I’ve been told by my caseworker that I’m very precise with my words. Words are important. Phrase things without precision and you risk misunderstandings. Use the wrong word and you can cause hurt. Leaving out important words can also hurt.
Recently the leaving out of words has been concerning me. Hiccup, our foster baby (who we will most likely adopt) is Mr.H’s biological brother. When people find this out they always make a comment about how nice it will be for Mr.H to grow up with his brother. I cringe each time they say this because each time they leave off an important word. They leave off the word “biological”. They didn’t just mean his brother they meant a genetic brother, a birth brother, a biological brother.
It’s true that it will be nice for him to have a genetic connection in his forever family. I don’t disagree with that idea. It will also be nice that there is one less biological sibling for him to find when he is ready. I do disagree with leaving off the word genetic/birth/biological when referring to him being raised with his brother. That is because one day we will probably have another son that will not share Mr.H’s genetics at all. That boy will be his brother and it will be nice for Mr.H to be raised with that child, his brother. Can you imagine their confusion, frustration and possible hurt should they hear a person say “its nice that they’re brothers” but not be including the one that doesn’t share genetics, as though he was somehow less their brother because their DNA doesn’t match up?
There are so many tips about what a person should say and how they should say it when talking to a family that grew or is growing through adoption. I am sure you can find a lot if you do a pin search for “adoption language”. Here are some over arching tips to consider.
- Be precise, technical even:
When discussing genetics, birth family or birth family relationships use words like genetic, birth or biological. The word “other” can also be good, especially when there is a very open adoption. ie, his other mom, his other dad.
- Avoid the word “real”:
I mean avoid it like the plague. Just skip it. This word rarely creates positive feelings in the adoption world unless someone is saying “You are a real mom. Your mother son relationship is 100% real” and that is only necessary when you are consoling someone who was told otherwise by some ignorant person. Please also know that there are real moms out there that bravely gave what was most dear to them so their child could have the life they needed even though that meant that life wouldn’t be spent with them. They’re real moms too. So yah, its better just to avoid the word “real”.
- Don’t ask why the kids are free for adoption or in care:
This includes asking about where the birth parents are, or if he is a “drug baby”. First of all its none of your business. Unless you’re a family member (or worlds best supportive bestie) who is trying to understand their new permeant niece or nephew don’t ask. If you do fit into that category following tip #4 is good for you too.
- Don’t get into a deep discussion about adoption in front of our kids:
I don’t mean a conversation about what agency did you use or when did junior join your family. I mean anything birth family related. I had a well meaning relative who started telling my son that he has two moms like so-and-so. The relative also made some comments about my son’s story and about my son’s birth mom that were not appropriate for her to say. Those comments were nice, but they also weren’t true. My son’s story is NOT anyone else’s story. He knows he is adopted. He knows the general meaning of being adopted. As he gets older we tell him more. The people who are going to tell him are me and my husband because we are his parents. We know him and his story better than anyone else on this earth. No one should try to tell him his story even if they don’t agree with how we are addressing his adoption because its not their place.
These are my four tips. Do you have any? I would love to hear them if you do. If you would like to hear more about adoption language you can follow a linkup found at the bottom of this post.
Don’t feel bad if you’ve done one of these things. It can be hard to know all of the sensitive words and things when you haven’t lived it. Just remember for the future and lovingly educate when appropriate.
Have a g’day,