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Monday, February 8, 2010

The Things We Say

Oh my goodness I cannot believe I've never posted on the topic of adoption language! Being a person who is constantly thinking of ways to better express myself, the idea of expressing adoption in a positive light is near and dear to my heart.

You may or may not have heard the term "positive adoption language" or PAL but it's likely you are already familiar with some of the language.

Positive Adoption Language is a term used to define a set of words or phrases that is, by and large, accepted by the adoption community. (Though PAL is NOT without its staunch opponents here in the US) These terms are generally considered appropriate for use when speaking about adoption, and are those most often in use today.

PAL is defined by a desire to give the maximum respect, dignity, responsibility, and objectivity surrounding the process of adoption. It is also intended to affirm people who have been adopted and empower them.

Some people have dismissed the importance of intentional adoption language as being "too PC."

Don't get me wrong, this is SO NOT about being concerned about offending people who are easily offended; I'm not into being politically correct. I am into being conscious of my words and their usage in order to express clearly, in the most respectful and positively truthful light, the adoption experience, as far as I am able.

Words matter. They matter to the people who are trying to learn about adoption. They matter to the first parents who are not raising their children. They matter in portraying accurately what adoptive families are all about. And, most especially, they matter to the children and adults who have been adopted.

I don't think there will ever be a time when I can sit back and say I'd don't need to take inventory of my use of language in describing adoption. I'm not perfect. I am going to blow it and will require grace. But I also know my heart intends to honor everyone involved here.

I'm constantly looking for ways to express myself better. I strive to be diligent in trying to view things more from Jonas and A*'s perspective. I ask myself how they might feel about the different things I say, and how I can improve.

Here are a few links about PAL (positive adoption language):

First, in the interest of educating families about what the resistance to PAL looks like I thought I'd add this link for your consideration. The opposition has their own set of words/phrases which they call Respectful Adoption Language or RAL. A simple google search will turn up many more blogs and articles on the topic if you're interested.

A list of positive vs. negative words according to the PAL philosophy of language:

A more in depth article explaining PALs intention:

In the evolution of my own speech I have come to call what many would recognize as Jonas' "birth mother" his first mother. I believe this more accurately describes who she is. I believe it places her positionally first in the timeline of his life, which is accurate, and also gives him freedom to place her first in his heart as well. It's my attempt to acknowledge the great loss of her in his life. I don't feel this title diminishes myself in any way. Calling her first is something I'm totally comfortable with. I am committed to never feeling threatened by Jonas' love for her in any way. Later, when Jonas is older he can refer to me and his first mother how ever he chooses, but for now this is the way I choose to represent her before him.

I, personally, have grown uncomfortable with the term "bio kids" or "biological children". It may just be me, but, last I checked my son who was adopted is biological too. I simply prefer to take the extra second and a half to state it this way, "My children who were birthed and my children who were adopted."

I always state adoption in the past tense since it was a one time event. It's over now. My son who WAS adopted has been adopted, now the adoption is OVER. He's simply my son.

I also strongly dislike when people still refer to our son as an orphan. He is no longer an orphan. The term orphan in Jonas' case was a legal term which is now obsolete. It signified that his mother had chosen to legally terminate her parental rights thus requiring new legal parents for him, which we became. She cared for his needs by taking steps to ensure he could have new legal guardians and parents who would lovingly raise him and provide for him.

I am sure than when A* comes home it will be a different, and at times trying, experience as we navigate a new set of circumstances and how to communicate those to A* and others around us.

In A*'s case neither of his first parents chose to initiate adoption because they were both dead. Another family member made that decision for them. Events necessitated a new set of parents step in and raise A*. We are honored and proud to be able to be those parents.

For anyone who says adoption isn't messy they're crazy! It is messy. But it has it's benefits and its blessings too.

Then again, life is MESSY. There's no avoiding it.

What are your thoughts on the whole PAL vs. RAL debate? Any pet peeve phrases driving you nuts lately? Have you noticed your language evolving as well? Share your thought please! I'd love to know.


E said...

Messy is an apt description! It *is* messy. My feelings about it have been messy, too, at times. However, words mean things and I want our boys (by birth & adoption) to both have positive associations with adoption and what that means as children of God. My littlest one isn't expressing thoughts about adoption yet, but my older son is and it blesses my heart to hear the way he frames his feelings about adoption. It's been such a powerfully positive force in all of our lives!

E said...

P.S. I have been describing my oldest as "by birth" or "birthed" for some time now and I didn't even realize it until I read your post. Bio just sounds weird coming from my lips. I can't get it out right. ;)

beBOLDjen said...

E- It's funny how our language evolves, isn't it?!

I agree with your statement that it is a blessing to listen to our kids frame adoption in a positive way. Our girls are old enough now where they can convey their ideas about what a blessing it has been to them. I love, too, when they feel free to mention how annoying it is to have a brother who steals their crayons, breaks their things every once in a while, and follows them around when they'd rather be left alone for a time. They'll be the first to tell ya he can be annoying but that they wouldn't have it any other way. He's their brother; not some special guest here. There's no special treatment for him.
- I love that.

Audrey said...

Very thoughtful post. I'm learning a lot from you these days, Jen! Thanks for sharing all that you are learning. I read the articles that you linked. I realize that there are probably lots of people that grew up in very negative adoptive situations and naturally they focus their resentment on the adoption process itself. That's really sad - I think that a lot of us are trying very hard to help our kids understand adoption and how it has affected them so that they won't someday write articles like that first one! :)

Great post - thanks!

anonadoptee said...

From an adult adoptees perspective

beBOLDjen said...

anonadoptee- I appreciate your perspective. When adults who ARE adopted (as I gather from your link you prefer to be called)I want to listen! Thanks for sharing.

Teachertraveler said...

Thanks for the lovely post! I was reminded again this weekend of how vital loving families are. One of my colleagues was adopted (as was her brother) and it was so interesting to hear her perspective. Her family is extremely close despite the opposition her parents received adopting children from India as Germans, especially adopting a child with special needs.

My friend adores her parents and is constantly in contact with friends who were also adopted, encouraging them and supporting them. But being adopted does not define who she is either.

I have a feeling that with parents who are so caring and intentional when it comes to even the little things, Jonas and A* will grow up to be confident, respected young men. :-)