If you do not have adoption in your family, then you may not think too much about adoption language. Have you ever asked a totally innocent question to someone who was adopted or their parents and gotten a funny look back or an argumentative answer? I am pretty sure every adopted family goes through this and the problem is not that people are mean or hurtful, it is just that no one has ever told them about adoption language. So here we go - a primer on adoption language so you can be informed if you are not, and help to inform others if you are.
Keep in mind that the words you choose when asking certain questions (ESPECIALLY when the kids are around) are actually very important. Most of the time in life it is not what you say but how you say it... this is not one of those times. As an adoptive mother, I recall questions I asked adoptive parents before that now I cringe about - not because I was being mean, but because I didn't know the right words to use and some trigger words that you don't want to use... So to avoid an embarassing situation for you or your kids (yes please teach your kids these things too) - here are some things to keep in mind.
REAL - real parents, real son, real mom, true mom, natural parent, natural son, true son, etc. This is actually one of the most prevalent bad words people say. While it may seem like semantics to worry about that, what it does to an adopted child who hears people refer to them as not the real son or daughter is heartbreaking. We can argue whether or not real just means the one that biology gave you or not, but it conveys a feeling that the adopted connection is superficial or not... well not real. So real or true or anything that conveys this message is one of those words not to use. Instead use words like "biological parent" or "birth mom" when asking questions, though be warned that most families keep their children's history private in respect of that child and that child's story, and unless you are close family you may not be privy to this information.
I recall an adult (though I don't remember who) who once asked me with Josiah not that far away when we were going to tell Josiah that we weren't his real parents. While what I was expected to say was that Josiah knew he was adopted from the minute we met him, because I knew thats the question this person wanted the answer to. Its not considered healthy in any way to lie about kids being adopted, though I know this was considered the healthiest thing in the past. But in case Josiah was able to hear us I responded defiantly with "we are his real parents", and just repeated that until it was dropped. More on the responses later...
OWN KID - The times this happens to most adoptive familes is when people ask "which of them are your own kids" with us its sometimes "will you want to have your own kids too?" Yes we know what you mean - bio vs adopted. But our adopted kids are our own. They belong only to us, emotionally, legally, spiritually, in every possible way that your kids are your own. It is not good for our kids to hear that they are anything but our kids or that they in some way do not belong to the family like they would if they resided in our uteri. Try saying the term biological if you need to refer to that - but its honestly not to refer to our kids by their status of coming to the family. Would you say - which are your csection babies and which came through natural childbirth?
COST - Ok, while this might be something everyone is curious about - we do not talk about the cost of a child or the cost of the adoption even. With child trafficking being such a horrendous reality in our world, we never want to confuse the cost of the adoption process with purchasing a human being. Whether you adopt and have legal fees and other service fees, or have a bio kid naturally and have prenatal, labor and delivery fees, or have a csection and have surgical fees... there are costs involved in all. If you need to know - google it. Definitely don't ask a parent with their kids around how much their kid "cost".
PRIVACY - Unless it is volunteered to you - it is generally considered bad form to ask about a child's background, and especially to use words describing the abandonment. If the adoptive family is ok with you knowing about it, you would probably know about it. If you have a genuine reason for finding out, then make sure you ask when the children are not anywhere within earshot, and don't be surprised if you are turned down. The details for many adoptive children's background can be traumatic and sad and out of respect for the children will not be shared around like candy.
THE RESPONSE - ok this is the part that i wish i could insert in everyone's brain in these situations. For the most part when these things come up, I aint mad at you. 99% of the time your statement or question is coming from a good place, and you just hadn't been told this before. However, if my son is next to me... your opinion of my response is nowhere near as important as him hearing my response in a way that is healthy to him. I will fiercely claim as loudly and repetitively as necessary that he belongs to me and he is our real child and we are his real parents. This may confuse you. This may make you think that I am mad at you. I am not mad at you. I am making sure my son hears me speak truth over him. I am making sure that the voices in the back of his head that ever pop up doubts or fears in times in his life will be drowned out by the voices in his head repeating that he is our real son and that he is loved and natural and our own and belongs to us.
Does he know that he is adopted? lol yes. Does he know his story? yes. Does he have any doubts about his beautiful brown skin and where it came from? nope. He is very mature in his understanding of how he came to be who he is (a Young). But he also knows the truth that he is ours, he is our real son, and we will protect him from anyone saying otherwise. I take comfort now but it keeps me at my ready that when people say things like this, his eyes go right to me expectantly. He knows I will claim him and is just waiting for me to do it. So again - I may sound fierce in my response, and it may not make sense to you. And I may feel bad on the inside for making someone feel bad about an innocent question. But - nothing will make me not speak the words in the way my son needs to hear it in that moment.
One of the required adoption classes we took taught how to kind of be sarcastic or snarky when you asked inappropriate questions in front of your kid. So I am pretty sure this response thing is not limited to asking me alone but probably a good portion of adoptive parents. I thought it was weird at the time and had no inclination to be snarky, but from the first time this happened to us it happened intuitively when my mama bear came out.
If you ask when he is not within a two mile radius (I am pretty sure his hearing distance lol), then I may answer to you more gently and depending on our relationship even explain the better way to have asked it. But I just wish everyone could know that when you get this response, the display is not for you, but for the child who is always listening. If you have any questions about adoption language - feel free to comment. If you have any more tips from your experiences - comment those down there too.
Keep in mind that everyone makes these mistakes, and I have even heard similar language coming from adoptive parents, and like I said Ive used these words before too - so don't feel bad if you've ever said it - just learn for the future, teach it to your kids, and share with your friends so they learn too.