“I Wish I Was Adopted”

I have had the honor of being involved in many interviews and conversations about adoption which have offered lots of opportunities for me to further the adoption discourse. There is a certain thrill that comes from being vulnerable and answering questions off the cuff as there is no great way to prepare for the questions that will come my way. I enjoy the spontaneity and the sense of unscripted-ness these interviews provide as there is room for truth and the conversation can flow in any direction that seems important at that moment. However, I have been thrown off by a  statement that sometimes gets tossed into my conversations. The statement: “Your family is absolutely amazing. Makes me wish I was adopted” has been a tough one for me to figure out how to answer.  When Bryan is present I am glad for the opportunity to exchange glances with him, silently inquiring “did you hear that, too?”  Bryan often tries to soften the blow in his wonderfully understanding way by making assumptions as to the more likely meaning of the comment. I generally know the intention behind the statement, but that doesn’t lessen the sting or make it any more acceptable. Words are important.

My friend and fellow adoptee, Amanda Woolston has heard this sentiment many times as well. She rationalizes the statement in this way; “It was said mostly in high school during times where teenage friends just didn’t feel like their parents “got” them. […] They saw being adopted as an opportunity to be a free and unique individual in the midst of genetic strangers who would just embrace whoever you were. It was an opportunity to be a blank canvas and invent oneself .”

Even with the recent media surrounding rehoming of adoptees, there continues to be a general love for the ‘rags to riches’ stories, a certain fascination with the projection that adoptees are grateful for a “better life” (check out adoptee Lisa Marie Rollins’ show Ungrateful Daughter).  I routinely receive messages of love and praise regarding Closure as folks seem to view my life as quite idealistic and use words like strong and determined to describe my steadfast drive for answers and the years sleuthing to find information. Although there is certainly truth to those adjectives, I feel the need to make sure its known that the only reason I had the opportunity to personify these traits is because of an inability to know my own truth.  Although a portion of my life has been communicated via a movie format, my life is not the Annie story. Closure moviegoers tend to get swept up by the hope and romance of the impending reunion with my birth parents and forget about the pain, separation, confusion and abandonment that had to have been present in order for my adoption to have even taken place. There is no adoption without tragedy somewhere along the line. Although my uniquely beautiful [adoptive] family is wonderful, wishing to be adopted isn’t a compliment. I’d propose that the actual intentions of a comment or tweet of this nature is something more akin to; “Sometimes I wonder how it’d feel to be part of a family without any genetic ties or biological expectations.”

You wish you were adopted and I wish I didn’t have to wait until my adulthood to know who gave birth to me. Different viewpoints I guess…

Whether you’re adopted or not, how might you respond?

23 thoughts on ““I Wish I Was Adopted”

  1. Hey Angela, I think a good reply might be a matter of fact “no you don’t” which should spark a correction or at least acknowledgement that all adoption has loss at it’s core. As a rule I don’t enjoy putting people in uncomfortable situations except when necessary. I find that keeping people honest about what we’re talking about is important to the discourse. I am reminded of the classic Cher line from the movie “Moonstruck” sometime we have to shout “snap out of it”!


  2. The “I wish I was adopted” statement is cousin to “your [adopted] child is so lucky to have you.” I cringed when I hear that. Because, you’re so right, there is no adoption without tragedy somewhere along the line. I addressed this on my blog in September after a few friends made similar comments in front of my daughter. She is still a toddler, but we want friends to know that she (and her birth family) experienced deep loss — even if she does not know/feel that way right now.
    Keep telling your story and your perspective! It’s needs to be heard!


  3. I have experienced something similar as an adoptive mom, other adults will say (meaning to be complimentary or humorous), “you guys are such great parents, I wish you would adopt me!” Or “you want a lot of kids, you can adopt mine!” Like your friend, I do know what they mean, but I can’t help but be a little saddened by the thoughtlessness. My instinct is to enlighten people about the reality that my boys will face, painful struggles that my biological kids will be spared. I want to remind them the without the tragic separation of a baby from his mother, adoption would not exist. I am thankful for adoption, and so blessed by the privilege to raise all my kids (biological and adopted alike) but the fact that adoption is even a reality is tragic, and something that I can’t take lightly. I usually respond by saying something brief, but to the point, like “we’ve got our hands full, but you are pretty fortunate to have the family you have.” Then I slap them, but just in my mind.


  4. Well said, Angela. I think each of us must respond honestly and compassionately (as you do here) when faced with such comments/situations. It is the only way to raise awareness about the impact of our words and to broaden perspective. Thank you for generating the conversation.


  5. One of my sisters said that to me after I found them. Their life certainly wasn’t easy so I understood where the statement came from. However, I pointed out to her that being adopted comes with it’s own set of problems, and a better wish would be that our mother could have gotten her life together and done better for all of us.


  6. People who say these things have absolutely no frame of reference on which to place such a statement…ot comes from utter ignorance which is different than stupidity.

    I am adopted and we have an adopted daughter. A friend of my parents constantly says our daughter “hit the jackpot”….as if they know for sure that she is better off with rich white parents than her real ones….yes I said real. Too many assumptions on her behalf.


  7. Thank you, thank you. My son is only 4 now. But reading these posts prepare me to prepare him. I especially appreciate the suggested remark/response at the bottom. One of my brothers is adopted. however, his is less complicated/loaded as his was a domestic and not transracial.


  8. Hi! I was also adopted and I will say that my adoptive family is amazing and pretty well off so they are able to give me more opportunities than most so when my friends hear of the things I get to do or experience they also say man I wish I was adopted or can your family adopt me too. Most times I just play into the joke and say hey the more the merrier but yeah it does sting a little bit because I would love to know my birth family and the struggles that I have been through as an adoptive child have been tough but it makes me a stronger person and makes me love my family even more because even though I am not blood they love me just as much as if I was. I get that some people wish they had more than what they have so when they say things like I wish I was adopted I try to understand what is going on with them or their situation before I respond because it could just be they are having a bad day. Anyway that’s just my personal opinion and experience with that question. I love your post and it’s a great way to bring life to this topic and let people who aren’t adopted know that those types of questions can hurt but not always.


  9. Chester, thanks for your comment. I agree with you about both giving an answer that serves to alter people’s perceptions, and also about not enjoying putting people in uncomfortable positions. It’s that balance of managing others’ expectations and emotions that adoptees are all too familiar with.


  10. Hi Elaine, Thank you. Yes, the “they’re so lucky” comment is definitely from the same family. Neither are appropriate, but both are often heard. Glad to know that you blog. I’ll take a look at that post of yours.


  11. Lara – I think your instinct is spot on. Without reminding folks these hurtful comments will live on. Thanks for doing your part! Mind-slapping is an interesting technique… 🙂


  12. Thanks for your comment Kate. Honesty and compassion are beautiful things – I’m trying to find ways to continue to raise awareness when my compassion runs low.


  13. Hi Caroline, I hear what you’re saying, and I’ve heard similar comments from my birth siblings. I find this to be a different sort of comment than what I was attempting to address. To me, comments like “I wish I was adopted” from birth siblings who weren’t adopted have more merit and more understandable meaning. Thanks for your perspective.


  14. Hello. You seem so wise, and have developed many methods for answering this question. Sometimes it probably makes sense to just go along with the “joke,” but it still likely hurts a little? I’m glad that it sounds like you had a great upbringing and are able to weather these comments in a light and humorous way.


  15. I’m not wanting to speak for other adoptees as we all have such differing experiences with what it means to be adopted whether coming from an open or closed adoption. I do think that this statement is a common phenomenon from strangers who know very little, if anything about the adoptee’s story. So, with this in mind, I would venture to guess that adoptees from all along the spectrum of openness have heard this statement, and experience it similarly. “S” who commented above sounds like she deals with this comment with humor…


  16. As a transracial adoptee, a actor, writer, filmmaker, TRA advocate and speaker there is not a lot that has not been said to me in private or in public. I have learnt to respond to the variety of “statements” “observations” “comments” and “jokes” as calmly and as evenly as possible. But this is one “statement” that always sticks in the back of my throat and I still end up having to take a deep breath and count to five before I respond. Quite why I am still not one hundred percent sure – but it just gets to me. As many commentators on this thread have said each adoptees experience if different. Mine in some senses was neither positive nor negative it just was. Bound inextricably with the social, cultural, political and racial mindset that we 60s pre multicultural UK (and all that that entailed for the minorities in the UK at the time). When people say this to me now my initial response is usually (if appropriate) That’s interesting, why do you wish you had been adopted and would you feel the same if the family that had adopted you were say East Asian or Black African Caribbean? Their is usually a short to medium length pause and then a response along the lines of “no I meant adopted like you were” I think that says it all really


  17. Thank you….and yeah it still hurts when people say those things but I just realize that I am lucky to have the family and friends that I do and I look to them for support and to talk it out….when people ask questions like that or say comments like that I will tell them to be careful because their words do hurt sometimes.


  18. I want to add a perspective without condoning. I agree that ignorance to the pain of adoptees is behind every statement like this. However, there might also be some pain contributing to the ignorance sometimes.

    I was abused, but never rehomed. My biological legacy has very few bright spots, but I know what that legacy is. I didn’t always recognize the privilege there. Some adult children of abuse might not recognize that privilege yet, but please realize that they might not be recognizing your pain due to their own.

    I don’t mean to excuse their behavior, it’s not right. But in my experience, empathy helps me to be patient with people when they hurt me. I know that this won’t be the case for all people who make callous statements, but it might be more than you realize. Unfortunately, making (inappropriate!) jokes about adoption is currently an acceptable way for an adult to release a little pain without exposing too much.

    So please keep on educating! Hopefully this thought will just help your heart a bit. I feel weary for you sometimes when I read your blog because you are both asking and answering the hard questions. Thank you for all the emotional energy you put into this lovely blog.


  19. Hi Angela,

    I recently found your blog and have been working my way back in time through your posts. This struck me as such an interesting post. I have grown to adulthood with a mother who suffers from extreme anxiety which made her emotionally unavailable to me as a child, causing the anxiety cycle to continue its path into my life. Fortunately, as a young mother, I was able to get help and a diagnosis that has helped me to break the cycle.

    I was never taken away from my parents or lived in foster care, and from the outside we looked like an amazing family with a working dad and stay at home mom, a huge house in town and a cabin in the mountains. What could have possibly been wrong, right?

    The first thing that I thought of when reading your post was how many hours, as a child, I would imagine myself in another family. I thought of so many different scenarios. I was accidentally in the wrong family and my real family finds me and knows me and recognizes me and understands me and the unnamed and intangible thing that is wrong with me magically goes away. The life I was living was really just a dream and pretty soon I would wake up into my real life with my real family and this place would take on that fleeting dreamlike quality and then just disappear. Somehow I would go live with that other mother that I met the other day who looked at me and talked to me and asked me a question and touched me on the shoulder and recognized that I needed a snack or a drink or a kind word, and she would love me.

    Maybe people who say these things to you are like me and even though they are adults they just have never had the help or the different perspective that they need to know what those words mean to others. Maybe they have never healed.

    I work with people with disabilities and I know that it sounds crazy, but I have actually had people say to me things like, “Maybe my life would be better if I was a quadriplegic too.” Seriously?

    But now this is what I do. I pause, and send them an intense hope, prayer, energy, etc that the dark, hurting place where that comment came from will find renewal and healing. I imagine that the energy I am sending them is like a beacon calling for that help to come to them in the form of an amazing therapist, book, friend, lover, parent like person etc. And that is all I can do.


  20. I definitely wish I had been adopted. I grew up in poverty with divorced parents who neglected and taught me nothing (literally) because they were both extremely ignorant and anti-education. They were two psychologically damaged people who should never have had children. They really did nothing to encourage or support me and now I’m really messed up. I can’t fall asleep most nights without crying and thinking of my past. I also have family members who grew up with parents on drugs, others having their fathers in prison. How beneficial was their family? Lots of people would really be better off being adopted, even though (of course) being adopted comes with its own set of issues. But you wouldn’t believe how many inept parents are out there. How many damaged (actions are intentional or unintentional) people who ruin lives.


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