As an Adopted Parent or Person, Would This Offend You?

Dawn Davenport


What is offensive to adoptees?

Would you as an adoptive parent ever call you child “a cute little tax deduction”? As an adoptee, are you offended?


Last year at about the time, someone posted in our online support group a picture of her Chinese adopted daughter with the tagline: Cutest Little Tax Deduction Ever. Her daughter was impishly adorable and most commenters said so, until someone commented that this was inappropriate to say about an adopted child. Then several others, including a few adult adoptees, chimed in that they thought it was out of place and harmful for adoptive parents to imply that their child was a way to make money.

This exchange bothered me. I want to be sensitive and I want to learn from adopted people how best to navigate the world of adoptive parenting, but I worried about the risk of treating our kids as if they are fragile would do more harm than good. As always when I’m trying to figure something out, I blogged about it: Do Adoptive Kids Need Parenting Kid Gloves. The comments we received, especially those from adoptees, were enlightening, but I remain unsettled.

I was thinking about it months later, and decided to talk with one of my daughters about it. She is 19 and adopted from Korea.

Me: I’d like to get your opinion on something. Around tax time, a lady in our online support group posted a picture of her 2-year-old daughter with the caption “Cutest little tax deduction ever.” What…

Dearest Daughter: [giggling} That’s funny.

Me: …What’s your opinion of this.

DD: I think it’s adorable.

Me: Does it change your opinion if her daughter was adopted because it was obvious that she was.

DD: [looking genuinely confused] Why would it?

Me: Well, some people, including some adult adoptees, think that a parent shouldn’t say something like this.

DD: But why?

Me: They think that it might imply that the parent adopted the child for the deduction or that they were treating their child as an object.

DD: So you only get a deduction if you adopt a child?

Me: No, you get a tax deduction for a child regardless how she joins the family. There is a special tax credit to help parents pay for adoption, but that wasn’t what she was talking about.

DD: I don’t get why someone wouldn’t think it was just a sweet way for a parent to show off their kid.

Later her friend Katie, adopted from China and also 19, came over to eat ice cream and bake cookies (nothing like junk food to while away an afternoon). You might remember Katie from our funny conversation 5 years ago in The Debate over Adopt-a- Programs. We continued our discussion with her.

Katie: I think it’s cute. But maybe it’s because of the way I was raised. My parents didn’t raise me to take offense to things. I guess I’m pretty secure in being Chinese and being adopted.

DD: It’s not like it’s an insult or anything. I mean people don’t go around saying “Hey, you little tax deduction” as a put down.

Katie: Yeah, plus we hear a lot more stupid things than that like “Can you see when you smile?”

DD: Some things people say are kind of funny though. “How do you blindfold an Asian”

Katie: [without missing a beat] Dental floss.

[Both girls burst out laughing.]

Katie: How do Chinese name their children?

DD: By throwing a bunch of forks down the stairs.

[More laughter, followed by more Asian jokes.]

DD: Hey, we’re like a comedy duo. Maybe we should go on the road.

Me: [more than a little aghast at the direction the conversation was going] Don’t these jokes bother you just a little. Or do you at least get tired of hearing them?

DD: Not really Mom, they’re funny and they are just jokes. They aren’t said to be mean. Everybody has something that people can laugh at. I think people need to lighten up. If they want to be upset if their mom thinks their cute and calls them a tax deduction, OK for them, but I don’t want to live like that.

Well OK then.

Truthfully, I wasn’t sure how to take the Asian jokes. Racial jokes aren’t something that I “allow”, not that I’m in the position with my older kids to do much allowing or disallowing anymore. The girls had clearly put them in the category of blond jokes (also something I hate), and just like their blond friends tell and laugh at them. I’m still thinking on that.

Jokes aside, both girls response to the “cutest little tax deduction” comment supports my general attitude that adopted kids, as a whole, are not hothouse flowers.

The Problem with Hothouse Flowers

Hothouse flowers have to be treated differently because they are fragile and can’t thrive without a lot of extra attention and care. If we go into parenting assuming our kids need to be treated like that, don’t we run the risk that they will assume that they are somehow more likely to wilt. Wilting is the opposite of thriving and I want my kids to thrive.

The problem with avoiding certain subjects and being extra careful with our words with all adopted people is that we are treating them as something “other”…as something different, and different is just a step away from lesser.

Know Your Child

I’m not sure Katie is right that her lack of taking offense is directly related to her parents. I would like to think that I’ve had some impact on my kids being fairly resilient and not taking themselves too seriously, but I suspect their God-given temperament has as much to do with it as I anything their dad and I did.

We as parents have an obligation to know our kids. If our child is on the sensitive side, then by all means avoid saying or doing things that might hurt them. One of my kids is more sensitive, less able to laugh at herself and more quick to take offense than others, and we are more careful about any teasing with her. (Not that it matters, but she is a child by birth.) If our child is insecure about their place in the family, then again, we need to be extra careful. Follow your kid’s lead, but you don’t have to apply that to all adopted people.

Not All Adoptees Are Alike

I’ve been around the adoption world long enough to know that you cannot make a blanket statement that applies to all adoptees. I hate the expression “the angry adoptee” which implies that an adopted person that complains about some aspect of adoption is “angry”. Adopted people, like all other people, can hold two emotions at once about a topic. Plenty of adopted people hate certain aspects of adoption and the way it is practiced, but are very happy with most parts of their own adoption.

Some adult adoptees take offense to the word “real” being used in reference to their biological family and for others it’s their preferred term. Some adoptees love the idea of “gotcha day” and others loathe it. And yes, some adopted people would take offense to being called a “cute tax deduction” and others would think it is adorable.

So, what do you think? Adorable or offensive? Better to avoid and be safe or is that treating our kids as hothouse flowers?


Image credit: Steven Depolo

30/03/2015 | by Dawn Davenport | Categories: Adoption, Adoption Blog, Blog | 14 Comments

14 Responses to As an Adopted Parent or Person, Would This Offend You?

  1. Avatar Terri says:

    I was not adopted, but I was born on New Years Eve which made me deductible as if I had been alive the whole year – I was regularly referred to as a $600 deduction. To show my age even more…It was my handle on the CB radio when I was a kid. I happily report my birth as my first tax planning strategy as I am now a CPA.

    My daughter whom we adopted (age 11) said if they would/could say it about a bio child, it does not matter.

  2. Avatar Anonymous IF says:

    I daresay that those who were offended by this innocuous comment made by a loving adoptive parent are probably people who are offended by adoption in general. When the comment was first made, I remember thinking that the ones who were raising such a cloud of (self) righteous indignation were probably more offended about the fact that it was coming from an ADOPTIVE parent than they were at anything else. Because there is nothing that such individuals hate more than seeing or hearing an adoptive parent reveling in their good fortune at becoming a parent through non-approved means. How DARE an adoptive parent rejoice in any aspect of their ill-gotten parenthood, even in jest. If we are rejoicing and joking about any of the “perks and privileges” we enjoy as parents to our children, we are ceasing to hang our heads in shame and wear sackcloth and ashes-which of course, is the proper attitude that all who become parents through alternate means should portray in their every thought and action-at least in the point of view of those who disagree with our paths to parenthood. We are not supposed to celebrate the days that our children join our family (forever home day, gotcha day, etc), we are supposed to feel ashamed if we want to celebrate the “parent holidays” (Mother and Father’s Day) as our immediate family unit alone, and the list goes on and on. It’s a similar attitude that those who are born into positions of money and privilege have towards those they consider “nouveau riche”-they may have as much wealth as those who were born into it or who inherited it, but they will never be “truly” one of the elite. Even if the person had to work harder and actually “earn” what these other individuals have always been able to take for granted, it will never be of the same worth in the eyes of those others. Heaven forbid those of us who become parents through adoption get “uppity” and forget our proper place as glorified babysitters, even for a moment. I have a feeling that if the same comment had been made by a biological mother about her biological child, it would not have caused such a stir in this particular circle, because it would have been seen as “natural”-and that of course makes everything okay!
    Okay, rant over-I agree with this article and the other one covering this issue. A lot depends on the individual context and the existing relationship between parent and child. If it does not cross the line between teasing and taunting, I think it would be okay. I do not know the specifics of the relationship between this mother and her child, so I do not know how this comment was received by the child in question. I hope that if the child was hurt by it, or is hurt by it in future, then the relationship between mother and child will be strong enough to work through it and move forward with their connection intact.
    BTW-the first Christmas that I was in University, I gave my father a sweater that said, in big bold letters “My Kid and My Money go to (Name of the University I attended). We both had a good laugh over it, and he wore it proudly, because he was proud of me for being able to attend university, and he was pleased to be able to help me to fund part of my education. He didn’t take it to mean that I saw him as a source of financial dependence and nothing more, and I didn’t take it to mean that I’d better make the honour roll or else my Dad would lose his investment. We gave it and accepted it in the spirit of humour and good fun that it was intended. But of course we shared the same DNA, so there was never really an issue, anyway, right?

  3. Avatar Beth says:

    P.S. I think the Asian jokes would bother me too, but it also makes me wonder if we are bothered by it because we’re NOT Asian? Maybe your daughter’s ability to joke is a good thing. Meaning she is comfortable enough with herself, who she is, and her appearance to joke about it. I dunno. I could be wrong. It’s like southerns joke about the south or gays joking about gays, they can but its not really okay for others outside the group to. But I’m not sure I like that either.

    • Dawn Davenport Dawn Davenport says:

      Beth, I think you’re spot on about it’s OK for a group to joke about themselves, but not outsiders to joke. It still makes me uncomfortable, but I don’t like “Pollock” jokes, blond jokes, gay jokes, etc.

  4. Avatar Janell says:

    When my two oldest sisters had thier babies with in weeks of each other in and around April 15th. My other sister bought them matching hats that said “tax deduction”. My parents alway joked that they ran an orphanage well because they only had one biological child but raised 8 but only legally adopted 2. But kids from the community always wanted to be a part of their orphanage so to speak. My mom would always joke with our friends that all children in her home on December 31st officially belonged to her and she would need their social security numbers.

    When I claimed my oldest adopted daughter for the first time I got a refund. I called her my little tax deduction.

    Never once was I offended by it nor was my daughter. I just felt loved. Sometimes love in my home meant being part of the joke. But never made fun of. So I think we should treat our children like we would want to be treated. The adoptees who negatively responded most likely did not share the humor of their life story. I embrace my cultural family values both as an adoptee and adoptive mother.

  5. Avatar Beth says:

    I couldn’t agree with your thoughts more. You are always so thoughtful. We use this joke all the time in my family. The only way I can see it as being offensive to a adopted child is if you wouldn’t use the same joke for a biological child thus as you said putting them in the “other” category. But I know tons of people who joke this way about the biological children. But totally agree we need to know our children and not assume or guess, regardless of how they came to our family, and know where to draw the line.

  6. Avatar Daphne says:

    I’m an adoptee myself, and come from a family with a pretty irreverent sense of humour. Personally, I find it funny, kind of like calling your cat your personal living hot water bottle. Of course you don’t think of your kids (or your pets) in terms of the direct financial (or heating) benefits to you. The joke lies in the surprise of reduction to that one specific and practically irrelevant aspect.

    As with anything, parents need to be circumspect when making jokes around their children. Everyone has a different tolerance threshold, and some kids might indeed find it upsetting to be referred to this way. My father used to joke that he picked me up at the grocery store between the lemons and the oranges, which I found hilarious, but others were shocked and very concerned when they heard him joke that way. Each parent needs to gauge their children’s emotional reactions, and govern themselves accordingly.

    • Dawn Davenport Dawn Davenport says:

      Daphne, you did a better job than me summing up my thoughts. It also occurs to me that part of this is the family temperament. We also are a family of teasers and silly sense of humor.

  7. Avatar Deb says:

    I think the ‘tax deduction’ comment would not offend me in the least, I’ve said it about my December baby, mainly because all children are a tax deduction whether adopted or birthed. Unless a family is having 10 children just for the tax write off and not really taking care of the children, I don’t see it as a concern or a put down. In regards to the Asian jokes, while I wouldn’t encourage them, I think sometimes when you are joking about yourself with others like you, it’s ok, My friend and I joke about being Lane Bryant girls, but we are both heavy, if a skinny girl joined in we might take offense. Overall I do agree that we have become a nation afraid to say anything because we might offend someone.

    • Dawn Davenport Dawn Davenport says:

      Deb, I think you’re analogy is spot on about skinny girls and Lane Bryant jokes. I was born and raised in deep south Louisiana, and while I could make jokes about Cajuns and “coon asses”, I’m not sure I’d want others to joke. Still, I’ll have to admit that it bothered me to hear them joke about it.

  8. Avatar Robyn C says:

    My uncle is a CPA. He has 3 kids. He literally planned to have his 3rd child in December so he could claim the kid for the entire year, but have the expense only for December. My cousin is in his 30s, and he still brags about this from time to time. I have a friend with 5 bio kids who referred to them affectionately as a house full of tax deductions one tax season. I don’t really find it funny, but I don’t find it offensive either. If I were to joke around like this, I’d find out how my kids felt about it first.

    No matter what, children *are* tax deductions. The government sets it up that way. I don’t see how this is a joke at the expense of someone else. Being a tax deduction is a *good* thing. It’s not like introducing your child with the straightest, whitest teeth in the world and saying, “This is Bryce. Show ’em your teeth Bryce. That’s where my retirement fund went.”

    I think you’re right, Dawn, about temperament, and also about treating adopted kids as hothouse flowers. Comments like this may be problematic for some kids, but for others, it’s not a big deal.

  9. Avatar Tara says:

    It would make me uncomfortable to say that to or about an adopted child. Right or wrong, adoption makes some subjects a little more sensitive.

  10. Avatar Casandra Goldsmith says:

    Personally, I would never say this about or to a child. For one, depending on the child’s age, he or she may not know what “tax deduction” means. Two, it could be viewed as insensitive or offensive by both children and adults alike. I just don’t like equating this comment as a joking or fun way to refer to your child, whether they are biological or adopted.

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