Monday, August 20, 2012

Positive Adoption Language: A [Mini] Tutorial

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 and valuable.

Sometimes we don't even realize we're using language that detracts from the value of adoption. But within one week of a birth an adoptive mom can tell you dozens of times she's already been offended: Is that your real baby? Which of your children are your own?  

And the birth mother? She has stories too where she inwardly rolls her eyes or cries after the comments and questions she gets. Why don't you want your baby?  Why are you giving them up?

The truth is, birth parents make an adoption plan. They are not "giving up" their baby. In fact, the opposite it true. They are making a thoughtful, self-less decision to choose parents for their baby since they are not in a season in their lives to parent themselves.

The term "put up for adoption" is actually from the orphan train era. During a period in America's history from 1854 to 1929 there was an estimated 200,000 children who were orphaned, abandoned, or abused and neglected. These children, many from New York, were placed on trains and sent to homes throughout the country. They were "put up" on platforms for families needing able-bodied children to work on their farms, etc. This is noted as America's first attempt at a foster care system. You can see why the term "put up for adoption" has negative connotations, to say the least.

By using the following positive adoption language*, you'll reflect the true nature of adoption; one that honors the child, the birth parents, and the adoptive family.

Terms to Avoid Positive Adoption Language
Real/natural parents Birth parents: expectant mother, birthmother, birth father
Children of your own Biological children
Adopted child/own child My child
Adopted child Child
Is adopted Was adopted
Illegitimate Born to unmarried parents
Give up or put up for adoption Place for adoption, made an adoption plan
Adopt out Adoption
Keep the child Chose to parent
Mixed race Bi-racial
Bi-racial family Trans-racial family
Foreign adoption International adoption
Hard to place/available children Adoptable/waiting children
Handicapped Disabled/special needs

*Adapted from my work with Hannah's Dream Adoptions

Want more adoption [mini] tutorials? Click here for more resources!


  1. This is actually very helpful. I try to be very conscientious of the words that I use both with friends and with clients. It is great to have a list of better words to choose, even if you don't intend to be offensive in your original speak. Thanks!

  2. Thank you so much for bringing light to this! Important to know and use the right language. ❤

  3. Great primer! Sad to think that the language really hasn't changed much in the last 45 years!


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