Jesse Butterworth, 36, has heard it all. He and his wife Marisa, parents of two biological sons and a daughter adopted from Ethiopia, have been on the receiving end of plenty of insensitive comments about their family.
"We can only assume that they're not trying to be mean, but instead lack the vocabulary to say what they're really asking," he says.
So to help people better communicate about adoption, Butterworth introduced a simple rule of thumb in what he's calling "a public service announcement from adoptive families everywhere":
"If you wouldn't say it about a boob job, don't say it about an adoptive family."
"I really, really, really don't think that people are trying to be mean," Butterworth, a Washington pastor, tells TODAY Moms. "People are curious — that's human nature and it's natural to ask questions…so we were thinking, what's a way that we could help people just put language around it?"
He adds, "The truth is, we're not being sensitive for us. It doesn't hurt my feelings — I'm trying to be incredibly protective of my daughter who doesn't understand [the comments] yet. But at one point, she will and the last thing I want her to feel is that she is a lesser member of my family."
In 2010, daddy blogger Dan Pearce wrote about adoption etiquette.
"People don’t realize how fragile the minds of young children are. People don't realize that wording things certain ways can hurt a child, and badly," he blogged.
He listed 11 things people should avoid saying to adoptive families, including asking how much a child cost, if a celebrity inspired the adoption and inquiring about the birth mother's reason for "giving him away."
"Never say things like, 'you’re so wonderful to adopt a child.' I am a parent. Just like anybody else with kids," he wrote.
Read his entire list here.
Maralee McKee of Manners Mentor cautions that not all families talk about adoption with their young children:
"Different families tell their children their adoption stories at different ages. In the case of people adopting children of the same race, keep in mind some children might not know they're adopted. While you might disagree with the child not knowing, it's the parent’s decision," she writes.
"Also, sometimes younger siblings might not realize older siblings are adopted. Ask the parents privately before speaking openly to the children."
And both Pearce and McKee recommend avoiding bringing up adoption horror stories and fertility issues in conversation.
Parents.com recommends using "positive adoption language":
"For example, don't call a biological mother a 'real' mother. Isn't the real mother the one who changes diapers, cares for an ill child, and drives him to school? If the biological mother is called 'real,' then is the adoptive mother 'fake?' Similarly, an adopted child is not 'given away,' or surrendered; his biological mother made an 'adoption plan.' Why? To ensure a loving home for a child she could not bring up herself."
Or, when in doubt, just apply Buttersworth's "boob job rule."