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When Your Own Words Shock You

Holt clinical social worker and adoptive mom Zoila Lopez reflects on the importance of the words we choose when talking about adoption. 

I am not even sure where to begin, other than to say that I have spent the last 24 hours mortified after reading an interview I offered about Holt’s waiting child process. When it was published over the weekend, I went back and reread it.

I read everything at work with a critical eye. I think that approach is rooted in the responsibility of assessing families for children, a charge I don’t ever take lightly, and reading my typed words was not a different experience. Almost immediately, as I sat on my living room couch reading the blog on my phone, I began to shift nervously.

Most of what I offered in the Q&A is rooted in the reality of my work — I assess, advocate and help identify families for children that might otherwise grow up in institutionalized care. Adoption is complex, rooted in loss and even in some ways problematic. And while I work for an organization committed to removing barriers so children can remain in the care of their birth families, and when that isn’t possible, making concerted efforts to help those children join adoptive families in their birth countries before considering international adoption, the work is never easy. The pain of each child’s loss is always palpable.

I realized, almost immediately, that my response to what I was reading was visceral. But when I read my words in response to the question about being considered for different children at the same time — “if you have two children you are interested in” — my heart sunk! I was impacted by my words because my statement made the children we advocate for sound like commodities. I was deeply disappointed in myself!

I don’t ever expect perfection from myself or anyone else, but I recognize the importance of language and the weight of words.

Suddenly, I was at home trying to help the son that made me a mother move out (a child I’ve had to engage in so much repair work with), and I could not stop thinking (maybe even obsessing) about the words “the children you are interested in.” I could not let it go!

I spend so much time assessing other people that it appeared I had forgotten to check myself and my own language. I should have used the child-centered language that honors the children and my work. I should have stated “the child you would like to be considered for,” as that is a true representation of what my work is truly rooted in – the best interest of children; finding families for children, not children for families.

When I meet with our families leading up to travel, I always talk about the importance of grace. I give particular emphasis to this point when talking to new parents, because I was once a new parent, too, and I have made so many mistakes! I tell our families to do their very best and to expect to make mistakes. I talk to them about the importance of making necessary repairs in our relationships with our children, our partners and ourselves.

I don’t ever expect perfection from myself or anyone else, but I recognize the importance of language and the weight of words. As we talk about adoption in all of its complexity, we must be mindful, reflective and willing to correct ourselves and others when necessary. We have to be willing to recognize our fallibility while also standing up to make wrongs right.

My partner of more than 20 years tells me I am my worst critic. He read the blog post and did not think anything of it until I mentioned how I felt I should have worded that statement. Ultimately, I believe it is important and a huge responsibility that we reflect and continuously evaluate our work, our processes and our language. I vow to continue to push myself, and everyone around me to challenge ourselves to do better, and I challenge you to do the same, too.

Zoila M. López, MS (she/her) is a clinical social worker with Holt’s SE Asia Team, most notably with the Thailand Special Needs Project. She has a master’s degree in mental health counseling and undergraduate degrees in both psychology and criminal justice. At Holt, Zoila is engaged in child assessment and advocacy, as well as family preparation, assessment and support. Zoila is also a former foster parent and an adoptive mother.

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