Friday, January 31, 2014

Adoption language: what words to use

Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body. Proverbs 16:25


A friend tagged me on facebook yesterday in a post entitled "10 things NOT to say to adoptive parents" and asked if I agreed with it.  While this post was about international adoption, and I have adopted five times through foster care, there were still about three things that I recognized and I did agree with.

I thought it might be good to write my own post about adoption language, just to enlighten people.  Because I don't think people usually ever intend to be rude or say wrong things.  And I don't mind questions at all - in fact, I LOVE to talk about adoption, and one of my missions in life is to encourage Christian people to consider adoption as a beautiful, delightful ministry.  Yes, it can be very hard, but anything worthwhile usually is, right?

So in this post, I don't want to tell you things NOT to say, but rather, how to word your questions and say things in the right way:

#1, and this is the biggy.  Let me express again, of all the things NOT to say, this is the number one thing, and it is very, very VERY important that you never say it in the hearing of an adopted child:
"Which ones are your 'real' children?" and a variation of that is: "Which ones are 'your own' kids?"
If you ask me that, my answer to both questions is always going to be "All of them."  I don't have a plastic kid in the bunch.  They are all real.  They are all my own.  All 12 of them.
Imagine, if you will, how it feels to a child to hear someone ask their mother if they are their 'real kid', or which ones are the mothers 'own kids'?
One of my daughters cried in my arms one day, saying "I just wish I had been born to you!!" Well, I wish she had been, too.  But as I explained to her, being born to someone is only a small part the whole picture.  Ten years later, that part of life would be over, anyway.  We have moved on from there.  We would still be where we are right now, whether I had carried her in my womb or not.  I rarely think about which of my children I have given birth too and which I didn't.  I am too busy with the every day life of raising them to dwell on that part!  Yes, I have some amazing birth stories that I tell sometimes, but I also have some amazing adoptions stories to tell, too.
I do understand what you are trying to ask me, and I do not mind the question a bit.  So, the way to ask that question,  when the children are not around, is to say "which of your children are biological, and which are adopted?" Again, I love to talk about adoption and to encourage people to consider it.

#2, which is yet another variation of #1, is, "Are any of them 'real' brothers and sisters?"  Again, my answer will always be "Yes, all of them are 'real' brothers and sisters."
The same child as above - my more sensitive one - came to me after a homeschool event one day and said, "I wish people would quit asking me if Luke is 'really' my brother!!"  I explained to her what people meant when they asked her that, that they didn't mean to be rude, and that she should just answer them, "Of course he's really my brother!"  She could go into greater detail if she wanted too, and tell them that Tommy is her real brother in two ways, biological and adopted, while Gage, Max, Spencer, Beau and Luke are her real brothers in one way, adopted, and that she even has two more brothers that are half biological brothers and they are also real brothers in yet another way.  I laughingly told her by that time, they will be so confused they will quit asking questions in self defense.  But I told her the best thing to do is have mercy and not be offended by the questions.
The way to ask that question, and again, ask the mother when the child is not around, is "Are some of your adopted children biologically related?"  That question is just fine to ask, and I do not mind answering it!

Some things people say to adoptive parents really express their own fears of adoption.  Usually those fears are ungrounded.  At least, I think they are.  I haven't raised an adopted child to adulthood yet, so I will likely have more wisdom in a few years.  Here are a few of those things:

#3  "Aren't you afraid when they grow up, they will leave you and run back to their 'real' ( there's that word again...sigh...) family?"
No, I am not afraid of that.  My goal in raising my adopted children is that they will never have to choose between us.  Three of my adopted children lived with their first families for a while, one of them for most of their childhood, and have memories of them.  I don't want them to ever feel like it's a case of having to choose "them or us."  I don't have much doubt they will want to meet and spend time with their biological families when they grow up.  In fact, we have an open adoption with two children and we already spend a lot of time with the biological family.
My prayer is that I will have instilled in my children the love of God and maybe they will even help save the unsaved in those biological families.  That they will be a light where there is none.  Not only am I NOT afraid of that, but I keep up with biological family members that we do not have an open adoption with as well as I can so that I can actually help the children when I think they are ready to be reunited with their biological families, if they want to be.  Facebook is a wonderful tool for that.

#4, and amazingly, I have only heard this from fellow Christians, and it never ceases to amaze me:  "I would never adopt an older child!  You don't have as much chance of them becoming Christians.  Your outcome is not always so good."
So what does that mean, exactly?  That older children are not as worthy as a child fresh from the womb?  That we should just leave those children to non Christians to raise?
Aren't we glad God thinks we are ALL worthy of adoption?  Even those of us who are already pretty old and have made a mess of our lives?

Yes, I understand your fear, especially if you have other young children in your home.  Yes, I understand that not everyone would have the wisdom to take an older child to raise.  I am not sure I do, myself.  But with God's help, I will sure try.

I mean after all, not even the biological children of Christian parents always turn to the Lord for salvation.  And I have meet families where the older adopted children DID, and the biological ones, DIDN'T.

And lastly #5:  "There is no way you could love an adopted child as much as you love a biological child."
That statement is pure ignorance.  It's rare that someone will say that, and if they do, it is usually not directed straight to my face.  I have heard that one more on adoption forums than in person.  But I actually wrote an essay on that, and you can read it here.  Believe me, a 'real' mother loves ALL her children.  They are ALL under our wings.  They are all pieces of our hearts, walking around.

There are more, but these are the top five.  I love questions, even those that are worded wrong.  I do understand.  I am not offended.  Ask me, when my children are not around, anything you want, and I will answer.  Even if you don't say it the right way.  I might educate you on the RIGHT way to say it, but I am only doing that out of love for my children.  Let me guide you through the miracle of adoption.  Let me help you help someone else, and in doing so, let me help you work with God. 

Romans 8:14-16 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God's Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, "Abba, Father." For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God's children.

Galatians 4:4-6  But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children. And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, "Abba, Father."

James 1:27  Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.

Matthew 18:5  And anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf is welcoming me.

1 John 3:1  See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are!


  1. I enjoyed reading this and have heard so many of these questions by people asking us them. We have adopted 11 children and feel they are all ours! We have been "adopted" by God and feel called to adopt as well.
    Many blessing to you and your beautiful family.

  2. Thank you, Deborah! You would certainly understand where I'm coming from!! :)

  3. I linked back to this post on my blog. From time to time I like to bring in information that will help people understand adoption a little better.

  4. It's really important to be extra careful when trudging through the testy waters of adoption. From explaining it to people, and the kids, to settling all the vestigial matters relating to how it's been established and achieved; pretty much like most of anything, really. But it does carry its own set of complications. Know where you stand, and I'm sure you'll find your way.

    Adoption Network


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