Friday, February 20, 2009

Positive Adoption Language

I have found that I am becoming much more aware now about how adoption is talked about since starting our adoption journey. Whereas before, I never really thought about it. The words that we use can tell a lot about our perceptions and feelings about adoption. We can advocate for adoptive families by using language that portrays adoption in a positive light.

Unfortunately many common ways to refer to adoption have negative connotations. For instance, instead of saying "giving up a child" or "giving away a child," more positive way to phrase making plans for the child's well being is to make an adoption plan.

Another very common phrase is "real parents." This is most often used when intending to refer to the biological or birth parents. This implies that there are somehow imaginary parents who are raising children. Parents who raise adopted children are also very real. There are other ways to differentiate the people in one's life with more clarity.

Along the same lines as that are having "children of your own." As in, they had to adopt because they couldn't have their own children. That belittles adoption as a method of building a family. The children who join us through adoption will be no less our children, we will be no less a family.

Another thing people talk about is how much adopted children cost. As if they are purchased! All children are priceless. Yes, there are fees involved with the adoption process, but there are expenses involved with all children. People who have biological children will have prenatal care costs, special vitamins, maternity clothes, hospital and doctor fees, etc. Nobody expects a couple having a biological child to give an accounting of how much was spent bringing their child into the world or how much it cost them to raise their children.

Another concept we are finding is that people assume that one adopts as an act of charity or that the children will be grateful for being adopted. Raising children is not an act of charity. It is an act of love. It can be uncomfortable when people say adopted children are lucky. Although adoption is a beautiful thing, a lot of loss also come along with it. The children aren't the only ones who benefit from adoption.

When we have our children with us and we hear negative adoption language or invasive questions, I will probably be caught off guard, even though I am expecting it to happen at some point. People say and ask inappropriate things all the time, about all sorts of subjects, without even meaning to do so. It's just much harder to deal with when those comments are made in front of your children or are directed at your family. And from what I have heard, it happens more than one would think.

Following the advice of other adoptive parents, I have been trying to prepare myself for ways to respond to the common questions and comments we will likely encounter. But I am also trying not to get caught up in semantics. I'll be a much more effective advocate for adoption if my feathers don't get ruffled too easily by innocent comments. Almost always, people do not intend to be hurtful with what they say. But that doesn't mean it doesn't hurt though.

I have found help from all sorts of resources like books, forums, articles, adoptive parents, etc. I hope that I will be able to model for my children positive ways to handle these situations. Adoption is nothing to be ashamed of or to hide. But the private details of ones life are private, and not all questions need to be answered.

Here is a workbook that empowers children to take control over their adoption story and teaches strategies for dealing positively with uncomfortable comments or questions about their backgrounds, W.I.S.E Up! Powerbook by Marilyn Schoettle

Adoptive Families Magazine has put together some helpful insights. Here is a link with a chart of positive and negative adoption language and here is an article about nosy questions that adoptive families sometimes face.

Here is an interesting essay written by an adoptive mother, Unsolicited Comments. has this article Questions Come With The Territory.

I have also read some great responses to inappropriate questions that other adoptive families have shared on adoption forums and blogs.


adopting in mexico said...

Very nice post Kathleen! I think I should forward this to some people.

One book I quite liked was - Talking with Young Children about Adoption, by Mary Watkins & Susan Fisher. Gave lots of scenarios and real stories about what questions children will ask and how to deal with it. I have to admit that while Maya's a baby, it's easy to imagine she'll never question her background, but I know it'll happen one day.


Gene and Deanna said...

Hi again,, we are a little further along and I love keeping up with your blog. The things people say well with one adopted daughter we hear all kinds of stuff, you have not even scratched the surface but you come up woth some grea snappy answers.

Suzanne Highers said...

I found your blog and love your post. Yes, people say the most outrageous things! I try to let them roll off my shoulders and focus on the ones that make me laugh, for example, "does she have a hard time understanding English?" and "will she have an accent?" Which I answer yes, one from the South!
Good Luck with the adoption process, its such a stressful time but each day brings you closer to your child.