Saturday, November 3, 2012

30 Days, 30 Posts: Adoption...Say it Well

“Sticks and stones”...we know that words can be used to build people up or tear them down.  And sometimes we have a negative impact without even knowing it.  This is true in the adoption world, too.  I have made mistakes with my friends and their families, and I know I’ll goof again in the future. 

The list may appear to be very "politically correct" and unnecessary.  But, it really boils down to respect, respect for the process and respect for the family.  

As the adoption world changes, the terms will probably change with it.  For now, here is a short list to get started:

Constructive Adoption Language

Positive Language Negative Language
Birthparent Real parent
Biological parent Natural parent
Birth child Own child
My child         Adopted child; Own child
Born to unmarried parents Illegitimate
Terminate parental rights Give up
Make an adoption plan Give away
To parent To keep
Waiting child Adoptable child; available child
Biological or birthfather Real father
Making contact with Reunion
Parent Adoptive parent
Intercountry adoption Foreign adoption
Adoption triad Adoption triangle
Permission to sign a release Disclosure
Search Track down parents
Child placed for adoption An unwanted child
Court termination Child taken away
Child with special needs Handicapped child
Child from abroad Foreign child
Was adopted Is adopted

Originally printed in Adoptive Families September/October/November 1997 issue and available online.

I also encourage people to be aware of asking questions or making comments in front a child.  It's not that adoption is negative or a secret, but consider if the right time to talk about it is while standing in the grocery check-out line.

I am fortunate to have been surrounded by adoptive families both in the US and now in China.  When I am with my friends I will hear well-intentioned people say, "Oh he/she (referring to the child was adopted) is so lucky."  I know what the person is trying to communicate, but is it really "luck" that brought this family together.  It implies that the child is indebted to his or her parents.  That is a big burden for a child to carry.  (Many years ago I said this to a family after their child was born with a special need...oops.)

And finally, I think an expat friend said it best when she described caring for a local child after a surgery (the child was no longer with her birthparents).  The doctors kept saying the baby was lucky.  My friend said she wasn't sure that luck was involved.  When a child cannot be cared for by their birth parents, whether it is due to death of the parents, AIDS, war, a natural disaster, governmental policies on the number of children, no access to medical care, lack of resources or stability to care for a child, or poverty, it is tragic, not luck.  In a perfect world, children would be able to remain with their birthparents.  So, in the future my answer will be, "No, it is an honor and a privilege to care for my child. It is a blessing."

Don't miss a thing! Follow the entire 30 Days, 30 Posts: Adoption series.

Day 1: 30 Days, 30 Posts: Adoption
Day 2: 30 Days, 30 Posts: Adoption  Friday's Family


  1. very educational. thank you! :) now, i just need to remember all these... yikes.