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What Do You Mean -- Adopted?

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The Meanest Mom: DNA means nothing when it comes to parenting.

Last month, the 5-year-old daughter of Christian singer Steven Curtis Chapman died in a tragic car accident. The reports of Maria Chapman's death saddened me, not only for the loss of this beautiful little girl, but also because of the adjective most frequently used to describe her: "adopted." I understand why people feel compelled to use this term, but I speak for many adoptive parents when I say I wish that they didn't.

The instinct to describe Maria as the "adopted daughter" of Steven and Mary Beth Chapman (instead of just "the daughter") demonstrates that despite its increasing prevalence, adoption is still a mixed signifier: Parents who adopt are "heroic" and "courageous," while the children that they bring into their homes are "lucky" and "fortunate."

Until you have been touched by adoption, you do not realize that it's the other way around. For this reason, I find it strange and unfortunate that the first adjective that comes to many people's minds when describing a child born in China, Russia, Guatemala or Taiwan is "adopted." Most of us don't think twice about describing our neighbors' son as "Jim and Pam's adopted son from Guatemala," but we would never in million years describe another friend's daughter as "Allison, who was conceived in her parent's bedroom." How a child enters into a family is irrelevant. What is important is that he/she is there. 

Persistent use of the term demonstrates that for most population, there is an important difference between "adopted" and "biological" child. The difference is, in part, superficial -- based on skin color or nationality. But there's also something else that is deeper and more insidious: The notion that a parent can't fully love someone who doesn't share half of his or her DNA. I wonder how these people feel about their spouses.

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22 comments so far | Post a comment now
Susan June 13, 2008, 8:37 AM

This subject just came up after our first family trip to Disney with our “adopted” daughter from Guatemala. The first time I have felt this was when a little brown skinned girl came up to us at the swimming pool and asked if she was our daughter. I said yes but she said I couldn’t be her “mom” because our skin didn’t match. My daugher is 8 and just came home two months ago. I wasn’t prepared for this, but I will be in the future. I will tell them our hearts match inside :) I love this little girl just as much as my biological child. I never knew I could, but once experienced, you never question it again. Great topic…love you photo!

April June 13, 2008, 9:26 AM

Wow. This is so true. We have just adopted our first child. We were very blessed to meet the birth mother 4 months before delivery and I was able to experiene all of the doctor visits and be in the room when the baby was born. It has been such an incredible experience and my husband and myself could not love anyone more than we love her. But it is true what you say. We have been called those exact words but what’s amazing is that courageous and heroic are the words that I wrote to describe the birth mother. And what I will use to describe our daughter when she grows and faces this world. She will know that she is adopted but I will never introduce her as our adopted child, she is simply our daughter.

Ana June 13, 2008, 1:17 PM

I agree with you 100%. But for me the most shocking thing of it all was one message that someone left in the blog page that the Chapman family set up for people to leave messages; I can’t really say it with the same words but the idea was that “at least it wasn’t one of their “real” children”. I felt very sad that someone would say something like that.

annette June 13, 2008, 1:32 PM

I have three grand children one from Russia,one from Ukrain one from Guatemala we are tring to get home they are the love of our lives.

JLA June 13, 2008, 1:42 PM

It would never occur to me to introduce a child as “adopted” in a face to face meeting. I have however described a child as “adopted” to let someone who would later be meeting child know so they would already know and the mom wouldn’t have to have the “yes, they’re from blah blah” conversation for the millionth time. I will say I think while there are some people who believe you can’t love an adopted child as much a biological one. I think most people just ask so many questions etc because they think it’s really neat and they’re curious. Believe me, people ask a lot of annoying questions and give annoying advice about biological kids too. It’s all part and partial to whole mommy gig! Adoptive moms are not alone in that whole creepy strangers invading your family space thing.

Jackie June 13, 2008, 1:47 PM

My daughter may not have come from my body but she is just as much my child as her brothers. Those who haven’t adopted have no idea the power behind searching and finding the child you were meant to be united with. She is my world and I would do anything for her.

momof9 June 13, 2008, 4:39 PM

I very seldom distinguish between my “birth” children, step child, custodial children, and adopted child when talking to people. I also let them know that it is offensive when they seek personal details about which 5 children I actually gave birth to by saying something like… wow that is a really personal question and I see no reason to dwell on how they got into my family I am just glad they are here. In my heart there is no difference. Even my close family members have pretty much forgotten which ones are which and will often tell my adopted son that he looks just like his dad but that he has my eyes we all just say yep he sure does. My custodial daughter is often called my mini me because she is so much like me in her ways even though she looks nothing like me. My children do not explain themselves to others and will just look at people like they are crazy if they are questioned about wether they are “really” brothers and sisters. People can be soooo nasty about it sometimes and act like I lied when I said I had nine children and later they learn one is adopted or a step. I had one lady who actually came up to me in front of the chilren and said, “well, I just found out that you do not really have 9 children of your own cause so an so told me this one, this one, this one, and this one are not really yours so you should not go around telling people that you have nine when you don’t” I just told her she was mistaken and that every one of these are most definately mine and that even the IRS agrees with me about that. I have no idea why some people think everyone owes them a family history or why some believe that unless a child came from your birth canal it is not your “real” child. But I have stopped being so sweet about it and if they ask me personal awkward questions I generally return the favor especially if they ask those questions in front of my children.

Marytime June 13, 2008, 6:18 PM

In many cases, adopted children are from a different race than their parents and to pretend that people don’t notice this is insane. I’m not sure that pointing out a child as adopted is seen as an insult. It often is just an explanation for the elephant in the room. It’s only moving backwards to pretend we all look exactly the same. Isn’t part of moving forward celebrating our differences?

Pamela June 14, 2008, 11:21 PM

Marytime, yes it is an insult to call a child adopted in this type of setting. It really isn’t anyone’s business to point this out. Would you say “my child that is from my vagina?” No I didn’t think so.

gloria June 15, 2008, 9:42 AM

Great article! I can’t agree more. When people ask me if my kids are all “mine”… I give a resounding YES!! Same dad & same mom!! Same family! I don’t allow others to corner me or label my kids.

It’s refreshing to read a pro-adoption article!

Joansie June 16, 2008, 8:11 AM

I guess I look at the term adopted very differently. My definition of the word adopted would be “chosen”. I believe it is a badge of honor and distinction, not meaning less than a biological child, but specifically chosen out of many. My heavenly father adopted me and I am grateful to have been chosen!!

Andrea June 17, 2008, 12:42 AM

Well done.

Joan June 19, 2008, 5:05 PM

My oldest sister was adopted from Korea and people often comment “Well, she’s not your real sister.” To which I always reply, “She was there the day I was born and everyday since. What could be more real?” Blood may be thicker than water, but love is thicker than blood.

Joni June 20, 2008, 2:01 PM

I couldn’t agree more!!!

I guess I look at the term adopted very differently. My definition of the word adopted would be “chosen”. I believe it is a badge of honor and distinction, not meaning less than a biological child, but specifically chosen out of many. My heavenly father adopted me and I am grateful to have been chosen!!

dm June 20, 2008, 5:53 PM

Being adopted is an important part of who my daughter is, I am not offended to explain her story - and I don’t think she should be either. While I don’t introduce her as my “adopted” daughter- I am proud that she’s adopted and I communicate that to her. It is a part of who she is and to call it “labeling” is to make it sound as if it’s a negative part.

In general, I think people are fascinated with adoption. I still find it fascinating myself. I believe I would do more harm to my little girl to talk only of her circumstances when she wasn’t around or under my breath- than to be open with her and those around us. In a way I am teaching her how to talk about her own adoption - her life. It is a special part of who she is.

Bill December 4, 2008, 11:25 AM

Here’s a question I have difficulty with and hopefully someone can help me.
I have a child who was adopted by another family, but I still have regular contact with her, though none of us consider me one of her ‘parents’, so how do I refer to her when talking with other people? My ‘birth-daugher’? Thanks

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