We all grow up with the saying that “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me”. And while it all sounds nice and cute, it’s really not true as anyone who has lived for any amount of time could tell you. Language plays a huge role in our day to day and what and how we say something can have lasting impact. I think the language is only amplified in adoption.
We had one of our adoption training days this past Saturday and during part of it we talked about the language of adoption and what people and ourselves say. Part of the confusion and resulting hurt with adoption is how adoption is viewed by many in society. Adoption is often viewed as “second best”. People will say “Oh, you couldn’t have kids of your own, so you had to adopt”. The “how sad” is often implied in the tone of voice if it is not spoken. For many families adoption may not have been their initial choice as how they planned on having a family, but it doesn’t mean that it is any less of a way to have a family. The flip side is sometimes true, people make a big deal about how great it is that your family is reaching out and adopting “one of those poor little kids”. And they will often go on and on about how great you are and how lucky that poor child is to have a family now.
One of the big issues with this, besides being wrong on both fronts (adoption may be a second choice but is not second best, and you are no better of a person for adopting), is the message and the words that our children hear. When our child hears, “oh poor you, you had to adopt” they are going to sense and begin to believe that they are only second best and not what the family really ever wanted. When they hear the praise for how amazing their parents are for choosing to adopt they are going to wonder what is so wrong with them that only special people who deserve a lot of credit can handle adopting. I pray that my boys know, no matter the means by which they joined our family that they were wanted, prayed for, and we are so blessed to have them.
And now let’s add in the words “real” and “own”. Being adopted myself and planning on adopting, I’ve heard these phrases “oh is he your real son?” or “what do you know about your real mother?” and “can you not have children of your own” or some version of that. My “real” mother is the one that I’ve known since I was two weeks old, I may never know my birth mother this side of heaven, but I will always know and love my “real” mother because she is the only mom I have ever know or will know. When we bring our little boy home from Korea I will be no more of a “real” mom to Caedmon and Leighton then I am to him. All three of them will be, and already are, my sons. I may not know one of them yet, but he is still very much my son and I cannot wait to bring him home and make him part of our family. The instructor of our class put it the best, a mother of two beautiful girls from Korea: “Adoption and birth are just two ways of making a real family with kids of our own”. I don’t think I could have put it better and she’s totally right. A number of families (whether through birth, adoption, divorce, remarriage, foster care, blending, or extended families) may not all be related by blood, but that doesn’t make them any less of a real family.
I don’t think most of the time that anyone is purposefully trying to be hurtful. Granted I have been told by someone who knew I was adopted and planning on adopting that “adopted children aren’t real children, they are just charity cases”, and yes I managed to walk away with gritted teeth and did not punch her, but most people aren’t trying to be hurtful. It all comes down to knowing the language and changing some perspectives. One may not know what a family has gone through prior to adoption, and it’s not really one’s place to ask either. For some adoption may be the second choice, or like for us, it’s always been the way we planned on adding to our family, but that doesn’t mean its second best. I am not my son’s adoptive mother, I am his mother, he has a biological mother and a foster mother in Korea, but I am (across many miles now and hopefully soon on this side of the world), his mom and always will be. I am blessed to be the mom of three boys, even though they came to our family by different means.
If you get the chance, please check out my husband’s blog http://www.amorningcalm.com Thanks!