Thursday, June 23, 2011

Raising a Healthy Adopted Child: Adoption Language

Dealing with not "politically correct" adoption language is an issue I face in the world with my daughter. I cringe both inside and out when someone says, right in front of my soon-to-be six-year-old, "Do you know her real parents?" or "How much did she cost?" or even, and this one nearly made me pounce upon the ignorant stranger, "Isn't it terrible that they kill their girl babies in China?"

Yes, yes, all of these comments make sense if you are not "in the world" of adoption language, but it still never ceases to amaze me that people think they can say such things right in front of my child.  Let's talk terminology, so the next time you are in this situation, you don't have to refrain yourself from punching the person in front of you, but rather can educate them kindly.
  • Biological or Birth parents are the correct terms for the parents that gave life to our precious children. "Real parents" is not acceptable.  We use the terms Chinese mommy and Chinese daddy when we talk about Mae's birthparents, as a way to keep the language simple.
  • Adoptive parents is the correct term for us, the parents that are raising the child.
  • Forever Family is a phrase many families use to describe the family that was created through adoption. We don't use this term, but it is a lovely one. 
  • You grew in my heart is a sweet phrase taken from a line in the famous adoption poem known as The Adoption Creed (below). This phrase has helped me many times when the boys want stories of their antics while in my womb.
  • We chose you is another phrase that, while not completely true in our adoption since Mae was assigned to us, is at the very least a testament to the fact that we wanted you, we wanted a daughter - you were so very much wanted! This, above all else, makes her feel special and happy.

It is impossible for me to imagine that I am not Mae's "real" mother. She is as much my daughter and a member of our family as either of the boys. Yet to the world, there is a difference to be explored. Correct language can help narrow the gap between what we know to be true and what is acceptable to talk about in front of our children.

The Adoption Creed

Not flesh of my flesh
nor bone of my bone,
but still miraculously my own.

Never forget for a single minute, 
that you grew not under my heart,
but in it.

-author unknown

Another question that gets asked frequently is the cost question. "How much did she cost?" rubs me the wrong way in so many ways that often I will answer flippantly. But I realize now that, with a proper reply, perhaps I can help the person avoid angering another family in the future.

Now, if the person is truly interested in adoption, then it's a whole other story. But to the random stranger in the grocery store? "The adoption fees totaled the same as my C-section!" is one response I use when I have my boys with me.

I have never yet given the dollar amount, except to other interested-in-adoption families. "How incredibly tactless!" is a reply I would love to give, but so far have held myself back. How do you respond?

Similar to the dollar amount question is the "Where is she from?" question. I recently asked for suggestions on Twitter and my favorite of all was, "From Boulder!" That seems a bit flippant, but I loved it and may use it to total strangers who have no business asking.

In general, "From China" elicits lots of head nods and sometimes even a heart-warming story of someone's sister who adopted from China, or someone's cousin's friend ...  At least in those moments there is a desire for connection.

My favorite is when someone approaches me and says, "Your daughter is so beautiful. I'm in the process of adopting from China. Where was your daughter born?" A perfect 10, this way of approaching the situation makes everyone feel at ease.

How do you deal with awkward questions from strangers in front of your children? I'd love some stories, and suggestions!


Jolene said...

No advice here. We are adopting a handsome son from China and we often get the following question "Whats wrong with him they don't give up their boys easily". Well, there is nothing WRONG with him even if he is special needs.

Looking forward to reading more stories and suggestions!

Colleen said...

Ellen, as a single adoptive mom, I've been asked more than once if I had considered artificial insemination! (Not since before I brought Mary home, thankfully.) I didn't have the come-back then, but I'm just waiting to use it: "Do you ask every pregnant women if she didn't consider adoption?"

Ellen said...

Wow ladies! I am constantly amazed at the things people think it OK to say. How old is your son, Jolene? It makes me so angry when things are said in front of my daughter like she's not even there!!! Colleen, that is infuriating. I LOVE your comeback!!!!! I hope you get to use it! Well, I guess I don't hope you get it use it, since I really hope people will be more attentive to what they say, but it is a great line!!!

wendy said...

I love it when I or Jeff are with the kids with out the other and someone assumes that the spouce is chinese, any more when they ask I is your husband chinese I say yes and walk away. lol

Jennifer Grant said...

Great post - thank you - I posted a link to it on my Facebook group page (for adoptive parents) at
All best to you,
Jennifer Grant

Ellen said...

Wendy - you say yes? That's funny. I don't get that, only because of my blond boys. It's so interesting what we WANT to say and what we end up saying in the moment, isn't it?

Jennifer - thank you so much! I would love to review your book for the blog! Is it a new one or would I find it at my library? I love finding new sources of inspiration! I've just finished "Bound by Love" written by Lily Nie, one of the co-founders of our adoption agency. I'm going to review that one in September for a post on "inspiring adoption books". I'd love to read yours! :-)