Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Positive adoption terminology

A lot of the adoption websites that I follow have had interesting posts about challenging questions asked by strangers. There are many questions that are asked simply out of curiosity, and other questions or comments that are just plain rude ("How much did she cost?" or this horrible comment, made to a 3-year-old child by a sales clerk: "I bet your mommy and daddy are still paying for you!"). You gotta wonder what some of these people are thinking.

Many families are happy to be unofficial spokespersons for international adoption, and they view questions and comments as a way to educate others about the process and hopefully help them to dismiss negative stereotypes about adoption. Others, especially those with older children, wish that they could just go out in public without the extra attention of the stares and questions that are almost always directed at them.

I feel as though I'm still in the honeymoon stage of this whole thing, happy to answer questions, but wary about how much I share with complete strangers. I'm not sure if or when or how the transition from one type of parent to the other will happen for me, but I'm glad that I at least have the experience of others to draw upon when the time comes to curb the information flow to those outside my circle of family and friends.

Sometimes I read adoption websites and I wonder if some families aren't just being overly-sensitive, but then I try to imagine what my daughter would think if she were older and someone said these things in her presence. I hope I can respond without letting my emotions take over. For example, for comments about the expense of adoption, maybe people should be reminded that children who are adopted do not have price tags; the adoption process does. Or perhaps I'll simply smile and say "Aren't all children just priceless?" or "Both of my children are priceless, aren't yours?" Of course I've shared some expense-related information with family and friends. The reality is that the information is readily available on the Internet for anyone who is either truly interested in adoption OR just plain nosy.

Some families are upset about being approached at all; others, by how they are approached ("Is she yours?"). And even things that seem pretty benign to me seem to offend some families. "Oh, isn't she adorable?!?" is one that seems innocent enough, but bothers some families. Well, as the mother of two children, one biological, most people say this to babies anyway, so it may have nothing to do with the fact that she is obviously different from me. I just smile and say "Thank you!" or "We think so too!" Some people struggle with how to answer the "Where is she from?" question. Many answer only with their hometown, while others say "We live in , but she was born in China." The most frequently-heard comment so far is "Isn't she just the luckiest little baby to be here with you now?" Honestly, we're the lucky ones, so that's how I reply. It's up to her to decide someday if she feels lucky to have us as a family.

Anyway, I found several postings on positive adoption language. I've merged several lists and deleted things that weren't important to me yet. Here it is. I'm going to try to be aware of these terms when I respond to questions. I'm not sure I'll always be successful, but if I'm going to be an ambassador for the adoption community, I think I need to try.

Birthparent INSTEAD OF Real parent. All parents are real, they just become parents in different ways.

Birth child INSTEAD OF Own child. I need more practice with this one. One question that I've been asked a lot throughout my wait was never anticipated: "Was EJ adopted also?" I've always questioned my answer, which usually comes out of my mouth faster than my brain can think (and those of you who know me know that this happens a lot!). I find myself saying, "Oh, she's our own." And I need to say that she's a birth child or a biological child.

Parent INSTEAD OF Adoptive parent. I've already broken this rule all through this post and had to go back and edit!

Adoption triad INSTEAD OF Adoption triangle. The adoption triad refers to the child, the parents, and the birth parents.

Child placed for adoption INSTEAD OF An unwanted child. Many children are available for adoption for reasons other than they were unwanted.

Was adopted INSTEAD OF Is adopted. Adoption is a process and an event; it is not a label.

International adoption INSTEAD OF Foreign adoption. Apparently "international" is the preferred term. Who knew? I suppose use of the term "foreign" can also be applied to something strange or unknown, so maybe it's not preferred for that reason?

Chinese or Asian INSTEAD OF Oriental. For use when referring to the child's race.

I'm sure I'll have a lot more commentary on this in the future as I make my way through the questions and comments and situations that people present. I was approached by an older woman while camping this weekend who had a very sensible approach for how she launched into the adoption topic with me. She stopped by our table at breakfast and introduced herself to Sophie and EJ by commenting on their cuteness (of course!), and then proceeded to tell me that her granddaughter joined their family a year ago from China. It was a nice way for her to let me know that she had a close connection to the adoption experience, and it left the door open if I chose to expand on the conversation, which I did by saying that Sophie had been a part of our family for nearly three months now.

1 comment:

Carrie said...

My parents live in the Mid-West and they use the term Oriental instead of asian or chinese. I think that it is just something that is accepted where they live and at their age, but it drives me NUTS!!!!