Wednesday, May 28, 2008

To get, v.t.

To come into possession of or obtain by effort or contrivance; earn, gain, or win. --The Living Webster, 1971

I'm pretty forgiving of those people not in the adoption community who fail to use appropriate adoption language. Those who have had little or no contact with adoption cannot be expected to know the proper terms for things. When someone uses terms that are not the preferred choice, I will often reflect back the question or comment with the better term. (Can you tell I took a counseling class in grad school?) But I do have a lot of trouble with other adoptive parents who have not spent time thinking about the language they use in reference to their own children and other's children. These issues intimately affect them and all adoptive parents.

More than once in Vietnam I came across other American adoptive parents (from other agencies - don't worry friends!) who commented to me about "getting" children. For instance, "Oh, you got an older one. I wanted an older one, but my agency only had babies." (To save me time, you can insert your own commentary on agencies who only have infants here.) Or, "Did you get two, or just one?" when the speaker saw TM. These types of comments make me grind my teeth, and much to M's disappointment, I didn't feel as though it was the time to engage in discussion over language. Instead, I'm saving my comments for you, dear reader.

As you can see from the definition above, the verb "to get" is about possession or owning or winning. I just don't see how this verb has any place in relation to a human being. We don't own our children, we didn't win them in a contest, and we certainly didn't purchase them. To use this term is to demote our children to the level of a thing. To some this may seem like nitpicking. We Americans use language very casually, although lazily might be a better term. We have a wealth of vocabulary, with many words that mean basically the same thing, but with many shades of connotation. Yet we tend to pick a couple of words and use them for everything, mindless of how the connotation affects the situation to which we refer. But language does matter. It can be a powerful force in how people view themselves. Anyone who has survived junior high school no longer believes the rhyme, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me." Words do hurt. There are some words which are so hurtful that we don't even say them. We just refer to them by a letter and even then they have power because everyone knows what they mean.

The children of the parents I met may have been too young to understand the words of their parents, but I pray these parents think about their language sooner rather than later. Older children (and even not so old ones) listen carefully to what their parents say, whether they seem to be listening or not. And I believe the connotation of possession will not be lost on them. How much better would it be for these children to hear themselves referred to as beloved children...blessings grafted into a new family.

7 comments:

StaceynCorey said...

Right on! I saw and heard some disturbing things while in Vietnam in regards to adoptions. There is still much work to be done.

Mairs said...

Oh could add my own two cents here!

So.. which ones are *yours*?

Are they brothers and sisters?

How could a birthmom give up her baby?!

Welcome home!! As soon as I get some more time, I'm going to come back and finish looking at that photo album - thanks for sharing your trip with us!!

maxhelcal said...

While in the US Embassy waiting for our interview we encountered the very same thing. A couple saw Bronte and said, "She's so cute. We wanted a toddler too but then they offered us this one so we decided to take her anyway." !!!????!!!! I was just totally speechless. My face must have said it all though as we did not have to utter another word to them.

Christina said...

Amen! I am always so dumbfounded in those moments - especially when it's a fellow AP saying the insensitive/dumb things. Language is so powerful and our kids pick up on a lot more than people think. Thanks for taking the time to educate the internets! :-)

twodifferentloves said...

I had this same experience when I went to my first adoptive parents support meeting....
Ahhh, yes...
when to engage, when to just pray, when to pluck out one's own log... these are the questions on my mind....

LawMommy said...

[hides face in shame] - I did this myself the other day. Lana asked me, "Mommy, I really want you to have a baby."

And I said, 'YOU'RE my baby, Lana. I don't want another baby."

Lana countered with, "I WANT a baby."

And I said, "But, H~ is going to get a baby." (H~ being a close family friend who is waiting for a referral from China.) I said this in FRONT of H~, and then immediately felt awkward and weird. However, I didn't want to say she would HAVE a baby, because Lana would interpret that to mean that H~ was pregnant.

I still feel horrible about the conversation, however, I would have felt worse if Lana had asked H~ if there was a baby in her belly...and telling her that H~ was going to adopt a baby seemed a more complex verb than Lana was really ready for...

Obviously, I'm still obsessing about this, and it was 3 days ago.

Gretchen

ladybugsmama said...

I hear ya. I am sure I have said some stupid things re: adoption--but I think I have learned (and am still learning!) I don't mind when others don't use people-first language (well I think therapists/teachers/medical professionals should know better) but when a parent of a child with Down syndrome calls their child a "Downs kid" or even worse says he/she "is" Downs it makes me grit my teeth--I feel like there is just no excuse.

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