Recent adopter Gareth explains why his son shouldn’t be labelled as ‘lucky’ to have found a new family.

“Your son is so lucky to have you as parents.” “He’s very lucky you found him.” “He’s one lucky boy.”

Among the many challenges my wife and I have faced since bringing our adopted son home late last year, one of the least expected has been having to deal with a very specific strand of people’s positivity and praise. 

I’ve even given it a name – ‘the language of luck’ – and it’s something that I’ve found myself becoming increasingly uncomfortable with. It’s not because the people making these sort of comments aren’t genuine or well-meaning – it all definitely comes from a good place – I just don’t feel that what they’re saying is actually true.

As my wife says, it seems strange to describe a two-year-old who had to leave the birth family home at just a few weeks old as “lucky”. Surely the absolute least any child should be able to expect is that their parents will show them love and keep them safe. So for a young person to have birth parents who can’t meet their basic needs actually feels very unlucky to me.

Our son is a brilliant little boy with a mass of personality and potential. We adopted him because we were so drawn to his many great traits. To say that he’s “lucky” we chose him implies there was an element of chance involved – that it wasn’t necessarily an outcome that he deserved, it all just fell into place for him. The way I see it, lottery winners are lucky – adopted children are not. They are young people who have usually had a very tough start in life, but have shown character, personality and perseverance on the path to what will hopefully become better times.

The talk of luck also implies – even if it’s not intended – that our son is the one who has gained the most from his adoption. If he’s “lucky” for becoming part of our family, then I’m not sure I have the words to describe what we must be, considering how much joy, fun, laughter and pleasure he’s brought us over the past seven months or so. In fact, when people express how lucky he is, I find myself responding that, actually, we’re the lucky ones, for having him in our lives. Even then, I’m not sure whether using luck in that way is accurate or appropriate (that’s a whole different discussion!), but I’d rather we were perceived as the lucky ones, as opposed to him.

I don’t hold any of this against people – their intentions are good and they’re trying to show empathy, understanding and support. But it just doesn’t sit right with me, no matter how well it’s meant.

So what would I rather people said? For a start, something that doesn’t make it sound like an adopted child has been rescued, or that they owe their adoptive parents in any way for being brought into a new family. Ideally, it would be something that treats parent and child as equals and acknowledges that the adoption is benefiting us at least as much as it is him.

But for the time being at least, I think I’m going to have to get used to dealing with the language of luck. Maybe if I keep pushing back enough times on enough people the situation will eventually change, if I’m lucky.