Monday, April 20, 2009

Say it Right, PAL!

Words are powerful. Language can not only describe reality, it can shape it. How we can intentionally - or unintentionally - use words to control the perceptions of others is something that has interested me for a long time and in fact was the theme of my undergrad thesis, "Language for Self-Empowerment: A Handbook for Women."

This conviction has led M. and me to think a lot and discuss some how we'll talk about adoption with our child. Since we never want to have to tell our kid s/he was adopted - it will be part of his/her awareness from the beginning - we're already trying to choose our words carefully. We want to practice now so that we have the patter down well before it can influence our son or daughter's self-perception.

We have become quite comfortable with positive adoption language (PAL). Undoubtedly, some will see this word parsing as "political correctness" gone amok. We don't. We see it as an opportunity to minimize any stigma associated with adoption and build pride in our family for how we've come together by choosing words with positive or neutral connotations.

Here is a list of words traditionally associated with adoption that have negative or shameful implications. They are in italics. Following each is an example of a preferred term in bold. This list was published by our agency, the Independent Adoption Center, but we've seem others like it in lots of different adoption literature.

Real parent


Natural parent

Biological parent

Own child
Birth child

Adopted child
My child


Born to unmarried parents

Give up
Terminate parental rights

Give away
Make an adoption plan

To keep
To parent

Making contact with

Adoptive parent
Parent (we will prefer "mom" and "dad" :)

An unwanted child

Child placed for adoption

Child taken away
Court termination

Handicapped child

Child with special needs

Is adopted
Was adopted

This last one is a really good, interesting one. I think it is important to realize that while adoption is significant, it should not define anyone's identity. If what other families say is true, it won't take long after our child is with us that adoption becomes very peripheral in our consciousness to feeding, and diapering, and sleeping through the night. As time goes by, probably we won't talk about adoption a whole lot more than most families talk about pregnancy, labor, and delivery.

We would be grateful
if you would use PAL as well. It's important to do this, not just around our kid but always, in order to influence perceptions about adoption in general. After all, words can hurt just as much as sticks and stones.

1 comment:

Susie Cue said...

Cool! As someone who also loves language and what it signifies, I enjoyed this post. I can see, though, why you'd want to practice ahead of time, since the italicized words and phrases dominate our culture (and certainly predominate in my own vocabulary).