Some advice from adopter and guest blogger Emma Sutton on what not to say to people who are going through the adoption process - and what to say.

If you have a friend who is adopting, you might struggle to know what to say. Before I adopted, my response would have been to mutter something under my breath whilst feeling totally out of my depth.  But having told people I was adopting, I watched how my friends and colleagues struggled to respond, and decided to pen this handy guide.

It’s not like being pregnant

When someone announces they are pregnant, we all have some stock questions we can ask to keep conversation flowing:

  1. When’s it due?
  2. Is it a boy/ girl/ twins?

Sure, we might then run out of things to say, but the conversation didn’t fall flat on its face before it had even started. Yet as an adopter, we are as excited (and scared) about becoming parents and we yearn to talk to people about it.  Read on to discover just how easy it is to keep the discussion going, whilst avoiding the more common obstacles that have adopters rolling their eyes and stumped as to what to say.


Obstacles to Avoid: What Not to Say:

  1. From abroad?’ Most adoptions in the UK involve children from the UK. The tabloids might print headlines about high profile adoptions from abroad, but the rest of us mortals, without celebrity kudos to consider, adopt British children from within our own borders without needing a passport or a paparazzi entourage to do it.
  2. That’s brave’. We heard this A LOT when we told people we were adopting siblings (once we even heard it from a social worker, which didn’t bode well). If you want to freak us out and make us scared, then please go ahead and remind us how brave we need to be to even consider such a move. Otherwise, keep that thought to yourself.
  3. Why are you adopting?’ Really? Do you want to open those wounds right now outside Tesco? Have you ever asked someone ‘how did you get pregnant?’ This is an awkward question to ask and might lead you down a long list of miscarriages and failed IVF. You’ve have to be very brave to ask this one. I would steer clear if I were you.
  4. Good for you.’ The words seem positive on paper, but they’re often imparted with the sort of tone an aunt might use when responding to her least favoured nephew when he announces that he’s raising money to buy a snake to eat his annoying little sister. Patronising? Do you think so?


Keeping the Conversation Flowing

With just a few simple phrases, you can join in the excitement (and trepidation) of your friends and family who are adopting. For each of those two well-worn pregnancy questions has an adoption equivalent.

  • Do you have a panel date yet?' is the adoption equivalent of ‘When’s it due?’ In order to really understand the answer you hear, you might need to know a few basics about adoption. In summary it goes Stage 1, Stage 2, Panel (approval), and Matching. In that order. A variation on this would beWhere are you at in your adoption?’ but the answer might be a little more confusing until you feel comfortable with the stages involved.
  • ‘Are you adopting a boy or a girl or a sibling group?’ which is clearly the same as ‘is it a boy/ girl/ flamingo’ inquiry. You might then follow up with: ‘what ages are you hoping for?’ and I stress the word ‘hoping’ because until the adopters have been approved and start matching, they might have quite an age range in mind.

  • Are you excited?’ this focuses less on the mechanics of the adoption and more on the emotional rollercoaster that occurs. And I have mostly thrown it in because it's MILES better than saying ‘that’s brave’ all the time.


Adoption can feel like a confusing process, filled with jargon that can be bewildering to understand. But adopters, like any expectant parent, want more than anything to share their journey, their excitement, their hopes and dreams with someone else, over a coffee or the phone.


With just three simple phrases, we can create more conversations that flow, more excitement and help more adopters feel understood and loved.


Just don’t ever say “it’s just like being pregnant”.


Emma and her husband Andy adopted a sibling pair (don’t even think ‘brave’) in 2013, when the children were one and two years’ old. Since then she has written a book, charting her experience of infertility, adoption and parenting called “And Then There Were Four” which has been called “essential reading for adopters” and received brilliant reviews from adopters, parents and non-parents alike.  "And Then There Were Four" is available here.