Friday, October 31, 2008

Adoption Language

Lately I've been thinking a lot about adoption language and how language is such a powerful aspect of adoption...indeed a powerful aspect of so much of our lives. During our adoptive parenting classes we learned about PAL, which stands for "Positive Adoption Language." Basically PAL is the art of taking words or sayings that can be hurtful to all members of the adoption community (especially the children, which is the last thing anyone wants) and changing them to express the same concept with more positive wording. Culturally speaking, our society is still fairly ignorant about adoption, which is why many of the negative terms and phrases are still heard frequently today. I thought I'd share two of the most important PAL terms we learned during our classes. These have stuck with me and have even helped me shape the way I think about adoption in general.
  • Instead of, "she gave her baby up for adoption" say, "she made an adoption plan for her baby." This is a big one since so many people toss around the "gave up" statement all the time. The terms "gave up," and "placed" imply that there is no decision in the matter, and the fact is that in most adoptions today, birthparents make a painstakingly difficult decision about the care of the child they love very much but cannot parent when they choose adoption.
  • Instead of, "he is adopted" say, "he was adopted." When you say someone is adopted, that implies that adoption is a condition or ailment for that person rather than the way they joined their family.
I also found this list on the West Virginia social services web site and I thought I'd pass it along.

Say This...

Instead of This...

Birth Parent Real Parent
Biological Parent Natural Parent
Birth Child Own Child
My Child Adopted Child
Born to Unmarried Parents Illegitimate
Relinquish Rights Give Away
Terminate Parental Rights Take Away
Waiting Child Available Child
Parent Adoptive Parent
Child Placed for Adoption Unwanted Child
Child with Special Health Care Needs Handicapped Child


Bri said...

This is one of those things that differ from person to person, especially when speaking of different members of the tirad. For instance, my agency encourages the use of "placed" versus "gave-up" (which is funny because we are using the same agency, just a different geographic location!).

Your list seems very child centered. I've seen lots of brith parent sites that are offended by the term Birth or biological parent. They prefer natural or first parent - but I can see how that would be confusing to a child (and threatening to a parent- but that isn't my point)

Something else I find interesting is how as a society we can create things for our children to be offended by.

I hope that I am able to get all of my family and friends speaking PAL before I have children. That way, I do not feel the need to correct people too often and create words that my children will be offended by (whether they should be offended by them or not).

It is hard to know what is right or wrong. I think your two main points are very important and fairly concrete. The rest is a little up to interpretation and personal preferance, which makes it very hard to know what is correct or not.

L L said...

One thing that I have learned especially since we have had contact with a young lady that is expecting and planning on placing her child for adoption is that every adoption is unique. Every journey is unique. The term "gave up" really grates on my nerves and I cringe when I hear people using it, but I also understand that this is what they have most likely have heard and do not know any different. Just like the term birthmom, it is commonly used by many adoption agencies so it is what most adoptive parents are more comfortable with. It isn't that they are wishing to be inconsiderate of expectant moms, that is just the term that they are most familiar with. But since starting the adoption process I have really tried to refrain from using birthmom before actual relinquishment...they are expectant moms. I have grown so much during this process but like I have said others will have different journeys.

Thanks for this post it does make one think and maybe reconsider words that they may normally use.

Debbie B said...

Great list. Your two main ones are the ones I struggle with the most. I hear them so often and depending on the situation correct when I respond. Like, why'd she give her up? I respond with, she placed her for adoption because....

Adoptive parenting is Parenting Plus!

Eileen said...

Good idea for a post...I may have to borrow it for my family and friends to read;)

The one I think about frequently is the "he/she IS adopted". Most people don't really think of what that means. I feel that I'll always be conscious of hearing that and wanting to educate that our child WAS adopted, he/she is not adopted everyday. It was just how our child came into our life and it was a one-time event.

Thanks for sharing the list:)

Jill said...

Melba- You always have such touching posts! Thank you so much for sharing this. I am still thinking of you guys and checking on you often.

alicia said...

I remember learning all these in our adoption seminar too. We actully broke off into groups and had to discuss a lot of the verbage out there and decide if it was bad, good or didn't matter. it was really neat to see what other ppl thought of all these words! I agree with all the ones you have here though! great post

Anonymous said...

I just stumbled across you blog, and I must politely disagree with the idea that it is preferable to say "I was adopted" to saying "I am adopted." As an adoptee, to say "I was adopted" suggests that 36 years ago I got myself a new set of parents and that was that. The fact of the matter is, I AM adopted and that fact shapes so much of who I am both directly and indirectly that to suggest it is simply a thing of the past does a disservice to the importance it plays in someone's life on an ongoing basis.