In a world where everyone seems to get offended at the drop of a hat, it is easy to bristle at the thought of being asked to remember one more special way someone should refer to something so it isn’t viewed in the wrong light. It’s easy to scoff and say that the words don’t matter if the intention wasn’t bad but I think history has taught us that is untrue. Adoption is fraught with so many deep emotions that treating it casually is offensive to the adopter, birth parents, and adoptee. Here are some reasons why adoption language is important.
- Educating others: There are a great many negative myths and ideas surrounding adoption. It clouds what can be a beautiful way to become a family in a scary light. Because of stories on the news, and old-timey ideas that being adopted is shameful and something to be hidden there is often negativity surrounding the idea.
- Protect the dignity of the child and the families involved: A child isn’t something to be “given away” like a stray dog found in the yard. However, sometimes more dignity seems to be given to the stray than a child in need of a home. Biological parents are no more “real” than adoptive parents. A biological parent can choose adoption as a path for their child if they are fearful they cannot provide for emotionally or financially, but they do not “give them away”.
- To avoid shaming a child unintentionally: Telling a child “You’re so lucky your parents adopted you” sends a message that can cause shame and confusion. There is loss involved in an adoption that children cannot reconcile easily. They may not feel lucky to have been abused, taken from their homes in the night by a caseworker, put into foster care, had parental rights terminated to them, and waiting in foster care until an adoptive family was found. We as the adoptive parents are very much the lucky ones in this scenario in that we get to be the soft place to land for a child we love. If you want to compliment a family you could say something like “You have a beautiful family” and leave it at that.
In short, the language we use in all things carries weight. Most people use negative adoption language unintentionally. Before I was a mom I asked a mom friend if she had any “real” kids, meaning biological kids. She gently but firmly made me aware of my error and why it mattered and I can blush to my toes if I think too hard on it today. It does matter. These children and families deserve dignity and respect. All families involved, even, and especially birth families that made an adoption plan for their children when they realized they wouldn’t be able to parent as well as they wanted to.