Using Positive Adoption Language

In the past, negative language was often used to describe adoption because people treated it as a secret that had to be kept. In the more recent past, however, adoption has become much more open as it is treated as a perfectly legitimate way to build a family. It’s obvious that adoption has come a long way, but the language that people use to describe adoption is still lagging behind quite a bit.

The Importance of Positive Language

The way we talk and the words we choose say a lot about what we think and value. Many words and terms people commonly use are unintentionally hurtful and negative which can serve to undervalue the experience and life story of birth parents, adoptees and their families. When we use positive adoption language, we assign positive connotations with adoption demonstrating that adoption is a wonderful way to build a family — just as birth is. Both are important, and neither is more important than the other.

Negative adoption language can have a very damaging effect on how others perceive adoption and how adopted children, adoptive families, and birth parents distinguish themselves. For example, if you are an adoptive parent and refer to your child as your “adopted daughter,” you run the risk of making her feel like she does not belong to your family. This could impact her identity and her self-esteem drastically. If a woman is asked if she is considering “giving her baby up for adoption,” a negative connotation is automatically assigned to the act of adoption. Adoption is not giving up. Rather, it is a decision that birth parents make out of love in their child’s best interest.

For these reasons, it’s vital to familiarize yourself with positive adoption language. Below is a list of commonly used negative language and their positive counterparts.

Negative Adoption LanguagePositive Adoption Language
Real parentBirth parent or biological parent
Real childBiological child
Put up for adoptionPlace in an adoptive home
Give up for adoptionMake an adoption plan
Not the real parentsAdoptive parents
Keep your babyParent your child
Adopted childMy child/their child
Adoptive parentParent
Is adoptedWas adopted

It’s important to note that this list is meant to be used as a guideline and not a rule book. The language that people like to use is personal and can vary from person to person. If appropriate, ask the people who you know are apart of an adoption triad what terms they prefer. Adoptees and birth parents have the right to choose the language which describes their own unique life story, so don’t be afraid to have this discussion with those closest to you.

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