Positive Adoption Language

Just a reminder, (almost) every day in November, which is National Adoption Month, I’ll be highlighting a different adoption-related things!

Today’s adoption thing is a list published by an online magazine for adoptive families called “Adoptive Families” of positive words and phrases to use around adoption instead of more negative, previously-used language.

The article can be found here, but here are what I consider to be the most important ones (borrowed word sets are in bold, the text under each word set is my own):

  • Instead of saying “They are adopted”, say “They were adopted”
    Since adoption is just the way you joined your family, and not something that defines you, we should have the word “adopted” be a past tense word.
  • Instead of saying “Real parents”, say “Birth parents” or “Biological parents”
    This should go without saying, but adoptive parents are the real parents.
  • Instead of saying “Your own child” or “Your real child”, say “Your birth child” or “Your biological child”
    This is especially prevalent when a family has one or more biological children and one or more children who they adopted.  I’ve also heard it when hearing stories of families who struggled with infertility: “They couldn’t have kids of their own so they adopted”.
  • Instead of saying the birth parent “gave them up for adoption”, say “placed them for adoption”
    Talk to a birth parent for 10 seconds and you’ll quickly learn their decision to place their child for adoption was anything but easy.  “Gave them up” makes it sound like a) the child is worthless b) the child is property c) the adoption decision/process was easy breezy d) the child is discardable.
  • Instead of saying the birth parent wanted to “keep” the child, say they wanted to “parent” the child
    For the same reasons as the previous word set, the word “keep” is in poor taste.
  • Instead of saying “orphan”, say “waiting child”
    Basically don’t use the word “orphan” ever.  It’s an old word.  Even if a child doesn’t have any blood relatives, even if they are a ward of the state, there is a family out there waiting for them, and in the meantime there is (hopefully) a foster family who is loving on them.  True, in other countries, children awaiting adoption are waiting in “orphanages”, but the kids in them shouldn’t be called orphans.  Even the re-make of the movie “Annie” got it right by changing the words to the Hard Knock Life song!
  • Instead of saying a child is “from a foreign country”, say “it was an international adoption”
    Um, you can probably stop using the word “foreign” all-together too.  Our world is big but we’re not that different; no one is “foreign”….and last but not least…
  • Instead of saying “adoptive parent”, say “parent”
    Unless in the same sentence you are talking about the child’s biological parent, there is no need to specify.

If you’ve ever found yourself using the “don’t say”s on this list, don’t worry.  Just commit to doing your best to use the more-correct terminology from now on, and educating others too!

Feel free to share this list, and remember that the full article I got these words/phrases from is from Adoptive Families magazine, found online here.

Positive Adoption Language

Filed under: Adoption, November 2017