The way we speak has a great impact on whomever we are speaking to. Sometimes words can be hurtful, whether intentionally or not, and can cause pain if not used correctly. Adoption can be a sensitive subject for some, and therefore, the terms and/or phrases we use should be chosen wisely. The following blog will discuss the positive and negative use of language when we talk about adoption.
What is Positive Adoption Language?
Your choice of words can set a positive or negative tone in conversations between you and the adoptee. Using respectful language, as listed below, when discussing the adoptee’s birth family and/or adoptive family is important. Adoption may be an emotional topic for the family members involved, but most importantly, it is likely to be especially meaningful to the individual who was put up for adoption. Conversations can trigger many different emotions and can lead to additional trauma to the adopted individual. This is why positive adoption language is important to use.
Below are some examples of Positive Adoption Language that can help facilitate positive communication:
- “Daughter or Son” – parents identify their child as their own.
- “Birth Parent/Family” – refers to the individuals that relinquished the child to another family.
- “Make an adoption” and “Placed in adoption” – is a gentle and less emotional term than “unwanted” and “given away.”
- “To Parent” – the use of the simple word “parent,” rather than “adopted parent,” makes it clear that the relationship between both child and parent is complete and no other adjective is necessary.
- “I’m happy for you and your family” – this statement shows a certain respect to the entire family unit.
The Effects of Positive Language on an Adoptee
The more we learn and understand what language to use with an adoptee, the better we can navigate the conversation. Many adoptees may choose to refer to their adoptive parents as their mother and father. They have no need to differentiate them from the parents who conceived them.
Communicating with positive language and terms creates a positive environment for all involved. The more educated we are about the positive language of adoption, the better able we are to help families and adopted individuals with their struggles surrounding the topic. Adoption should be something the adoptee is proud of rather than ashamed of.
What is Negative Adoption Language?
Negative language about adoption can trigger an array of emotions for an adopted individual. For instance, coping with the daily struggles of being adopted. They may also struggle with loss, separation, anxiety and depression. The use of negative language about or surrounding adoption can not only be painful, but can also lead to a setback in those who are coming to terms with their adoptive status.
The following list consists of different negative language that should not be used with adoption:
- “Own child”, “Real child,” and/or “Natural Child” – these phrases can be hurtful to the family of the adoptive child, as they see them as their own.
- “Adopted Daughter” and/or “Adopted Son” – as mentioned in the phrase above, they refer to their child as their own.
- “Real,” and/or “Natural Parent” – referring to the adoptive or birth parents
- “Unwanted” and/or “Problem Pregnancy” – adopted individuals feel rejection already. Feelings of not being wanted and being a problem are other forms of rejection.
- “Give up,” “didn’t want to keep,” “abandon,” “give away,” and/or “leave” – adoptees suffer with abandonment issues from day one. Having someone bring up this type of words can cause great harm to the adopted individual.
- “She’s so much better off with you.” – Microaggression. Adoptive parents are often grateful for the birth mother in allowing them to take care of their child they now call their own. This can be not only disrespectful to the adoptive parents, but to the birth parents of the adoptee as well.
The Effects of Negative Language on Adoptees and Their Families
Negative Adoption Language may have a negative effect on adoptees and their families. For example, debating the legitimacy of their child may not feel comfortable for the adoptive parents. It is important to remember parents love their children regardless of their status. This type of question may make the adopted individual feel excluded from the family.
It’s important to mention that most people are not intentionally trying to trigger unpleasant feelings or to be negative when discussing adoption. They are often not educated on the topic, which is why the adoptive community stresses the importance of reading books and/or articles and attending adoption group meetings. By doing so, many questions and concerns are often answered through the use of these adoption resources.
Nevertheless, people who are misinformed or uneducated on any specific situation often show what is called microaggression. This can be seen as a “backhanded compliment,” where the speaker believes he is saying something positive but is actually saying something hurtful. For example, “Aren’t you lucky that these wonderful people adopted you when your mother didn’t want you?” It is important to emphasize that not all adoptees are alike. Some may want engage in a discussion about their adoption and others may not. In either case it is important to respect the adoptees wishes.
Words have a huge impact on the adopted individual, and, of course, on all of us. The more we understand about the positive and negative language of adoption, the more positive our communication can be. Comfort with discussing the topic of adoption varies with each adoptee. Although, they may share similar experiences on adoption. Most important, is the ability to communicate in an open and respectful way.
Accurate Adoption Language: Words Convey Important Messages.” Accurate Adoption Language, National Council For Adoption, 2007, www.adoptioncouncil.org/images/stories/Accurate_Adoption_Language.pdf.
“Bad vs. Good Adoption Language – Infographic.” American Adoptions – Tennessee Adoption Laws | Adoption Laws in TN, 28 Sept. 2016, www.americanadoptions.com/blog/bad-vs-good-adoption-language-infographic/.
“Considering Adoption.” The Best Source for Adoption Information, 2018, consideringadoption.com/general/stop-using-these-5-negative-adoption-terms.
Sweet Ice Cream/Unsplash. Hands Photograph. 2018.
United Methodist Communications. “Positive Adoption Language Examples and Resources.” The United Methodist Church, 30 Apr. 2015, www.umc.org/what-we-believe/positive-adoption-language-examples-and-resources.