When you choose to adopt, you undertake the responsibility of educating friends and family about adoption. This is a big responsibility, and one you should not take lightly. There are often misconceptions and assumptions that are made when people talk about adoption, and as adoptive parents, you have an obligation to clear up those misconceptions and assumptions.
Language is incredibly important and how you speak about adoption matters. Here are some things to keep in mind as an adoptive parent when educating friends and family about adoption.
You do not owe everyone an explanation. People tend to get curious and have a lot of questions when you share that you adopted a child or introduce your child to others. These questions can feel insensitive and intrusive to adoptees. Remember that you do not owe others answers to their questions and it is not your job to assuage their curiosity.
Use correct terminology. If you hear incorrect language surrounding topics of adoption, it is your job to correct it if you feel comfortable doing so. Some people are familiar with adoption-positive and adoption-affirming language, but others are not. Some common corrections are:
- Birth Parents & Biological Parents: When referring to the individuals who gave birth to the child, don’t use “real parents” or “natural parents,” which can be hurtful or misleading. Instead, use “birth parents” or “biological parents.”
- Placing a Child for Adoption: This phrase is more respectful than “giving up for adoption” or “putting up for adoption,” which imply abandonment or neglect.
- Adoption Plan: Instead of “unwanted pregnancy,” which carries a negative connotation, use “adoption plan” to acknowledge the thoughtful decision-making process involved.
- Adoption Journey: Using the term ‘“gotcha day” can minimize the child’s experience. Instead, use “adoption journey,” because it is more inclusive and acknowledges the complexities of adoption.
Affirm and speak highly of birth parents. When talking about adoption with others, people may want to know the backstory or have questions about the birth parents and their situation, specifically about what led them to placing a child for adoption. It is of utmost importance that you navigate these conversations gracefully and tactfully. In every way possible, regardless of the situation, you must speak respectfully and kindly about birth parents. Their stories are not yours to share with others and how you narrate their role in your adoption journey matters. Always remember that what you have gained through adoption is what they have lost.
Explain the different types of adoption. All adoptions are unique, but it is helpful to educate others on the different types of adoption so they can ask appropriate questions and understand the process. Most people do not know that open or semi-open adoptions are more common than closed adoptions. You do not have to share your child’s story, but educating others on how adoption is commonly done is beneficial for those outside of the adoption community.
Challenge dominant narratives. It is imperative to educate others when they speak about adoption from a one-sided or uninformed perspective. Individuals without a personal connection to adoption may only consider the positive aspects of adoption, so encourage them to hold space for both. Push others to think about the grief and loss interwoven into adoption. Furthermore, encourage them to hold space for the trauma often experienced by both adoptees and birth parents. Challenge incorrect, dominant adoption narratives with truth.
Language and rhetoric surrounding adoption will continue to evolve to better meet the needs and honor those within the adoption triad. Be open to continuously learning so you can educate others when they speak adoption from an uneducated or biased perspective.
By Ramya Gruneisen