I have had some things on my mind lately b/c as J's first birthday quickly approaches, adoption questions are popping out of the woodworks. Don't get me wrong, I love answering the questions, but lately the terminology they use has started to bother me a bit. Will he know that he's adopted? Does his mom call him? Will you tell him about his mom? And the one that really stung, Does he really feel like your child?" So with that, I would like to share with you, what my online friend Joy shared with me recently...
Natural Child: Any child who is not artificial.
Real Parent: Any parent who is not imaginary.
Your Own Child: Any child who is not someone else's child.
Adopted Child: A natural child, with a real parent, who is all my own.
--- Rita Laws, PhD
Using accurate adoption language when speaking about adoption is extremely important. Even well meaning family members and friends can inadvertently convey the misconception that adoptive families are less real or permanent, and that a child who was adopted remains somehow different. This can be hurtful and hard to forget by the adoptee or adoptive parents.
Here are some points to remember:
*As with race or gender, the fact that a person was adopted should be mentioned only if it's essential to the story. If it's used, relevance should be made clear. A daughter, niece, granddaughter, or cousin who joined the family through adoption is -- and should be described as -- simply a daughter, niece, granddaughter, or cousin, not as an "adopted daughter", etc. Once an adoption is final, a child is simply a regular member of the family.
*If it is relevant to mention adoption, past tense phrasing is appropriate, such as "Jane was adopted in August 2006" rather than "She is adopted". Adoption is just one of many events in Jane's life, not an immutable personal trait. Jane's family should be referred to simply as father, mother, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. The man and woman who shared in Jane's conception can be referred to as the birthparents (NOT "real" or "natural" parents).
*The reasons that people adopt are rarely relevant. To suggest or say that someone "couldn't have a baby of his or her own" is inaccurate. Adoption is a choice, and is not second best. Children who join families through adoption are their parents "own" by law and by love. Families are formed by love, not biology.
Words not only convey facts, they also evoke feelings. The way we talk, and the words we choose, say a lot about what we think and value. When we use positive adoption language, we say that adoption is a way to build a family just as birth is. Both are important, but one is not more important than the other.
Please choose positive adoption language instead of the negative talk that helps perpetuate the myth that adoption is second best. People who use incorrect terminology should be politely corrected. When we use positive adoption language, we educate others about adoption.