The Vocabulary of Language

Many areas of life have their own vocabulary and language. Law. Medicine. Emergency Services. Education. Football. And many more. The words we use can be understood and they can be misunderstood. How and what we say can make a difference. Our words matter. But many times it can be like learning and speaking a foreign language. Add in the nuances of the English language, and it can be like navigating a sternwheeler through a jungle river.


I think one of the frustrating things about the unique vocabularies and languages is that how the words land when used is dependent on who is saying them and to whom. Many times it’s dependent upon the situation involved, and even the environment in which the words are used.

Adoption has its own vocabulary and language.real

Adopted child. Adoptive parent. Natural parent. Real parent. Biological/Bio family. Relinquished. Separation. Gave up. Reunion. Kinship.  And the list goes on. Wikipedia even has a whole entry for the “Language of adoption.”

This is not specifically an adoption blog. But adoption is a topic that I swirl around in a lot, and so I’m dedicating a category to it. I started swirling in this topic quite a few years ago.

When I was a teenager in high school, my parents had a group home for teenage girls. I was in boarding school at the time, so I watched from a distance, and interacted occasionally when I was home for a weekend or vacation. Each girl had a “resume,” of sorts, but I really had no clue what they knew of their birth families or what they had experienced deep inside their hearts.

Fast forward some years, I was a mom of two daughters in middle school. Three children lost their mother and father and needed a home. This may have been the first time my heart ever entertained the idea of adoption. There were way too many interfering factors at that time to get past my heart’s pull from reading the brief story posted on a church bulletin board. At that time, I had no clue anyway of what adoption was truly about.

Over the next number of years, I stayed in the outer ripples of adoption, mainly just knowing families who were part of adoptions or hearing advertisements for foster care and adoption. But it was a fairly quiet topic, certainly compared to today.

About ten years ago Mark and I started randomly coming across and being drawn toward movies that seemed to have a common theme that would wreck us. At the same time some things started happening that led us to wonder if foster care or adoption was to be part of our journey. Coincidentally a position opened up and I began working for The Adoption Exchange. I worked with pre-adoption and post-adoption families and helped facilitate weekend parenting seminars. CPR certification is required for parents going through the foster or adoption training process, and being a CPR instructor, I taught classes to prospective parents for a ministry called Project 1.27. All of a sudden I was immersed in the foster/adopt world.

Because (as we soon discovered) it was to be more of the journey (and not because of my work), in 2009, two brothers ages 10 and 14, moved into our home and continued their own story in a whole new world. That was eight years and a million miles of life ago, and now both brothers are men living the next legs of their journeys as well.

That brief synopsis of my adoption swirling brings me to where I am today. The plethora of trainings, articles, books, family interactions and conversations I have had around adoption (and foster care) have certainly prepared and educated me. Yet, the topic continues to bring up a lot of questions and contemplation within, maybe even some confusion. I find that the whole thing can send me all over the map in what I think and feel.

I looked for a meme for this post. And you know what? That map of thoughts and feelings was rolled wide. I get it. I really do. But depending on who you are and what spectrum you’re on, those memes can be deceiving, inaccurate, or even downright disrespectful. I’m not saying they shouldn’t be there. But it sure brings up the whole thing in me about needing so much more understanding in order to have needed and appropriate resources for and from all sides.

The problem is, there are so many sides to the matter, and then each individual situation is, well, individual. As much as there are similarities in each story, each one is unique. And (for context and perspective) this is where we enter into that vocabulary and language of adoption. So hang on.

Each story is not just about a child. It’s about a birth mother, a birth father, and extended family. It’s about foster parents. It’s about adoptive parents. It’s about the placement agency. It’s about caseworkers. It’s about the attorney.

judgeIt’s about decisions. It’s about realities. It’s about emotions.

My own experiences have taught me much about the child. But they have also raised a lot of questions, concerns, new understandings and new beliefs. I have researched deeper resources that address topics that aren’t as comfortable or mainstream. I have had the good fortune of knowing biological family members and adult adoptees who have enlightened me in many ways. And it brings me to a new normal.

I still believe in adoption. But I also believe it’s not necessarily always the best option, and sometimes shouldn’t even be an option. I still believe in foster care. But even more, I believe in family care. I believe there are many terrific programs and resources in place. But I also know that there are programs that aren’t terrific, and there is a severe lack in resources. I believe there are answers to be found. But I know I don’t have them.

So what do I do with all this? A movie, book, article, news report, blog, facebook post and sometimes a chance meeting with someone at a store, school or church and I am wrecked. I step back. “What’s that about?” I don’t always get an answer. But what I do know is that there is more I am to learn and experience. Although at this point I do not know all the details of what it looks like, I know that my future is still connected in some way to adoption and foster care. And so I continue to watch and read and listen and ask and learn…and wait.

With that, I invite you to share viewpoints and opinions and feelings. Keep this a safe place to jump into the swirl with me, share stories and thoughts and learn from one another.

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