Pin It
Wednesday, July 25th, 2012

Why Adopted is an Overused Adjective

By
Why Adopted is an Overused Adjective © Scott Milless - Fotolia.com

Lately, I’ve been traveling a lot for work. I invariably embark upon each trip thinking I’ll use the countless wasted hours waiting for delayed flights and shuttling to and from airports to catch up on emails or prepare for a presentation.

Only I don’t like flying very much. To compensate for my anxiety, I load up on treats—glossy-paged treats filled with celebrities engaged in activities the editors at US Weekly, People or InTouch would have me believe resemble the reality of my own day-to-day life. As I peruse the Jolie-Pitts frolicking on the Galapagos Islands and photographic evidence that “just like me” Sandra Bullock shops at Whole Foods, I notice there is one adjective we share between us—and I don’t mean the  predictable “beautiful,” “slimmed-down,” “fuller-figured” or “newly single,” either. The adjective is “adopted.”

The first few times I saw a photo caption about Sandra Bullock’s adopted son, I didn’t think much of it. The child is her son, and he is, in fact, adopted. Then I noticed a similar reference to Katherine Heigl’s daughter, followed by Tom Cruise’s and Nicole Kidman’s daughter. Adopted son. Adopted daughter. Adopted son from Vietnam.  Domestically adopted son. Daughter adopted from Korea. Adopted. Adopted. Adopted. Why the need for this adjective? Do editors really think readers will see a picture of Sandra Bullock with her African-American son and wonder, “How can Sandra Bullock have an African-American child? I’m so confused!” So they insert the caption with the adoption descriptor to curb reader confusion. “Oh, he’s adopted. Now I understand.“

I am not unilaterally opposed to the adopted descriptor. As an adoptive mother, I know that being adopted is an essential component of my child’s identity. But with only room enough for a pithy caption beneath the photos, these magazines hardly seem concerned with accurately capturing the essence of a person’s identity.

Of course, there are times when describing a child as adopted—versus biological—is appropriate. For instance, when I talk about my son’s birthplace, the differences in our hair or my absence of a pregnancy, it is relevant to share that he is adopted. It’s the use of “adopted” as a completely unrelated descriptor that I find so irksome.  I react similarly when I hear men discussing a new boss or senior-level executive and make an irrelevant reference to the person’s gender. “I have this new boss; she’s a woman.” What does gender have to do with her position as your boss? Likely nothing. That’s how I feel about the overuse of “adopted.”

I’m mostly tired of this adjective because it has multiple interpretations that can often lead to judgments about both adoptive parents and adopted children. Some people wrongly interpret “adopted” to mean different. Others romanticize the term to mean “extra-special.” My son is adopted and while that does make him different from some of his friends, it also makes him the same as some of his friends.  Yes, he’s adopted and he’s extra-special, but not extra-special because he’s adopted. He’s exceptional because he’s a comedian, an aspiring cook, an architect, a singer and a popsicle connoisseur.

I know gossip magazines are unlikely allies in the fight to demystify adoption, but I wish they could limit their use of this one overused adjective. Maybe then they could use the saved space to add an extra photo of Ryan Gosling!

© 2012, Kelley O’Brien. All rights reserved.

More Great Stuff You'll Love:


Is Raising Bilingual Children Worth the Costs?

Fancy schools, international vacations, foreign language books, DVDs and tutors add up fast

Why African Toddlers Don't Have Tantrums

The secret of why African babies don't meltdown like Western ones.

Ramadan Star and Moon Craft

A craft recycled from your kid's art work!

Almost African: My Childhood as a Serbo-Croatian in Sudan

The freedom of growing up as the only Serbo-Croatian in Sudan

ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Kelley O'Brien lives in Carrboro, North Carolina with her husband David, their son Jin, adopted in January 2009 from South Korea, and two cats. She is working hard to balance her career with raising a happy and healthy child.

Leave us a comment!

2 Comments
  1. CommentsLu   |  Thursday, 26 July 2012 at 7:34 pm

    Bravo and thank you for this!

  2. CommentsEileen Drapiza   |  Sunday, 21 October 2012 at 9:09 am

    Your posting resonates with me. The focus on celebrity adoptions and their kids has created an oversimplified label. While it does explain how the family came together, it also removes choice from the child to speak about his or her own status, and too easily provokes unwanted comments from people who really don’t need to be heard from.

    I’m an adoptive mom looking for alternative words and phrases to describe this relationship to outsiders when introducing ourselves and our daughter, and I’ve just started shifting the focus from “meet my adopted” daughter to “we are a “multicultural family” or “mixed heritage family, followed by, “my daughter was born in China, her dad is from England, and my parents came from the Philippines.” Maybe it’s a mouthful, but it feels more representative, and creates positive inclusive language that I hope will help my daughter develop a better sense of belonging, than by constantly calling attention to her status as adopted when she already has a sense that it sets her apart in some way from many classmates.

    At home we talk a lot about adoption, too, but it’s not something I’m going to be leading with when I introduce her outside the family, unless appropriate tot the situation as she’s still figuring it out for herself. If one day she wants to introduce herself and lead with “I’m adopted,” I’ll be proud that she’s become confident enough of her place with us that it has become a safe subject, even with strangers.









Notify me of follow-up comments via e-mail.
Or leave your email address and click here to receive email notifications of new comments without leaving a comment yourself.

Get weekly updates right in your inbox so you don't miss out!



A Children's Book for Raising Global Citizens

Every life is a story. It’s easier to understand someone when you know their story.

Why I Travel 13 Hours Alone with My Kids Every Chance I Get

Travelling with children, while definitely more of a mission, contradicts the old saying that “life is about the journey, not the destination.”

A Diverse Book for Preschoolers in Celebration of Multicultural Children's Book Day

A book that honestly and simply celebrates the every day diversity that children experience.

Why My African Feminist Mother Gave Me the Identity of My Father's Tribe

She gave me an identity so different from her own.

2 Children’s Books about Jamaica

Explore Jamaica with your child.

Costa Rica with Kids: Two Weeks of Family Travel

Two weeks of Pura Vida in a country with so much to offer families.

Should I Worry about My Child's Accent in Her Foreign Language?

See why Dr. Gupta takes offense to this question and where children learn accents from

How to raise trilingual kids when exposure to Dad's language is limited

My kids only get 1-2 hours of the minority language per day-help!
[…] Peru, 97 percent of newborns are breastfed, according to LLLI. In Culture Parent reported that 69 percent of Peruvian children are breastfed exclusively from birth to five months, and ou...
From Breastfeeding Around the World
Hi I was googling Islamic beliefs when I came across your post. We are American and our neighbors are from Pakistan I think. Our kids love playing together but their dad doesn't allow the kids to co...
From An Islamic Perspective on Child-Rearing and Discipline
Mother’s Day is the most perfect and accurate Occasion to express your Love and Gratitude towards Mothe...
From Holi Craft: Straw Painting
[…] Muslims fast for 30 days every year for Ramadan, which is one of the five pillars of Islam. Ramadan this year is happening during most of the month […...
From Ramadan: June 28-July 28
[…] Raising a Little Buddha – Part 1, InCulture Parent — Post by a Buddhist Minister about raising an enlightened child.  It starts with intimacy, communication, and community. [R...
From How to Raise an Enlightened Child — Part I
[…] Breastfeeding in Jordan, InCulture Parent — Not as restrictive as one might think. […...
From Breastfeeding in Jordan
[…] Best and Worst Countries to be a Mother, InCulture Parent – “The 2010 Mothers’ Index rates 160 countries (43 developed nations and 117 in the developing world) in terms of th...
From Best and Worst Countries to be a Mother
[…] Why Americans Value Independent and Competitive Kids, InCultureParent — Interesting look at how our values impact our interactions with our children (babies in particular). […...
From Why Americans Value Independent and Competitive Kids
[…] Multiple Fathers and Healthier Children in the Amazon, InCulture Parent — a fascinating look at cultures in the Amazon where pregnant women have sex with more than one man as a means...
From Multiple Fathers and Healthier Children in the Amazon

More Becoming Us: Adoption