Positive Adoption Language for All

On Tuesday, 14 February 2012, Valentine’s Day no less, I eagerly searched for a copy of The Providence Journal.

I knew that on the front page (and probably continuing on several columns elsewhere) was a feature story on one our favorite families–the Dickinsons, the family who cared for August, our youngest son, for the first sixty-six days of his life.

I found a copy–gazed with a smile at the accompanying front-page color photo of John and Laurie and all their children (seven to be exact)–and proceeded to read.

It didn’t take long–five sentences, actually–before I found myself shaking my head and reaching for my keyboard.

Here is how the article, “Plenty of Love to Go Around,” (Providence Journal, 14 February 2012, pp. A1 and A7) by Tracy Breton begins:

“Where is love? Go to the small ranch home owned by John and Laurie ‍Dickinson and it will overpower you. The house is only 1,364 square feet; it has just one bathroom. But bunk beds have been crammed into two of the three bedrooms, and John ‍Dickinson has converted part of the finished basement into another bedroom.

“He and his wife, Laurie, have seven children — three of their own and four whom they’ve adopted through Children’s Friend & Service, a nonprofit agency in Rhode Island that has placed children 8 and younger into foster and adoptive homes for 178 years.”

Nine little words that sent me into a tailspin:  “three of their own and four whom they’ve adopted . . .”

Image courtesy of Google Images

I wrote immediately to Laurie, then to The Providence Journal.  An email today to the Journal asking them whether or not they were intending to print my letter has gone unanswered; so, I would like to print it here for you–because, regardless of the newspaper’s response, this is a message that needs to be delivered, and fast!

“Right speech” is not mere euphemism for being “politically correct.”  It comes down, quite simply and frankly, to respect.  Words convey power–and they convey a writer’s (indeed, a society’s) attitude toward a subject.

When a seasoned reporter (who, I might add, spent, I am sure, hours with this amazing family) presents an article that was then most assuredly edited by an accomplished editor and negative adoption language remains emblazoned across the front page for all the world to read (and internalize), it is my humble opinion that something needs to be said.

To that end, and with thanks to the Dickinsons for their understanding the need for this primer in positive adoption language, I present my letter here.  I ask that The Providence Journal print it so that the message is received loud and clear by those who most need to hear it and that the requisite damage control can begin.

Dear Editor:
     Thank you and Providence Journal Staff Writer Tracy Breton for highlighting the Dickinson family and the miracle of adoption in your front-page story, “Plenty of Love to Go Around” (14 February 2012, pages A1 and A7).  John and Laurie Dickinson cared for our youngest son during the first 66 days of his life.  The Dickinson family indeed embodies unconditional acceptance and love.  We are honored to call them our friends. However, as a fellow adoptive parent, I would like to bring to your attention the slight–however unintentional–to all adoptive families caused by the statement: John “and his wife, Laurie, have seven children–three of their own and four whom they’ve adopted . . .”  The writer’s intention is clear to be sure: What she means by “three of their own” is that there are “three biological children” in the Dickinson family. 
     The phrase “of their own,” though, implies something that may not have been intended by the writer but is the message received nonetheless.  “Of their own” as a phrase is encompassing, parental, possessive whereas “whom they’ve adopted” imparts an action, a legal proceeding.  When placed side-by-side, it relegates adoption to the position of “second-best”–which, of course, it is not. 

     Positive adoption language is something of which the adoptive community is naturally and particularly aware.  I would respectfully ask that mainstream media educate themselves on positive adoption language so that when the Dickinsons’ four youngest sons–and, indeed, my own children–read future articles about adoption, they are reading positive, respectful language that truly reflects the beauty of adoption.


Samantha Hines

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5 thoughts on “Positive Adoption Language for All

  1. Ms. Hines,
    I just wanted to let you know that your blog really does make people (or at least me) more conscious of the language used about adoption. I’ve started to find myself unintentionally making faces at news articles and TV shows when they’re careless with their terms, and I’m much more aware of my own.

  2. Careful they may ask you to proofread before printing.
    Makes you wonder to what “standards” some publications adhere.
    All one can do is teach! And, teach. And, teach!

  3. Thank you for kindly and eloquently making the point about positive adoption language. Another phrase that irks me is “real parents”. My “own” children have brought it home with them unwittingly and I’ve corrected them. It doesn’t get more real than loving and raising a child through thick and thin- and love and commitment – not DNA – are what makes a family.

I would love to hear your thoughts . . .

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