Thursday, November 10, 2016

Adopted Children Are Not Merchandise- Using Appropriate Adoption Language

It is common knowledge among anyone not living under a rock that no one likes to be labeled. Schools go out of their way to not saddle a young child with a label that will follow them their entire academic career. Stay at home moms push back against their label, while working outside the home moms often hate their moniker as well. Labels are, by definition, a way to classify a group, to set apart. And labels are notoriously not all inclusive. You can like a particular rock band, for instance, and be labeled a member of their "army" but that doesn't mean you don't also like many other forms of musical expression. Labels are often so offensive that groups of like minded people go out of their way to choose their own defining labels; we know we can't escape them and just be labeled "human", so we find ones we are comfortable living within. Obviously, being labeled a fan of a particular musical group is not really all that damaging. But you see my point.

There are two sides to the label discussion, and both are passionate. On the one hand, what someone else says about you, how they categorize you, really speaks more to the state of their heart than yours. Our worth is certainly not found in a label, even though many strive, at great cost, to achieve their most prized label, whether that be "Mom", "CEO", or "Mr. President".  But on the other side of that argument stand many, many people who have been harmed by the labels others have placed on them.

The labels we use to describe others is such a big problem that many organizations have created glossaries of "preferred language". GLAAD provides a Media Reference Guide of terms to avoid on their website. Many adoption advocacy organizations do the same. And for good reason. A person who has never walked a path outside of the traditional may not know how much damage a casually thrown out comment, (read: label), can do. If that describes you, then pay attention.

In the wake of the 2016 Presidential elections emotions are high. In sharing a well written Huffington Post article, (Read it here.), on why some internationally adopted children have been scared by the anti immigration rhetoric that has polluted this election cycle the following comment was made:

"there are millions of kids in the foster care system..maybe you should have looked into the citizens of the US before you imported brand new kids from another country."

While there are so many things wrong with this short comment, so much hatred and contempt and ignorance, I want to focus on the label. Do you see it? Imported.  Children are not items to be bought, sold and imported. (As in, "How much did he cost?") And when language like this is used, it degrades the person being labeled. Even if that is not the intention, this type of language slowly wears down a person, demeaning them yet again, showing them, yet again, that there are people out there in their world who think less of them. Who think they are less deserving than others, simply because of where they were born. And it's not just adoptees who face this feeling of being less than. Anyone walking their own unique, spectacular and brave journey has faced this type of judgement. Words are amazing. They let us share, feel, think, escape. And they also hurt. 

It is important for adopted children to feel grounded. To truly trust in who they are. This is an extremely difficult task on a god day. Questions of "Why" and "What if" are always floating just beneath the surface. Finding their place in a world where they are not connected on that primal level with their most loved family members is not easy. Adoption, just like walking any other beautiful non traditional path is an amazing gift, but it doesn't come without loss. Truly knowing who we are is hard. To be labeled as merchandise that can be bought and sold and imported makes it so much harder. 

When an adoptee does not feel grounded big problems can occur. In little ones this shows up as low self esteem, focus and learning deficits, and often severe behavior problems. In older teens and adults it can lead to drug and alcohol abuse, mental illness and even incarceration. Feeling comfortable in our own skin, knowing who we are and who stands with us is vital to a healthy sense of self. Hearing words like "bought" or "imported" are not just insensitive. They can be incredibly damaging. 

What does all of this mean to you? It means we all need to think before we speak. Those words that we feel are funny or harmless might be like daggers to the heart of the person on the receiving end. Some would argue that we are all just too sensitive, and they might be right. We all want to raise compassionate children who are self aware enough to withstand the labels. But as we work towards that shared goal, let's not make it any harder on adoptees than it need be.

If you would like more information on appropriate adoption language to use with your friends and family, consider this list of suggested language from the Adoption Council: Accurate Adoption Language. For more information on how labels can be damaging to our children, please see this article from Psychology Today

If you are an adoptive parent, or the friend or family of an adoptive parent, please consider sharing this  on your social media sites. 

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