Attitudes about adoption have changed significantly even within many of our lifetimes. It was often shrouded in secrecy and gossiped about. People were often afraid to tell their adoptive parents that they wanted to know who their birth parents were – or even to meet them.
Today, adoption is typically much more openly discussed. It’s not unusual for opposite-sex and same-sex couples and even single people to adopt children of different races and nationalities than their own. Family members sometimes adopt and raise children when their parents can no longer care for them.
As attitudes about adoption have evolved, so has much of the language around it. However, that evolution has been slower to happen. Even well-meaning people often use terms that are hurtful to children and their parents.
Many adoption professionals are working to make more “adoption-positive” language the norm. Let’s look at just a couple of examples of language that may one day be in the ashbin of history.
“Giving a baby up for adoption”
This might not sound so bad. However, besides being hurtful to a birth mother, it doesn’t describe what a woman (and sometimes a couple) does when they make the decision to give a child a chance at a better life than they can provide, or when they’re just not ready to raise a child (or another child).
The “real” parents
Kids who have been adopted are often asked if they know who their “real” parents are. That can be extremely confusing and hurtful to a child and insulting to the adoptive parents. A child’s adoptive and birth parents can all be considered their “real” parents. However, for many kids, their adoptive parents are the only ones they ever know. Even if they eventually choose to connect with their birth mother or other biological relatives, they often still consider the people who adopted and raised them their “real” parents.
One of the greatest gifts adoptive parents can give their children is to prepare them to handle careless and hurtful language and not to let it damage their identity or self-esteem. Some of the choices you make during the adoption process will determine how much of a role a child’s birth parents will play in their life or even if they are able to learn who they are, if they choose to. Having experienced legal guidance helps you explore all of your options.