Trying to define “adoption” is a tricky thing to do. After all, how do you narrow down an adoption definition for a word that means something so different to everyone who is involved in the unique process?
While the word “adoption” has different intrinsic meanings for people, the vocabulary involved in the adoption process is generally similarly understood by all. Whether you’re looking to start the adoption process or simply want to learn more about adoption, understanding the definitions of the most common terms is a perfect way to start.
We recommend you speak to an adoption specialist for more information on what these terms may mean in your individual adoption situation, but here are some general adoption definitions to be aware of:
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “to adopt” as “to take by choice into a relationship; especially: to take voluntarily (a child of other parents) as one’s own child.”
This is the most important term to understand, as this adoption definition forms the base for all other “adoption” terms used in the process. You can “adopt” many things (including animals and habits) but, for the purposes of this article, we’ll use this term in relation to the adoption of people.
It’s important to remember that all of the adoption definitions are simplistic explanations of a complicated process. Therefore, to reduce “adopt” to the act of taking on a child is only including one part of the adopting process. Typically, adopting also includes overcoming the grief of infertility struggles, meeting a pregnant woman who’s in a difficult situation and supporting her throughout her pregnancy, and giving a child a chance at a loving, stable home they otherwise would not have.
While “adoption” is defined in the dictionary as “the act of adoption; the state of being adopted,” there’s much more to it than that.
The definition of adoption doesn’t just include infants as many may think; older children, relatives and even adults can be at the center of adoption. Adoption is more than just the act of placing a child with another family, too. It involves intense screening to ensure all parties are prepared for the adoption journey, a matching process to find the perfect birth mother for adoptive parents (and vice versa), coordination of contact during the adoption process and more. Because adoption is such a complicated process and involves several parts to ensure the perfect situation for all parties, this simple adoption definition can be misleading.
In addition, the word “adoption” means different things to different members of the adoption triad. A birth mother may define adoption as the choice of love and life for her unplanned baby, adoptive parents may define adoption as the priceless gift of becoming a family, and adoptees may define adoption as the sacrifice their birth mother made to ensure they had a successful life. The best way to find out how an individual defines adoption, therefore, is by asking them yourself.
Another common term you’ll hear in adoption is “adoptive,” which is usually applied to the parents who adopt a child (“adoptive parents”). While this term is helpful during the adoption process when adoption specialists are dealing with birth parents and adoptive parents at the same time, there really is no reason to use the term after an adoption is complete. The adoptive parents will simply be the child’s parents, and the child will think of them as so from the very beginning.
Obviously, the term “adopted” means to be the child or adult who has legally become part of a family other than their biological parents’. For an adoptee, their personal definition of adopted may mean so much more.
The term is likely a huge part of their identity as a person. It represents the love their birth mother had to give them their best chance at life, the struggles their parents had to go through before adopting them and the beautiful process of how they came to be with their family today. Being adopted means being surrounded by love — from parents and birth parents — from even before you were born. Many adoptees carry their identity as “adopted” with pride.
These definitions of adoption terms can certainly help you learn more about the basics of adoption, but it’s also important to recognize that these are limited definitions. Adoption terms mean much more than their dictionary definitions will let you know, so the best way to learn more about adoption terms and what they really mean is by talking to someone who has been directly affected by the adoption journey.