Adoption, adoptive parents

Adoption Language

When movies and TV shows discuss the topic of adoption, phrases such as “she gave up her baby” or “his/her real parents” are commonly used. What people don’t realize is how hurtful those statements can be. The truth is how you say something is completely different then how those words are interpreted. Being educated on adoption language will help you navigate through some potentially sensitive conversations.

Positive adoption language means choosing words and phrases that show respect to everyone involved in the adoption process.  Here is a quick guide to positive and negative adoption language.

Positive Language

Birthmother, birthfather, birth family, birth parent – are all words used to describe people who conceived and gave birth to a child and their families. It is important to remember that all of us have birth parents, but not all of us live with them.

Parent, mother, father, mommy, daddy, and child – these words the members of the adoptive family. It’s not necessary to say adopted child or adoptive parent unless the conversation or situation specifically centers around adoption.

Make an Adoption plan, choose adoption, arrange an adoption, place a child in an adoptive home – these terms acknowledge that the birth parents were responsible and active in making this decision.

Parent her child – this phrase is used when a birth parent decides not to choose adoption.

Negative Language

Abandoned, surrendered, released, relinquished, gave up for adoption, gave away, adopted out, or put up for adoption – these terms are not a good description of the ways in which most adoption plans are created. These terms give adoption a negative connotation.

Real parent, real mother, real father, real family – these terms suggest that the adoptive family relationships are artificial and temporary.

Natural parents, natural child, one of your own – these terms imply that the relationships in an adoptive family are not as strong or lasting as the relationship by birth.

Keep her child – this suggests that the child is a possession and ignores the parenting responsibilities


Positive Negative
Child by birth or biological child Real child or natural child
Our child by adoption Our adopted child (it’s not necessary to use “adopted”)
Person who was adopted Adoptee or adopted child
Deciding to parent the child or parenting Keeping her child
Meeting or making contact with Reunion
Locate or contact birthparents Search or track down birthparents
Child from another country Foreign adoptee or foreign child
Was adopted Is adopted
Genetic relative Blood relative

Using positive language when talking about adoption will be helpful in any future conversation you may have. It will show whoever you are talking to that you have respect and understanding for all aspects of adoption.

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