March into My Heart

Today’s Drip: About Adoption, the Word

In this world of new semantics that we started accepting as part of our everyday language when personal computers burst onto the scene in the early 1980’s, I wonder if we shouldn’t rethink the use of the word adopted and adoption when we refer to the precious people that make or complete our family.  Many years ago, we bought our first computers and easily accepted new names coming from acronyms like PC and MS-DOS, and with the internet, came undocumented utterances that are now household words like Yahoo, Google and Bing. Even some real words are now more frequently used to refer to technology or new companies than their original use (i.e. Windows, Twitter and Amazon).

adoptionWhen I looked up the official definition of the word adopt, Merriam-Webster provided the following five definitions:

1: to take by choice into a relationship; especially: to take voluntarily (a child of other parents) as one’s own child

2: to take up and practice or use <adopted a moderate tone>

3: to accept formally and put into effect <adopt a constitutional amendment>

4: to choose (a textbook) for required study in a course

5: to sponsor the care and maintenance of <adopt a highway>

The first definition is clearly in a different class of importance than the remaining four definitions. Referring to a human child who joins a family the same way as taking on a tone of speaking or caring for an inanimate object like a highway seems awkward at best. It occurs to me that we really need a new word that expresses the importance and sensitive nature involved in bringing children into a family forever.  Adoption doesn’t sound positive, doesn’t roll off the tongue easily, and brings too many different connotations to mind. Even though I am a pet lover at heart, using the same word to refer to someone’s four-legged family member joining the family, as well as their precious child, seems inappropriate.

In addition, for parents who have adopted children, being referred to as adoptive parents separates us from all parents unnecessarily. We are clearly just as in love with our children and as capable as natural parents. I am in fact, the same kind of parent when I mother my adopted child as I am with my naturally born children. I wonder if the distinction is necessary at all.  If it is, we need to come up with a new word altogether that provides a more flattering and sensitive way of referring to adoptive parents and families.

The online dictionary gave examples of the above definitions. The example of the first definition rendered me and at least one other reader surprised and disappointed. The example for the first definition was “They were unable to have children of their own, so they decided to adopt.” Well, before I could get too upset at the narrow-minded example which confirmed my assumption that people who haven’t adopted children might be the ones who wrote these examples, I skimmed down to the comment section.  One reader said, “This example ‘They were unable to have children of their own, so they decided to adopt.’ is incorrect. Children who were adopted ARE their parents’ own children– that’s the whole point! I think what was meant to be conveyed, and what would be more accurate is: ‘They were unable to have children biologically, so they decided to adopt.’”  Eight people, in addition to me, liked her comment.

Although I am the first person to complain about someone who brings up an issue or controversy without offering a good suggestion or solution to the problem, I have to admit that I don’t have a good recommendation to this conundrum.  I doubt that I am the first to lodge this complaint in public and yet, I have not read anything that poses a similar question, or challenges others to find better terminology. Perhaps someday a smart, adopted child will come up with a whole new approach when referring to his or her circumstance of life.

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Comments (7)

  1. Linda Kosin

    That smart child you reference that will come up with a new approach will be Sophie!

  2. Ironically, I’m not going to talk about the word “adoption”, but instead the word “natural.” Your adopted children were naturally born, assuming that they didn’t spring fully-formed from their birthfather’s head, a la Athena, or something like that. And your family is just as natural as your adopted children’s biological (or birth, or first) families. As a mother through adoption, I really hate the use of the word “natural” in those contexts.
    There are many, many words in the English language that have multiple meanings, some of which are weightier than others. Maybe it would be different if I were adopted, but I don’t generally have a problem using the word “adopt” in its various legitimate contexts. I only use the term “adopted” or “adoptive” with “children” or “parents” if I am purposefully differentiating between different types of children and parents.

  3. Terri

    I think it is perfectly wonderful to drop the word adopted all together. You are a parent. period.

    It is human nature to want to understand all the nuances of how families are formed but frankly it’s none of our business. If I don’t know you well enough to have been part of your adoption history then I don’t know you well enough to question your journey to being a parent. To do so is rude.

    If you share that you’ve adopted then fantastic, but at the end of the day you’re no less a parent to your kids than I am to my daughter whom I carried.

    Thank your for an interesting article.

  4. Susie S

    My husband and I are getting ready to adopt siblings through foster care and I agree with you’re assessment of the word adopt. For me an appropriate alternative comes from my trusty Iphone dictionary app–the word “embrace”. It’s a synonym of adopt. Defined as–the state of taking in or encircling.

    Being that “embrace” is a synonym I like to think of it as a lateral shift in thinking. It’s like adopt but so much more encompassing.

    When we finalize our adoption I won’t be just an adoptive parent, I will be an embracing parent.

    So much better. So much bigger.

    • Well said! Love that word. I commend you for beginning the conversation with a great suggestion! Good luck to you with your new ebracement! Thanks for reading and commenting.