The first recorded evidence of adoption is in antiquity, yet there has been more change in the world of adoption over just these past five decades than in all of previous history. These changes follow broader societal trends of greater freedom of information, more open discussion about personal matters, and greater understanding of child health and development. We recognize and respect the rights, the emotions, the difficulties, and the triumphs of all parties involved in the adoption, including the child, the adoptive parents, the birth parents, and extended family members (e.g., the birth mother’s feelings of loss and grief, the adoptive parent’s reaction to intrusive questions, the child’s reaction to trans-racial adoption, open adoptions, etc.). These positive changes have not only occurred among individuals, but also at the level of the U.S. Government (which offers the adoption tax credit, subsidizes the adoption of special needs children, supports photo listings, foster care, etc.), and among many governments throughout the world.
Much is written elsewhere on the many topics and complex issues in the world of adoption, such as types of adoption (open, semi-open, closed), domestic adoption, foster care adoption, international adoption, the birth family, the adoptive family, application processes, same-sex couples, adoption trends, the costs of adoption, language of adoption, and cultural issues. It is not my intention to provide an overview of the technical aspects of adoption. Those details vary across states and countries and can change somewhat frequently over time. Also, it is not my intention to provide a summary of the emotional sequences one may expect through the adoption process.
Instead, I’d like to make a little “Public Service Announcement” about Positive Adoption Language. In the section of this website entitled, “Words that Wound: The worst fairy-tale that you can tell your kids,” I argue that it is important for parents to give their children the skills to be resilient in the face of vicious or ignorant words. This is especially important for adoptive parents and their children, as there are many examples of negative language. In general, the words we choose say a lot about what we think and value. Those who use negative adoption language, though, are usually not “vicious,” but rather they simply lack familiarity with the positive terminology. Use of negative adoption language perpetuates myths, but if you choose to use the following positive adoption language, I thank you for “talking the talk” about the miracle that is adoption.
Positive language Negative language
Birth parent Real parent
Biological parent Natural parent
Birth child Own child
My child Adopted child
Born to unmarried parents Illegitimate
Terminate parental rights Give up
Make an adoption plan Give away
Waiting child Adoptable child; Available child
Making contact with Reunion
Parent Adoptive parent
International adoption Foreign adoption
Permission to sign a release Disclosure
Search Track down parents
Child placed for adoption An unwanted child
Court termination Child taken away
Child from abroad Foreign child
Was adopted Is adopted
My four children were adopted, and they each have unique, wonderful stories. I will not share their stories here, though, because their stories will be much better told at a later date, in their voices. For now, I can tell you that adoption is the single greatest gift that I have ever received.