Monday, November 12, 2012

Naturally Speaking

Aretha Franklin sang “You make me feel like a natural woman…”. Robert Redford revealed his baseball talents in the movie The Natural in 1984. The word natural conjures a picture of innate, special abilities – something that arises easily or spontaneously. One definition in the dictionary states that natural means having or showing feelings, as affection, gratitude, or kindness, considered part of basic human nature. The word natural is a warm, fuzzy word, a word most people would never believe could be harmful or hold hurtful memories. But it can.

In September, at the start of every school year, I must fill out information forms for each of my children. I’ve never understood why the information can’t be stored in a database somewhere and just printed out for verification each year – but that’s a topic for another blog. The thing I find most offensive about the information forms I fill out is the way I must designate my relationship to my children.

After entering my name, I must choose my relationship. The choices are ‘natural mother’, ‘foster mother’, ‘legal guardian’, or other. What happened to just ‘mother’. What I normally do is check ‘natural mother’ for all my children, whether they are birth children or children who joined my family through adoption, and then put a little asterisk that points the reader to the bottom of the page for another note. In that other note at the bottom of the page, I write “Yes, I am a natural mother – knew from the time I was a child myself that I would be a natural mother”.

So, since this is National Adoption Month, and since I really, really don’t like some of the terms I hear used in reference to adoption, today I am sharing positive adoption language. Please take a moment to consider how just a simple change in language can have a major positive effect on a child. Words not only convey facts, they also evoke feelings. When a TV movie talks about a "custody battle" between "real parents" and "other parents," society gets the wrong impression that only birthparents are real parents and that adoptive parents aren’t real parents. Members of society may also wrongly conclude that all adoptions are "battles."

Positive adoption language can stop the spread of misconceptions such as these. By using positive adoption language, we educate others about adoption. We choose emotionally "correct" words over emotionally-laden words. We should speak and write in positive adoption language with the hopes of impacting others so that this language will someday become the norm.

Positive Language (Negative Language):

Birthparent (Real Parent)
Biological Parent (Natural Parent)
Birth child (Own child)
My child (Adopted child)
Born to unmarried parents (Illegitimate)
Terminate parental rights (Give up)
Make an adoption plan (Give away)
To parent (To keep)
Waiting child (Adoptable child; available child)
Biological or birthfather (Real father)
Making contact with (Reunion)
Parent (Adoptive parent)
Intercountry adoption (Foreign adoption)
Adoption triad (Adoption triangle)
Permission to sign a release (Disclosure)
Search (Track down parents)
Child placed for adoption (An unwanted child)
Court termination (Child taken away)
Child with special needs (Handicapped child)
Child from abroad (Foreign child)
Was adopted (Is adopted)

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