Friday, February 23, 2007

The language of adoption

Finally a post for the wait - catching up on what I promised. I have no idea if anyone out there cares much for my commentary, but I'll give it a go. This particular topic could really take many posts and it just might turn out that way.

First, let me say that I had no concept about adoption language before getting involved in this. I have, however, always regarded adoption in a positive and normal way. Adoption is a very special means to grow a family, just like pregnancy is a very special means to grow a family. Most kids are born into a family, some are adopted. Both equally valid, challenging, and rewarding. The idea is that adopted kids should not be viewed differently, treated differently, or addressed differently. Kids should, however, know that they were adopted.

As for the "language of adoption" - this is something that many articles and book chapters address, and was covered in some detail during our class back in December. As I've said before, I'm probably the least politically correct person in the world, so trust me - this isn't about political correctness. It's about what you say to whom and in front of whom. And it's about how and what you talk about that may or may not reveal how you feel about some aspect of adoption, or inter-cultural adoption (I’ll save that for another post)

We end up sharing our adoption plans with all kinds of people just because it comes up in conversation. You know, all parents talk about their kids and most of them ask people our age if we have any yet. Our answer is as you might expect – “no, but we're in the process of adopting” - which leads to a wide range of reactions. Most people are immediately supportive. Some don’t even blink or even mention adoption again –welcoming us to the parents club and discussing those challenges. Others are really curious about how adoption works and ask a lot of questions. Those are by far the most common categories of reactions, both very supportive and appropriate.
Let me give you a couple of examples of the less appropriate comments...

1) In one such case (with someone I may never see again), the first words in response to sharing our story was "oh so you can't have any of your own." He stated it as if it were a factual observation of our situation. There's so much wrong with that statement that it's hard to imagine where to begin. Why would anyone assume adoptive parents cannot have conceive? And if that were true – it’s totally inappropriate to remind them of that fact while they are sharing their joy with you. Perhaps more importantly for us, our daughter WILL be our own - the same as a biological child would be your own child. This notion actually comes up a lot, and there are even ruder ways of saying it.

Do I think this person meant anything the least bit malicious? Of course not. Chances are he simply associates adoption with infertility. Actually, he had to have assumed we were unable to conceive, or he wouldn't have brought it up. Perhaps it's a foreign concept to him that adoption might be a first or equal option. How many of us ever even thought about it before? Please know that I really am not offended by these comments, but they did open my eyes. Suppose Carmen had been with me and someone said something like this? “You’re second best because Mommy and Daddy only adopted you because they couldn’t make a baby the normal way.” For a child, that thought process is not that big of a stretch. Talk about inferiority complex!

2) "You're such good people to be doing what you're doing. You're girl will be lucky to have you."
OK, now this is a tuff one because I'm betting a lot of people are thinking - hey, what's wrong with that? The problems with this statement are more related to the reasons most people adopt, and the stigma placed on adopted kids by our society. Again, another one of those concepts I never thought about until I started this process, and I even commented on it, way back near the beginning of this blog.
Let me put it as simply as I can, we are not adopting because we are good people. We are not adopting because we are humanitarians of some sort, trying to solve the socio-economic problems in Central America. If that were our goal, our money would actually be better spent in other ways. You’ve read it here dozens of times – we’re adopting because we have so much love to share, and wish to grow our family. One way to do that is to provide a home for a little girl that would not otherwise have one. This is actually quite different than saving a child from poverty. That’s why they call it a match made in heaven!
As far as the actual words, they really are generally harmless to me, but, we do have to be careful later. There’s no way CJ should be expected to be grateful for our having adopted her. I’m sure we are all grateful for our families, but we are not “rescuing” or “saving” her (words taken from actual quotes). Adoptive families have shared with us that people have actually approached their child and TOLD them that they are lucky to have been adopted. Yikes! The reality is - she is in some ways saving us and we are the ones who are blessed.

I actually have much more to share on this subject, some of it much less heavy. Hopefully, I’m making some sense so far – just let me know if what I’m saying isn’t getting through.

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At 3:34 PM, Blogger mel said...

great post. well said. I hope this opens the eyes of some and makes them think before they speak.

At 12:32 AM, Anonymous Charo said...

You write very well.


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