These days adoption agencies and social services routinely use what is referred to as positive adoption language also sometimes referred to respectful adoption language. Examples of this can be found here, and here (that whole second website disturbs the shit out of me) and its really clear just by looking at the lists that the language is only positive and respectful for adoptive parents, not for adoptees or first parents.

According to Perspectives press:

Respectful Adoption Language (RAL) is vocabulary about adoption which has been chosen to reflect maximum respect, dignity, responsibility and objectivity about the decisions made by birthparents and adoptive parents in discussing the family planning decisions they have made for children who have been adopted

So firstly it doesn’t take in to account at all how the adoptees are going to feel about the language used and secondly referring to someone as a birthparent is not respectful or positive, almost all the adoptees and firsts parents I’ve come across hate it. This article written from the perspective of a natural mother argues that using the prefix “birth” biases the way society thinks about adoption in favour of the adoptive parents:

When the word “parent” is used for a prospective adopter who is unrelated to a child and the “birth” term is used for the child’s own mother, it is just expected a mother must surrender her child. “Birth mother” is like a job title or worse – she is merely a “thing” whose function is to make a baby for others.

Everyone recognizes that a parent has a right to raise his or her own child. Yet in court when the foster caregiver or prospective adopter is called a “parent” and the true parents are called “bios” the outcome is predetermined. After lengthy delays initiated by those in the “system”, once they are finally in court the true parents of a child may be proven to be fit in every way yet still have their parental rights terminated.

Every citizen has a right and even an obligation to call a natural mother a “mother” or “natural mother” and thus prevent the temptation for others to separate children from their family any time they feel like it or can profit from it. Using the term “adoptive” for someone who has adopted is not disrespectful but honest and will avoid confusion about relationships. Any person who has adopted and who truly cares about children should be in favor of adjusting their language accordingly. Those who have not yet adopted of course must be called “prospective adopters”, not “parents”

But also as an adoptee its a term I hate, I much prefer to use Mother, it is almost always obvious which mother I’m talking about. My post adoption social worker insists on referring to my father and my siblings as my “birthfather” and my “birthsiblings” which apart from being really fucking disrespectful makes absolutely no sense.

perspective press weighs in on the matter saying

Those who raise and nurture a child are his parents: his mother, father, mommy, daddy, etc Those who conceive and give birth to a child are his birthparents: his birthmother and birthfather.

Why is it the natural parents that need the qualifier and not the adoptive parents?

Back to the lists, whats with the phrase “Adoption triad”? This probably isn’t a phrase people who aren’t involved in adoption have heard, but it is always used to mean the three parties involved in the adoption are equal and have the same amount of power. Well adoptees have no power (even adult adoptees because no one listens to us), first parents have very little power and adoptive parents have all the power, so there is no triad.

I have real issues with the “was adopted/is adopted” thing as well. Perspective press says:

When it is appropriate to refer to the fact of adoption, it is correct to say “Kathy was adopted,” (referring to they way in which she arrived in her family.) Phrasing it in the present tense– “Kathy is adopted”–implies that adoption is a disability with which to cope.

But I am adopted, it wasn’t a one time deal that didn’t effect anything else in my life, and while maybe not being a disability, being adopted is always something that needs to be negotiated, it effects all my relationships and will do for ever because it is such a profound life altering thing to happen to someone.

Perspective press then decides to continue injecting its own bias on the subject of homestudies:

The process by which families prepare themselves to become parents is often referred to as a homestudy. This term carries with it an old view of the process as a weeding out or judgment. Today, more and more agencies are coming to view their role as less God-like and more facilitative. The preferred positive term, then, is parent preparation, a process whereby agency and prospective adopters come to know one another and work toward expanding a family.

In light of the adoptees I know and how so many adoptions end up as car crashes because of abusive or just clueless adoptive parents, trying to make a home study less judgemental or less of a weeding out process is just fucking immoral and criminal, home studies should be more strict not less. I don’t want adoptive parents to think that “parent preparation” is some cushy thing that they wont get judged on.

Back again to perspective press on how to talk about reunions:

Frequently news stories refer to reunions between people who are related genetically but have not been raised in the same family. In most such instances these encounters do not carry with them the full spectrum of understanding that the usual use of the term reunion implies. While children adopted at an older age may indeed experience a reunion, most adoptees join their families as infants, and as such they have no common store of memories or experience such as are traditionally shared in a reunion. The more objective descriptor for a meeting between a child and the birthparents who planned his adoption (a term which neither boosts unrealistic expectations for the event nor implies a competition for loyalties between birthparents and adoptive parents) is meeting.

How is meeting the woman who gave birth to you, who carried you for nine months. who was the first person to hold you not a reunion exactly? Quite apart from the fact that lots of adoptees were with their first families long enough to remember them. The last sentence in the above quoted paragraph is really telling though. There is no such thing as “objective” language, the language we use both shows and shapes the way we see the world and here it appears again that the important thing about the language is how the adoptive parents feel, nothing about how the adoptee feels. Quite frankly how any of my parents feel about any of my adoption issues doesn’t matter to me. I use the language I need to use and I actively resist language that adoptive parents use to try and shape the world to the way they want it to be rather than seeing and respecting the lived reality of the adoptee

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