The first week of November holds the anniversary of adoption for both my children. November is also National Adoption Month. I talk about adoption year round. But this month always feels like a special opportunity to share.
Depending on whether or not you’ve been personally touched by adoption, you may or may not be familiar with adoption lingo. And I intentionally use the term “lingo” because it very much is a vocabulary of a particular subject and group of people. Phrases and terms exist that may be foreign to biological families.
Honestly? Even while we were in the process of waiting for our son’s arrival, I still struggled with some of the correct terms! Foreign language takes practice. You learn the language that the people around you speak because language is a part of culture. And I personally believe that it’s up to us adoption locals to help educate the general public.
For all of us, words hold power. Professionally, carefully chosen words portray a positive image. Word wrangling has spawned an entire career field: speech writers, public relations, communications director, etc. Any advertising agency, public figure, or politician fails or succeeds on that cornerstone. And a personal relationship has the ability to do the same.
I want to share some of the more common terms used in adoption. Let me refer you to one of my favorite resources that helped me define them.
A legal process in which an adult assumes legal and other responsibilities for another — usually a minor.
An organization, licensed by the state, that provides services to birth parents, adoptive parents, and children who need families. Agencies may be public or private, secular or religious, for profit or nonprofit.
The point at which a child begins to live with prospective adoptive parents or, in the case of foster care adoption, the point at which the status of the placement changes to adoption.
The adoption of a U.S. infant through a licensed adoption agency or adoption attorney.
An individual or couple who has temporary care of a child but has no legal rights in determining certain aspects of a child’s life.
Foster to adoption
In this type of placement, foster parents agree to adopt the child if and when parental rights are terminated. Social workers place the child with specially trained foster-adopt parents who will work with the child during family reunification efforts but who will adopt the child if he or she becomes available for adoption.
Also called a “family profile,” this in-depth review of prospective adoptive parents must be completed in order for the adoptive parents to be able to legally adopt. A homestudy typically includes inspections of the adoptive parents’ residence; evaluations of their relationships, parenting ideals, medical history, employment verification, and financial status; and criminal background checks. Homestudies can become outdated and typically need to be renewed after one year.
The adoption of a child who is a citizen of one country by adoptive parents who are citizens of a different country.
The process of combining the best interests of the child with qualified adoptive parents. Social workers, advocates, and their wishes (with older children) determine the best interests of the child.
An adoption plan in which identifying information about birth and adoptive families is openly shared. There may be ongoing contact after placement occurs.
The point in time when the child goes to live with his or her legal adoptive parents. This can also be a pre-adoptive placement for a six-month pre-finalization period.
Private adoption agency
An agency licensed by the state to facilitate domestic adoptions, international adoptions, or both. A private agency may be secular or religious, for profit or nonprofit.
So if adoption has its own language, how do we begin to navigate and encourage healthy conversations? Personally? I think the difference lies between a closed and open question.
Example of how this plays out:
If you see that my family is built through adoption and then ask me, “Are you able to have biological children?” I’d like to point out that this feels more like an interrogation than a conversation. And it feels that way because that is a closed question. It can be answered with either a yes or no. I feel cornered with my response and left to assume your motivation for asking. Based on the tone, I might also feel like there is judgement or even pity in those words. Those feelings leave me less motivated to share.
If instead, you ask an open question about adoption such as, “How did you choose to build your family through adoption?” Or “Will you tell me about your experience with adoption?” I could talk for hours. Or I could tailor my response to the five minutes that I have.
Theses questions provide freedom because you gave me lots of space to go in any direction with my answer.
I feel less defensive and more willing to engage in what feels like an actual conversation. It feels safe and assumption free. More importantly, I feel you handled discussing my route to family with dignity and respect. This motivates me to keep the convo rolling. I love to talk about the beauty and blessings of adoption, and I believe that you want to hear it.
Now I realize that Open Question probably wouldn’t naturally roll off the tongue. Open questions take more thought and consideration. This is a skill that most of us have to work to develop. You might know someone naturally gifted in open questions. Many people usually consider them a good friend. Talking with this type of person makes you feel really heard and understood.
So how do you know if you are asking closed questions that might affect your conversation?
Do I have to answer Yes or No to an assumption in your question?
Could I completely answer your question with a one word response?
Do you already think you might know my answer before I say it?
Are you leading my response in one direction or another?
Other examples of closed/open adoption questions:
Do you know the birth parents?
Did you meet his birth mother?
Was she young?
Did you name him?
Will you tell him he was adopted?
How much or what do you share regarding his personal history?
How did you decide what you would and would not share with people?
What factors into how you handle questions regarding his biological family?
How do you feel when people ask about his birth family?
How did you choose his name?
What led you to choose adoption?
What can I ask about his birth family or personal history?
This conversation is worth having. And even if we fumble through it, I hope that you will consider having conversations about Adoption. Even if we struggle to ask or answer an Open Question, we won’t fail with open minds and open hearts. I hope these terms were helpful.