In our house, adoption is a normal topic of conversation. We don’t talk about it all the time, but it’s not a secret that M is adopted. We read adoption books, we talk about her birth family with her, and we take opportunities to normalize adoption as much as possible so it’s not a big deal. I forget sometimes that this isn’t a topic of conversation in everyone’s house.
My sister-in-law emailed me a few days ago and said they were watching a show that had a foster child story line. My 4-year old niece asked what a foster child was, so my SIL tried to explain in age-appropriate terms. My niece then said, “Oh! It’s like how Aunt E and Uncle M are M’s parents, but she also has other parents who couldn’t take care of her.”
My SIL and brother were shocked. Apparently, they had never told my niece that M is adopted and they didn’t know she knew, even though she’s met M’s birth family and we’ve talked about adoption in front of her.
My SIL asked me what was okay or not okay to tell my niece and asked for tips on how she could help explain adoption to her. I am so happy she asked, because it gave me the opportunity to educate her on appropriate/non-appropriate adoption language. For me, the two terms that make me crazy are “gave up” and “real parents.”
We say “placed for adoption” or “made an adoption plan” instead of “gave up for adoption.” (This is a huge one for me.) M’s birth family did not give up on her; they made a choice after much thought and consideration.
We also say “birth parents,” not “real parents.” We are her “real” parents, even though we are not her biological parents.
I’ve had many conversations with adults who unknowingly used these negative words. In most cases, I gently corrected and explained the difference.
It makes me happy to know that my family is interested in using the right language and conveying the appropriate messages. I know there are many more conversations to come about adoption in our house, and maybe in my brother’s house, too. I hope that as M grows up she continues to be surrounded by people who understand where she came from and know how much she is loved by all of her family members.