolutionized our customer care department last year. Beaver is passionate about connecting with parents and making them feel loved and encouraged.

Kristin Berry

Kristin Berry is the co-founder of, and Chief Content Specialist for, The Honestly Adoption Company. She spends most of her time researching and connecting with guests for our podcast, as well as direction, designing and publishing a lot of the content for our social media channels, blog and podcast. She loves to connect with fellow parents around the world, and share the message of hope with them.

Mike Berry

Mike Berry is the co-founder of, and Chief Marketing Specialist for, The Honestly Adoption Company. He spends the bulk of his time and energy designing and building many of the resources you see within our company, as well as social media and email campaigns. His goal is to use media as a means to encourage and equip parents around the world. He is also the co-host of The Honestly Adoption Podcast.