November is National Adoption Month and it's a great time for us all to think about how we can support adoption in our communities. Each year, there are over 100,000 adoptions in the United States and there are more than 5 million people who were adopted living in the U.S. right now. Chances are, each of us has one or more friends or family members who was adopted or who has adopted. So it's important we all know how to talk about adoption in a respectful way, and avoid accidentally offending our friends and family. I've had several adoptions in my family and I've talked with over 1,000 adopting families, and you'd be amazed by some of the inconsiderate things people say -- even though they aren't trying to be inconsiderate. Here are six things everyone should know to say, or not say, about adoption:
- Don't say, "Real family." Do say, "birth family."
Sometimes people ask about an adopted child's "real family," which unintentionally implies that the adopting parents are not the child's real family. Instead, they should ask about the child's "birth family."
- Don't say, "Adopted parents," "adopted mom," "adopted dad." Do say, "parents," "mom," "dad."
By putting "adopted" before "parents" or "mom" or "dad", it is implying you don't think the parents are "full" parents. But a family is not defined by biology -- families are defined by unconditional love, and parents who adopt love their children just as much as parents who give birth.
- Don't say, "Were you unable to have your own children?" Do say, "How did you decide to adopt?"
This statement is bad news for several reasons. Calling birth children their "own" children, implies you don't consider children who were adopted to be their "own," which is not true. Also, this implies that anyone's first choice would be to have biological children and that adopting is a last resort. Wording like this can make children who were adopted feel inferior, which they shouldn't. Lastly, it implies that the parents adopted for infertility reasons, which is why some parents adopt, but not all of them. People adopt for many different reasons.
- Don't say, "Where did you get them from?" (Looking at parents with children of a different race)
This statement would only be appropriate if you were asking the parents where they bought their clothes. It's not appropriate to ask this about their children. If you are genuinely interested because perhaps you are also interested in inter-country adoption or domestic transracial adoption, you can ask the parent, preferably not in front of the child, if they have experience with adoption and for their advice.
- Don't say,"Are you worried she'll want to reunify with her birth parents one day?" Do say, "Has your child had any contact with her birth family?"
It has become more and more common for children who were adopted to have contact with their birth family throughout their life. This does not mean they will leave their parents to go back with their birth parents. They just become part of the child's extended family.
- Don't say, "Why did the birth mother give the child up?" or "Why didn't the birth mother keep her?" Do say, "Why did the birth mother decide to place her child for adoption?" "Giving up" or "not keeping" implies the birth mother abandoned the child. Placing a child for adoption implies the birth mother loved the child and made a plan for her.
These are the six positive adoption language phrases I felt were the most important to share. If you are curious to learn more positive adoption expressions, you can go here for an extensive list.