This coming Sunday is Father’s Day. While most of the comments we foster and adoptive dads receive are cordial, and respectful, there are always a handful that are not. Here’s a little insight into things you shouldn’t say to foster and adoptive dads on this special day (written, of course, for you to “share” with the people in your life who really don’t get it!)
My brother-in-law’s heart probably drained from his chest like melted wax. Had his breath not been taken away by the off-handed comment, he would have found the words to speak, I’m sure. It was his first Father’s Day when someone in his church crushed his spirit and left him bewildered. “Happy Father’s Day. I mean, you’re like a pseudo-father right? So, Happy pseudo-Father’s Day!” the person uttered. If someone would have walked around the corner and dumped cold water over my brother-in-law’s head, he would have been less shocked.
Can you say yikes on so many levels? As if he were a pinch-hitter for the real dad in his kid’s life. Every time I hear comments like this I want to stand up and scream, WE’RE OUR KIDS’ REAL FATHERS JUST LIKE BIOLOGICAL DADS ARE FOR THEIRS! Maybe I should. Perhaps the element of surprise would cure the idiocies of hurtful statements spoken to us, even the ones that are “well-meaning.” Instead, I’ll use the power of written word. In an effort to help (and cure the idiocies), here are 7 things you should NEVER ever, everrrrrrr say to foster and adoptive dads on Father’s Day (or any day for that matter):
- “I know you’re not their real dad, but happy Father’s Day all the same.” I know. This one sounds too shocking to be true! But, trust me, I’ve had this said to me in the past, and many of my friends have heard this one as well. It’s almost too much for words. To give people a slight (very very slight) benefit of the doubt, they probably mean well, but the wording is completely incorrect. Fact is, we are our kid’s real fathers. Biology and resemblance do not make us fathers. Sacrifice and commitment do.
- “I bet this day is hard for you since you don’t have any kids of your own.” When I heard this, several years ago, my response was to say nothing and just stare at the person saying it. Mostly because I was in shock. The other reason was disbelief that someone would actually think to say something like this. And my response to them prompted a momentary deer-in-headlights stare as they considered the weight of the words they had just spoken. Sometimes the most powerful thing you can say is nothing at all. I don’t think I need to explain this any further other than to say, good grief!
- “Do your kids miss their dad today?” Truth is, if you are caring for children through foster care, they may miss their biological dad on Father’s Day. But that, in no way, diminishes how special this day is for you, or for them with you. For several years I was a foster dad, and my wife made it a point to make sure that both dads (me and their biological dad) were celebrated. As an adoptive father, this would just be offensive. Plus, my kids would look at you like you were crazy (like my son did, the time a therapist asked him if he was behaving the way he was because he missed his “real” mom and dad. True story!)
- “Happy Pseudo-Father’s Day!” As I explained earlier, not cool! Just….not cool. This is hurtful. My brother-in-law was hurt by this because it downplayed the significant role he was playing in his kids’ lives. As if he was a stand-in for the real father. And just because he was, at the time, fostering them and had not yet finalized their adoption, in no way meant he was not being a father to them. He was, and then some! Foster dads, in particular, may not be the biological parent of their children, nor caring for them forever, but that are still a father-figure in their lives.
- “Happy Adopted Father’s Day.” Another one you may not believe is uttered to us, but is. I heard this one in the first year of fatherhood. I laughed it off back then, but today would probably confront the issue. Fact is, I don’t need the title “adopted” in front of my name, even though, for the sake of identification, I may use this word from time to time. While adoption is something I did to bring permanency to my children, I am a dad, plain and simple. No need to clarify what kind of dad I am by adding the word “adopted.”
- “I’d say Happy Father’s Day but, adoption is probably more your wife’s thing than yours, right?” This statement assumes so much about you and me, I don’t know where to begin. I was talking to a friend, a few years ago, who actually had this gem said to him. It hurt him deeply too, because this was from a person he thought was his close friend. The painful part of a comment like this, is the assumption that he’s not dialed into his kids, or that adoption isn’t his thing because he’s a guy. Maybe it was his wife’s idea in the beginning (like it was for me) but that in no way entitles anyone to assume he’s checked out or not dialed in to being a father.
- “Those poor kids! It must be hard to be away from their dad on Father’s Day!” This is right in line with #3 above. First of all…I AM their dad and, second… how do you know if this is hard for them or not? Maybe this is a very sensitive topic for them but maybe it’s not. Maybe, in their heart, they feel immense gratitude for the life, and parents, they have! Maybe they don’t have any thoughts at all. Maybe, just maybe, it’s none of your business what they are thinking or feeling at all. Making an assumption on their emotional state, or calling them “poor kids” is disrespectful. Just stop…please stop.
Truthfully, this list could be 700 things you shouldn’t say to foster and adoptive dads on Father’s Day. Same goes for moms on Mother’s Day. In fact, some of the worst comments we’ve heard spoken to foster and adoptive parents, is to moms on Mother’s Day. Breaks our heart! And really makes us angry. I guess the bottom line is this: if you’re reading this and you’ve been guilty of saying one of these things, or something similar, stop, and seek wisdom. Also–seek forgiveness if you can. This is a new day and you always have new start. Most (not all, but most) parents, like us, will extend grace. We’ve always been willing to forgive and forget, and we always will.
But if you’re a foster or adoptive dad (or mom) who’s been wounded by one or more of these statements (or anything close), share this post, and also have a conversation with the person you’re sharing it with. You can never make progress on building bridges of understanding if you’re unwilling to show up and work to make it happen.
Mike and Kristin Berry are the authors of the Confessions of an Adoptive Parent blog and the book The Adoptive Parent Toolbox. They are the parents of 8 children, all of whom are adopted. Mike and Kristin’s passion is to reach overwhelmed, weary, and stressed out parents, all over the globe, with this message: “There is hope…..you’re not alone on this journey!”