Adoption Language: What is ‘Real’

Adoption language is a delicate subject. I watch people struggle through it as they try to ask questions about why I have two 3 year olds (or two 4 year olds, man they grow fast)…who are not twins. Truthfully, I still wrestle through it as well, I’m not always sure how to respond.

“Are they all yours?”
“Is this one yours?”
“Which is your own?”
“Which one is real?”
“Which one is adopted?”
“He looks like your husband and she looks like you, so that one must be adopted!”

And my children are listening while I answer these questions.  They are all real, they are all mine, they are all good gifts! I’m learning to be slow to respond, to allow myself time to think, though I feel some pressure to respond quickly and confidently.  Sometimes these questions are genuine and inquisitive, but I need to consider how my children will hear my response. Will they grow up hearing me say, that one is adopted, that one is ‘real?’

We have an open adoption, which means we do have some contact with the biological family. We speak positively and openly about this with our children. We ask that others also refrain from negative comments about the bio family of our children.  There is some disagreement about proper adoption language. But research does suggest that speaking positively and openly about adoption stories and birth family history can be heathy for children.

Adoption does begin with loss, a loss which often occurs before the child can even remember. But if we always speak negatively of adoption, how does that shape the child’s view of self? This is where we currently find ourselves as parents, trying to nurture and cultivate a healthy identity for our children, without glossing over the great sadness and loss that is woven into our adoption story.

So how should we talk about adoption? I’m still trying to figure it out. These things I can tell you:

  • Please just don’t use the word REAL. My children are all very real and we really are their parents. There is nothing pretend about our family.
  • Please speak respectfully about my child’s history. These are also REAL people, bio parents, grandparents, etc. They are a part of my child’s story, therefore they are important to me.
  • When you learn that my children are adopted please don’t begin to posit a hypothesis about why they are no longer with their birth family.
  • Please don’t be afraid to ask questions! I love to talk about how the Lord built our family. It is a beautiful story of God’s provision and plan. Just be sensitive to who is listening.

We like to say adoption is part of our story, because it’s not the only thing that defines us as a family. We like to celebrate our adoption story, the same way we celebrate being adopted into the family of God. We were made co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17) through the work of the cross.

As our children grow, my hope is that they will have a community to support them and cheer them on. Let’s build strong adoption language and strong families.

“Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” John 1:12


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