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Lisa Belkin Headshot

Who Cares That Tom and Nicole's Kids Were Adopted?

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"Adopted is something you were, not something you are."

That is how parents whose children became theirs describe things. Adoption is an action, they say. And once it is over you are a "child," not an "adopted child." At least most of the time.

The word "adopted" as a modifier is being given a workout in the days since Katie Holmes announced her split from Tom Cruise. As you probably know, Cruise was married before, to Nicole Kidman, and during their marriage they adopted two children. News organizations have spent the week telling us of Katie's fears that, as Suri grows and becomes more entrenched in her father's Scientology religion, she might lose contact with her mother the way Kidman did with Connor and Isabella.

Reading an in-depth investigative analysis on this in the Hollywood Reporter this morning I was struck by how often the older Cruise kids were described in terms of whose womb they exited.

"Kidman effectively lost the two children she adopted with Cruise when the kids chose to live with their father after the divorce," writer Dana Kennedy began. Okay. That makes sense. It's not like they need to hide the fact, either.

But then the story continues:

"Cruise's... adopted daughter Isabella worked for Holmes at her clothing line..."

and

"...Scientology deliberately turned the two adopted children of Cruise and Kidman against Kidman during and after the divorce..."  

and

"...they split everything 50-50, including custody of their adopted daughter Isabella and son Connor."

and

"Holmes... might be more successful holding on to Suri after her divorce than Kidman was with her two adopted children..."

You get the picture.

Why the use of the word every time the children are mentioned? Is the point to imply that Holmes' loss of Suri would somehow be greater because she was her "real" daughter, as opposed to Kidman's loss of two children who weren't really hers?

The journalism rule I was taught is that you only mention that a child is adopted if you are discussing the act of, or fallout from, the adoption itself. It's a good rule for general conversation in life, too. If you wouldn't use the word "biological" when describing a child, than why use the word "adopted"?

Note to the Hollywood reporter: take a page from US Weekly. (Not a sentence I ever thought I would write) Here's what US reporter Justin Ravitz wrote about how Nicole is reacting to the Holmes/Cruise split:

"The Paperboy star was dining at the restaurant Sea Salt with Keith Urban, her husband of six years, with whom she has two daughters: Sunday, nearly 4, and Faith Margaret, 19 months."

As it happens, Faith Margaret was delivered by a surrogate. We all understand there is no need to attach that fact every time her name is mentioned, right? So why so much use of the word "adopted"?