Creating a family is a decision that holds an unrelinquishing amount of “what if’s”. What if you aren’t ready to parent someone’s life and mold it? What if you’re too strict or too carefree? What if the child doesn’t even look like you? These are things people find themselves thinking about when deciding if they’re ready to take that leap. These are also things that some couples struggle with when conceiving isn’t an option. With adoption becoming a norm in society, couples are given the chance to be the parent that they were meant to be. And that’s a beautiful thing.
Many times, people hear the word “adopted” and perceive that family dynamic as a relationship that is lesser or fleeting; something not as strong as a blood-related family. However, in today’s evolution of family dynamic, adoption is a process that brings people together and gives those the ability to create the family they’ve always wanted to build. People don’t bat an eye at the thought of a step-parent, aunt, or even sibling raising a child that wasn’t created by them specifically–so why is it that adoption creates an unease?
Learning how to use Positive Adoption Language (PAL) promotes a respectful environment for families of all kinds and can give you an understanding for appropriate behavior.
Positive Adoption Language helps remove the negative stigma of adoptions past, shows respect for the adoption triad, and lessens the spread of adoption misconceptions. Here are five things to keep in mind when discussing adoption:
1.) It’s important to remember that although someone may be adopted into a family, they were still brought into it just as a child is when born into a blood-related family. It is not correct to say that someone is adopted, but was adopted. Couples asked the same set of “what if’s” and held the same fears before taking the step to parent. Adoption brings a gift of love, but thinking of the child as just a gift you can buy is not the way to go about it.
2.) “Do you know who your real parents are?” This is a question frequently asked to an adoptee. A parent is someone that has raised, guided, provided, and loved their child, regardless of how that came to be. Before asking a question like this, remember that the people raising this person are his/her parents and family. Saying that someone’s parents aren’t “real” is like saying your dog is a cat–it’s not true. It’s a great thing to ask questions, just always be aware that this person’s real life is the one they lead. Ask, don’t assume.
3.) Adoptive parents can be put in situations where qualifiers are used. By saying or asking something like, “This is Judy’s adopted daughter” and “Do you have any children of your own?” can be hurtful and make a child feel like they are not actually part of the family they are in. In addition, the parent you’re asking can become easily offended. Every family, adoption, story, struggle, and decision is different. You wouldn’t say, “This is Judy’s left-handed daughter”, would you? The child isn’t “like one of their own” because he/she is one of their own. Adoption isn’t an identity or a character trait, simply a way that a child was brought into a family.
4.) The birth mother can also undergo a lot of emotional turmoil in regards to her decision. Because this mother chose to move forward with the adoption process does not mean that she has “given away” or “given up” her child. Those placing their child into the care of others have endless reasons as to why; their lifestyle isn’t fit for a child to be raised happily or healthily, they don’t have the means to raise the child, or maybe they just aren’t ready to be a parent–whatever reason they may have does not mean that the adoptee was “given up”, but put into a safe place. Remember that the mother chose the option of adoption to give a child the life they deserve.
5.) “I couldn’t raise someone else’s child” or “This child is so lucky to have you!” are things you should avoid saying altogether. They imply that their child isn’t theirs by choice and that although they get to parent a child, they’re still missing out on parenting a child they couldn’t conceive themselves. Although you may not be aware, this may entail that by taking in a child that they are doing some sort of charity work. Instead, try asking if they stay in contact with the birth mother or how the process went for them.
At the end of the day, every situation is different. Every family is unique. Every choice that is made isn’t always in our control. One thing we can control, though, is our words. Words don’t just convey facts, they also evoke feelings. This can lead people to pre-judge the adoption process, birth parents, adoptive parents, and wrongly conclude that adoptions too, are negative. When in fact, it can be a very loving option and wonderful experience for everyone. Choose your words respectfully.