Not perfect, but here's a first shot...
Originally Posted by lauren
Getting back to the intention of the OP, would someone like to synthesize the primary language guidelines for respectful communication about adoption and foster care?
I'd like to add them to the forum guidelines as an additional resource.
In general, language is most respectful when it mirrors how different individuals self-refer. There are certain terms that tend to be more respectful, but there is no consensus among adoption triad members about "right language."The triad of adoption includes:1. People who have been adopted.
These may be children, or they may be adults who were adopted as children.
Many people find it offensive when the adoption is unnecessarily used in a description of a person. For example, "Jean's adopted daughter Sally is a very nice person."
However, there are times when adoption information is part of a conversation, particularly on a board like this in which we discuss adoption issues. In these cases, there is not consensus among people who have been adopted as to the preferred term.
Some people prefer "adoptee." This can be a useful short-hand and does acknowledge the role adoption can have in personal identity formation. Other people prefer something along the lines of "So-and-so, who is adopted." Some individuals find this helpful in claiming an identity outside of adoption, and feel it is appropriate "person first" language.2. People whose children have been adopted.
The most commonly used term is "birthmother" and "birthfather." Please do not abbreviate "birthmother" as "bm," as this can also stand for bowel movement and thus is generally offensive. A better abbreviation is "bmom."
Some adoptive parents avoid using the phrase "our birthmom" out of respect for the autonomy of the relationship between child and birthparent and a rejection of ownership/paternalistic language.
Again, there is not consensus about which terms are and are not respectful, and it is best to refer to people as they self-refer. Some people use terms such as "natural parents," though others feel that this creates a connotation that adoptive parents are unnatural parents. Some people use terms such as "biological parents." Others feel that this is a "cool" description or that it is inaccurate because the relationship is much more dynamic than simply being a biological one.
Many people alternatively use terms such as "first parents" or "original parents" because it acknowledges that children have a relationship with their "birthparents," even if brief. This term also acknowledges early parenting, even parenting as it occurs inutero.
Other times, folks simply use terms like "mother" and "father," or use the names of individuals when it is unnecessary to specify the dynamics of the relationship.
It is important that adoptive parents examine their inner feelings about birth parents, and seek help when they have resentments or other negative feelings toward these people. Children can be very sensitive to subtleties that come across not just in word choice, but in tone. Tension between birthparents and adoptive parents is extremely hard on children, who often associate their identity with both sets of parents even if not explicitly.
Here on this board, we strive to create respectful language, partly out of respect for our children (in addition to their first parents).3. People whose children are adopted.
On a board such as this where the focus is on supporting adoptive parents, often no term is used to specify the relationship between parent and child. As with people who have been adopted, many people find it offensive when the adoption is unnecessarily used in a description of a person. For example, "Sally's adoptive mother is very nice." This may be abbreviated amom. There is little other language commonly used to describe these people.Special notes on foster care:
In the case of foster care, most commonly, if specification is necessary, people will say things like, "I am a foster mom to two great kids," or "My foster child goes to Main St. school," or "He was in foster care last year." There is not consensus around whether it is better to say "foster child" or "child in foster care." However, people who want to be respectful sometimes prefer the latter because it is "person-first" language. Again, it is best to refer to people as they self-refer whenever possible.
Terms such as "foster daughter," "foster son," and "foster parent" are not without debate, but are generally accepted. They may be abbreviated "dfd," "dfs," and "dfp" or "fp."
Children in foster care have parents other than their foster parents. It is most respectful to call these people by parental terms rather than saying "biological parents" or "birthparents" unless it is necessary to specify that a child's parents have lost or relinquished their parental rights. In those cases, it is still preferable to use parental terms and then specify the legal relationship. For example, "Pat's dad, who has relinquished his parental rights, comes to court whenever Pat's mom has a hearing."
Also, when a child is placed with a relative, this is typically though not exclusively called a "kinship placement." Sometimes people talk about unexpected kinship placements as "relatives coming out of the woodwork," but others feel such language is offensive because it applies insect-related language to human beings.A note on adoption plans:
Many people feel that "making an adoption plan" or "choosing an adoptive family for her baby" is preferable language to "putting her baby up for adoption" or "giving her baby up." This is for numerous reasons, not limited to but including the idea that the latter is thought to objectify people, especially babies.And finally...
When it doubt about what language is respectful, it is always a good idea to ask. If you don't have the opportunity to ask the individual involved, at the very least, places like this discussion board can be a good place to get a spectrum of ideas on language and make a determination for yourself what language is best.