If you are considering adopting a child, you may find that many agencies, websites, and individuals use a variety of terms that mean the same or similar things. Sometimes, it can become frustrating to learn a lot of different terms surrounding adoption. However, if you understand the reason behind various terms, you will be able to better communicate with others who are involved in the adoption process while making sure you do not offend anyone or hurt anyone's feelings.
The Importance of Language When Discussing Adoption
Adoption can be a sensitive topic for many people, especially mothers and fathers placing their children in an adoption, adoptive parents, and children who have been adopted. For example, when a child is referred to constantly as an "adopted child," as opposed to simply a child or, when pertinent, a child who was adopted, then their identity can become tied to their adoption, which can make them feel isolated and unlike other children who were not adopted. Similarly, the concept of giving up a baby for adoption implies that there is little or no choice in the decision and that adoption is a last resort, whereas placing a baby for adoption implies that it is the parents' intentional choice.
Choosing the right language when talking with an adoption agency or meeting with a pregnant woman considering you as an adoptive family can create a positive impression of you and may help you get chosen as an adoptive parent.
Types of Adoption Language
There are currently two main types of adoption language that are used today. Positive Adoption Language (PAL), also known as Respectful Adoptive Language (RAL), focuses on adoption as a valid choice for creating a family. It is used to make certain adopted children do not feel less legitimate than biological children and emphasizes the choice of both the biological and adoptive parents in the final decision.
Alternatively, Honest Adoption Language (HAL) focuses on the concrete experience of adoption. It is sometimes considered more blunt or hurtful than PAL, but many people, especially mothers considering adoption or who have placed a child for adoption, prefer HAL. HAL tends to use older adoption terms, such as natural mother as opposed to birth mother, which can sometimes be difficult for adoptive parents.
What Adoption Language Reveals
The adoption language that the agency and the biological mother use can reveal a lot about their preferences. For example, adoption agencies who have "Parent 1 and Parent 2" on their forms as opposed to "Mother and Father," may be more experienced working with LGBTQ couples seeking to adopt. If a biological mother uses PAL, they may value adoption as a valid choice more than a mother who uses HAL.
What you decide to use in each situation can also change how the biological mother feels about you. For example, if you elect to use PAL, it presents the idea that you are willing and excited to accept the adopted child into your family and that your focus is on the child and a positive adoption experience. Alternatively, if you use HAL, it shows compassion and understanding towards the biological mother.
How to Adjust the Way You Talk About Adoption
It can be difficult to adjust the way you talk about adoption, but choosing your words carefully can help keep your adoption on track. Here are some ways that you can adjust the way you talk about adoption to make adoption language work for you:
- Mirror who you are talking to. Allow the person you are speaking with to speak first and then adjust your language to meet theirs, using the same phrases they choose. This can be a blend of PAL and HAL and will make the person you are talking to feel the most comfortable.
- Consider the theories behind PAL and HAL. You may want to take the time to study the commonly used terms in PAL and HAL and understand why they are used and the benefits of each style of language. This will help you understand which one to use in different situations.
- Change a few phrases at a time. Don't change your entire vocabulary overnight. Instead, change a few phrases every week until they become natural.
The way you talk about adoption reflects the way you think about adoption. It is important that the words you choose accurately represent your opinions without harming those involved in the adoption process.
For more information and tips, talk with an adoption center in your area, such as A Child's Dream.