Words are powerful. Consider the following: Giving up a baby, put up for adoption, real family, natural children, own child, to keep, foreign adoption, natural parents or where is s/he from, how much did s/he cost?
It is important to be aware of our language. It is particularly useful as a teaching tool for professionals in the field to be sensitive to the words that they choose. Prospective adoptive parents are looking to the professionals for guidance. A wonderful book that explores the power of language is called; 20 Things Adopted Kids Wished their Adoptive Parents Knew, by Sherrie Eldridge.
Years ago I ran a workshop for prospective adoptive parents. One day a mother and her daughter joined our group to talk about some of their challenges and what they learned being a visibly adoptive family. The mother and her then-21-year-old daughter, who was adopted from Korea as an infant, told a story about an incident that occurred at a supermarket when the daughter was three or four years old. Although the daughter did not understand what the stranger was really asking, she did not like the way it made her feel. The conversation went something like this:
“That girl, is she Chinese?”
The mom bent down and asked her daughter if she wanted to answer the man’s questions. The daughter thought about it and said, “No.”
The mother said to the stranger, “We don’t feel like answering your questions. Have a nice day.”
The prospective parents at the workshop were shocked. They wondered how strangers could think that they had the right to ask such invasive questions. The mother said that she and her family lived in area where adoption, especially international adoption, was very uncommon. She also said that most of the time she sensed that people were just curious and were not judging. She added that sometimes, as in the example above, it was hard to tell.
Eventually the mother decided that her daughter’s story was her own and therefore, when she was old enough to express herself, she could decide whether or not a stranger’s question would be answered. The mother also said that it took many tries before finding the response that felt right to them.
Sometimes they responded with, “mind your own business” or “none of your business.” Other times the mother sensed, because she had been a curious prospective adoptive parents, that maybe the stranger was asking because he or she was interested in adopting and wanted to connect with an adoptive family. The mother told the workshop participants that they should be prepared that there would be questions. Some were judgmental but most were asked because the stranger was trying to decide if adoption was the best way for them to expand their family. In either case, the mother wanted the prospective adoptive parents to know how powerful words can be and that what people say can have an effect on their children. She said that it was not fair and it was exhausting but adoptive parents were bequeathed the role of educating the public. In her own situations and if she had the energy and felt like it, she did share the information with strangers that her daughter allowed. It wasn’t the daughter’s entire story, just a part of it.