Monday, August 5, 2013

Terms Matter

Real Parent
This is the one adoption term I hear more than any other. "Does she get to see her real parents? Her real family?" It makes me feel stuck between answering (because I know what people mean) and correcting. Why would I correct this term?  It's simple. What is the definition of real? According to my google search, real means, "Actually existing as a thing or occurring in fact; not imagined or supposed: "Julius Caesar was a real person"." Birth parents actually exist. This beautiful child didn't grow in a flower. She grew in a womb. A real womb. And she is being raised by a real parent (me) at least I think I am real.

In our house, we use birth parent/family for Sweetie (since her adoption is finalized) and just parent/family for foster kids whose parental rights haven't been terminated.

Now that we have established that everyone is real, here are some terms you can practice with - birth parent/family, natural parent/family, biological parent/family.  All work, some are preferred more than others by different families - but all are better than "real."

Own Child
When someone hears I am a foster parent or have just adopted, one of the first getting to know you questions is do you have any kids.  I generally respond by saying that I have x-number of kids living with me.  The follow up to that is, "Do you have any kids of your own?"  Again, I know what they mean.  But as long as my foster children are with me, they are my responsibly, they live with me 24/7, it is my job to feed them, love them, make sure they make it to school and do their homework.  They sure feel like my own.  And my daughter who I have adopted?  She is my OWN child.  She isn't biologically my child, but she is my own - I claim her and love her deeply.  A better way to ask the question might be, "How many kids do you have?"  And leave it at that.

Also, when you are talking to a biological parent, their children who have been adopted are still their own children.  So you can still ask, "How many kids do you have?"  That way it opens the door if people want to share more, without presuming anything.

Adopted CHILD
Children who have been adopted (and ironically those who haven't been adopted) grow up.  This is a pet-peeve of mine because it feels like the adoption world forgets this fact - children grow up, have voices and views and thoughts all their own.  So much so that in word, the word adoptee comes up as a misspelled word.  When they are no longer kids, the correct terminology is Adoptee or adopted person.    That's the only point.

She IS Adopted
Adoption affects a person (and both of their families) for life, but its a past event and also only one part of who they are.  So instead of asking is someone IS adopted, you can ask if they were adopted.  (Thanks jamielaw16 for pointing this out in the comments section!)

She is SO lucky (to be adopted by you)
At the most basic level a child who is "adoptable," has lost their first family and their first home at the very least.  I have heard it said that adoption is trauma.  So even if the child is in a more healthy and safe home with you, lucky isn't the right word.  I often correct people, she isn't lucky, I am the lucky one because I get to be her Mamma.  Cause we know that's the truth.

You should be Grateful, You’re so lucky
A theme I hear from adoptees over and over (thanks for the anonymous comment in the comment section) are people telling them they should be "grateful" or feel lucky they have been adopted.  See above adoption lingo correction first and then realize that just as adoption carries with it pain, the types of adoptive families very much, the support the adoptee received varies much and people, in general, very much.  So instead of "should-ing" people into one category or another, let's ask each-other our stories and then listen (or be respectful if someone doesn't want to share their story), because some stories would leave a person FAR from grateful.


  1. Oh my gosh! Thank you SO much for posting this! As an adult adoptee, I really, really dislike it when people ask me about my "real" parents. They are all real! I, too, know what they mean and try to make a joke out of the situation, usually by saying something about "real" vs. "fake" parents. :) It's one of my biggest pet peeves and even my closest of friends, who know how I feel, still sometimes use this terminology and I lovingly remind them of what they are really saying.

    The other thing that bothers me that is a touchy subject for some people who have been adopted is how the word adopted gets used. Some people say "I am adopted" and some people say "I was adopted." I, personally, prefer the past tense as it was an action is my past, but is not my definition.

    1. I agree on the is/was one too - so true that adoption doesn't define adoptees or adoptive families - its one piece of who we are. Thanks for sharing!

  2. As an adoptee one thing that hurt me more than anything is adults telling me as a child I should be thankful. Mind you I was never unthankful. But when a teacher (who were the worst offenders besides my parents) would tell me to write my paper on being adopted and when I would say I wanted to write it on something else I would get the you ought to be thankful statement. To this day that stays in my mind... So very hurtful!! Was anyone every thankful for me??

    1. I'm so sorry. It would be incredibly damaging, not to mention just plain annoying, to have people in authority over you as a child demand your gratitude for something you had no choice in. I'm an adoptive mama and we are trying to be very intentional about how we speak with our daughter about her adoption. One thing we ALWAYS point out is that we are the grateful ones because we have her, we never expect it to be the other way around. Like you said, not that she would ever be "ungrateful" per se, but she had no choice in the whole adoption situation and we don't expect her to be any more grateful for us than any child (bio or adopted) would naturally be of their parents.


It'll be a pleasure hearing your thoughts. Alisa