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Positive Adoption Language

November 8, 2012

The language we use says a lot about our thoughts and values. Using positive adoption language communicates that adoption is as much a way to build a family as birth is. Both are equally important. By using the following positive adoption language, you will reflect the true nature of adoption; one that honors the child, the birth parents, and the adoptive family.

Who’s Who? and What’s What?

Biological Family/Birth Parents/Birth Mother/Birth Father – These are all affirming words to use in description of the family who has made an adoption plan for their child. I have even had a client choose to call her birth mother, her child’s “LIFE MOTHER,” to honor the fact that she gave her daughter the gift of life.  It is NOT acceptable to use the term “real parents” or “natural parents” to describe a birth family. (Some families choose to use the term Expectant Mom prior to the birth of a child.)

Biological Children- Please do not refer to the children in an adoptive family who came to the family through natural means/biologically, as the family’s “real children.” I assure you that any mother or father who has both biological children and children who have been adopted, consider each of those children as very REAL.

Adopted Children– As much as there is a natural curiosity that may rise up when you meet a family who has grown through adoption, please do not inquire, “Which are your adopted children?” or “Which ones are your own children?” If you really are interested in adoption and want to hear a family’s story, a much more affirming question would be, “Would you mind telling me about how adoption has impacted your family?” or “I would love to hear your family’s adoption story, would you mind sharing?” (I also encourage you to ask those questions ONLY of the parents, and not in front of children.)

The Adoption Plan- Birth families who choose adoption for their child have “made an adoption plan” or have “placed their child for adoption.” The terms “gave the child up for adoption” or “adopted out the child” are very outdated, and are not life affirming at all. And a family who considered making an adoption plan for their family and then changed that plan, “chose to parent.”

Trans-racial Adoption- There are many diverse families in the adoption community. A family that reflects diversity is a “Trans-racial Family.”

Special Needs Adoption– Children with special needs are simply that, children with special needs. Please do not use the terms “handicapped child” or “disabled child” or throw the diagnosis in front of the word child as an adjective. My sons are NOT Down syndrome children, they are children with Down syndrome. Their diagnosis does not define them.


If you a truly interested in learning about a family and their adoption, please ask with sensitivity.

Here’s a list of my pet-peeve questions that are simply not necessary:

  1. Where is he/she from? 
  2. Where did you get him/her?
  3. Why didn’t his/her real mom want him/her? (or any questions about the child’s birth family for that matter)
  4. What is he/she?
  5. How much did it cost? or worse yet- How much did he/she cost?
  6. What’s wrong with him? (regarding a child with special needs)
  7. Which ones are yours? (referring to my children)

Revert back to the simple: “Would you mind sharing your adoption story with me?” And then defer to the adoptive family to share whatever information they want to share with you. The details of their adoption are personal. There are a myriad of reasons why some of it is simply not our business! 

I would also like to remind you again, NOT to ask any questions in front of their children. It’s just simply inappropriate.

As an adoptive mother, I’ve had every possible inappropriate thing said to me about my family and my children, primarily because people are uneducated and unaware of how their words come across, and because they simply aren’t THINKING! And sometimes just because of outdated, old fashioned ideas about adoption. My normal response is to either dodge the question, reply by educating, or at times give a sarcastic remark that makes it clear that the question is inappropriate.

As any parent would be, adoptive parents are protective of their children. If you ask questions and get vague answers, please don’t be offended. If you’re not given the full “scoop” so to speak, there is most likely a very good reason. Don’t take it personally, it’s not about you, it’s about the love and protection of a child.

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