I can scarcely afford to remember the day I signed the relinquishment of parental rights. The pen was sufficiently flowing and of good quality. I repeatedly confirmed that I wouldn’t change my mind, that I understood what I was doing, and that I felt relinquishment was in the child’s best interest. Even though I consented to placing him for adoption and relinquishing my rights, no piece of paper could sever our connection or blot out the love I bear for him. He will always be my son, and I will always be his mother.
Adoption doesn’t necessarily erase relationships; it just creates more! I came to understand that placing my son didn’t make me any less his mother or him any less my child. He could be theirs and mine separately as well as ours together through our open adoption. Both birth parents and adoptive parents can claim their child as their own without diminishing the role of another.
Because of what language can reveal about our most intimate feelings, both those who speak and those who receive must use it with care and respect. Possessive pronouns such as “mine,” “yours,” “theirs,” and “ours” can both diminish and uplift another’s role. Those who are touched by adoption and those who support them should take special consideration into the language they use to describe these markedly individual relationships.
When strangers or acquaintances talk with me about children, I always take pride in telling stories about “my son.” Referring to him as “mine” is something of a consolation for not having him with me every day. When birth mothers use this kind of terminology, it is a way to honor the role they played in carrying, giving birth to, and placing. Adoptive parents should use the term in similar ways to indicate who they are in relation to their child–having a child of one’s own carries with it enormous responsibility as well as joy. It is your right as a guardian to proudly say, “Yes, that’s my son,” or “She’s my daughter.”
Using the same words with a different audience under a different context can come across as defensive, possessive, or exclusionary. Birth and adoptive parents should avoid using “mine” language with each other. It is easy to hurt or offend one another by verbally laying claim to the child you share. Instead, always refer to the adoptee by his or her name; unlike with strangers, the relationship should be understood.
Rather than using the term “your child,” birth mothers should demonstrate their recognition of the adoptive parents’ stewardship through actions. Yielding to the parenting decisions that they make and respecting their wishes all speaks to an attitude of accepting their special place in your child’s life.
Personally, I would find it pretty weird if the adoptive mother called me up and said, “Guess what your baby did today?” But knowing that the adoptive parents also respect my significance is still important to me. The pregnancy was a critical time in establishing this; they supported me in making decisions that affected the baby without acting overbearing.
“Yours” is an attitude of humility. Nurturing a willingness to recognize another person at sensitive times, such as the pregnancy, placement, relinquishment, and finalization, will go a long way.
The term “theirs” isn’t likely to be used between birth parents and adoptive parents; instead, the opposite parents are the subject. Once or twice, someone has reminded me that my birth son is their baby (in reference to his adoptive parents). Like the above pronouns, “theirs” is most dangerous in what it excludes. In fact, “theirs” doesn’t include at all: It gives possession to a third party rather than enveloping the speaker or audience.
Like “yours,” “theirs” suggests humility. As such, parents and their supports can find a strong use of this word by infusing it with empathy. Use “theirs” to explain where the subject is coming from, why they would subscribe to a behavior, or explain their feelings toward their child. (See what I did there?)
“Ours” was my favorite word when I would I lie on an ultrasound table with the adoptive parents. I would say, “That’s our baby!” and feel warm smiles as a response. The sense of unity created by “ours” secured us together as a family. It stripped possession from no one so that everyone could celebrate their connection. It is the most inclusive of the pronouns.
However, the same word that could make another part of the family can cut someone out of it. Phrases such as “just our family” exemplify this possible exclusion. The difference in meaning of the same word can be immense to the unwary speaker. As such, take care to always use “ours” in the more communal sense–it eliminates the illusion of teams.
The use of possessive pronouns and, more importantly, the sentiments behind them, is usually unavoidable. We shouldn’t wallow in redundancy for the sake of removing these words from our speech. Nevertheless, there is a simple and agreeable solution: use the child’s name. Using a name implies neither possession or dispossession. It gives the ownership back to the child as an individual, which is an important distinction–even from infancy.
In “The Prophet,” by philosopher Kahlil Gibran, he says of children, “Your children are not your children…they come through you but not from you, and though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.” Although much of language is possessive, using a name demonstrates respect for another as an irreplaceable and distinguished individual.