Positive, Respectful Adoption Language (Guest Post)

Today's guest post is truly phenomenal! Our friend Jen from our local adoption chapter wrote this wonderful post on positive adoption language. I wish I could have the whole world read this, because it's all articulated so well. At the bottom of this post there's also a handy little chart with some of the most common slip-ups and preferred terms we hear with respectful adoption language. Anyway, enough of me talking. Here's Jen!

This past summer I was playing outside with the kids and a few of their friends, and enjoying the nice weather when a neighbor who I really liked came outside and we began to chat. For some reason, it seems like many of the conversations I have turn into questions about adoption, and this one was no different. I love to talk about adoption, and we have always been very open to talking about it and answering appropriate questions.

As we were chatting, my son came over to take a break from playing and began listening to our conversation when our neighbor asked, “Why didn't his real mom want him?” I wish I could say that this was the first time I had heard something like this, but I know that unless you have experienced adoption in your own life, you are not aware of proper adoption language and etiquette. I know that she did not mean to be hurtful. I know that she did not mean to imply that I was not his real mom and that he was abandoned or unwanted by his birth mother. I also know that my son had heard what she said and immediately looked at me to see what my answer would be. My first instinct was to turn into a mother bear and yell to her that I WAS indeed his real mother and how dare she imply that my child is unwanted!! But I remembered that she wasn't saying what she really meant. She was really asking why his birth mother had chosen to make an adoption plan, and my reaction was important because my son was paying close attention to what I would say. I kindly repeated her question using more appropriate terminology and just let her know that our son's birth mother had made the choice to place him because she was unable to parent any child at her very young age.

Now, I know that some readers may say that I was not required to share my son's adoption story because it is his story to tell, and I agree to some point. However, in this situation, my response was not directed to her. It was directed to my son and what he heard was the most important thing in that moment. I needed him to hear the correct terminology, I needed him to hear how to lovingly correct someone when they speak of adoption in such a negative manner, and most of all I needed him to hear that he is very much loved and a part of the family he was always meant to be in.

So in an effort to avoid these situations that are uncomfortable for everyone, we created a list of appropriate and positive adoption language...

Real Mom/Real Dad. If you are speaking of their biological parents, there are a few appropriate terms...Birth Mom/Dad, Biological Mom/Dad, First Parents. We are the real parents.

Give her baby away/Give (or put) her baby up for adoption. Birth parents who choose adoption are doing much more than giving up or just giving something away like a used sweater. They are making an adoption plan for their child, or choosing adoption, which is a choice that is made through much prayer and heartache. It is one of the most difficult decisions one could ever imagine making, and when you say they have given up, or given their baby away, it is demeaning what they have gone through to make that choice.

How much did they cost? It's really never appropriate to ask someone this question about anything, but for some reason we hear it all the time. You can ask someone you are close to how much the average cost of adopting is, or look it up on-line. Our adoption costs cover legal fees and agency fees which is no different than someone paying for hospital and doctor bills. When you ask this in front of our kids, it tells them that they were purchased just like our groceries or toys and are no better than a commodity. I once had a very close family member tell me, “It must be so nice to just shop for your kids”. Yikes. I promise I didn't hurt him for saying that (but I really, really wanted to).

Is adopted/Adoptee. We hope that what will define who our child is will not be the fact that they were adopted, but much, much more. Yes, it is a part of who they are. Yes, we hope that they will be proud of that. But it is just one small thing about them, and it happened when they were born. Now, we can just say they were adopted.

Racial comments. I wish I did not have to add this one. When you ask us our child's race and we share that with you or you figure it out, we do not want to hear your opinion of illegal immigrants, people speaking Spanish in America, etc. I'm sure parents of children with other racial backgrounds don't want to hear your political opinions on their child's race either. We hope that our child will be proud of his racial heritage, as he should be.

You took the easy way to have a family/I hope to adopt a kid one day. Before you say this, ask what going through infertility was like, or what going through the adoption process what like, or how once we were finally approved to adopt, what it felt like waiting, aching, and searching for our child for sometimes several years. If you are hoping to adopt a baby just because it sounds fun, you don't know the answer to these questions. If you are hoping to adopt because you've heard there are lots of children that need homes, you should look into foster care adoption.

Now that you've adopted, you are going to get pregnant. Nope. We're not. And when you say this in front of our kids, you are telling them that we only adopted them so that we could get pregnant and that they are second best. They weren't a plan B. It just took us lots of painful, expensive, and invasive medical tests, infertility treatments, research, doctors visits, etc. to find out that adoption was our plan A to get them here all along. And we feel very blessed for that.

The words we use say a lot about what we think. We would love it if everyone would use this positive adoption language. Of course we don’t expect everyone who asks us about adoption to know, but we do hope that you will take this to heart and help us to promote more positive conversations about adoption. And most of all, we hope that you will be considerate in the words you use and things you say about adoption, especially in front of our kids. These are our families you are talking about after all, and our kids are listening to what you are saying.

Jen and her husband Sean are mommy and daddy to Carson and Addison, who joined their family through the miracle of adoption. Sean and Jen are big advocates of adoption, and volunteer and serve many hours in their local FSA (Families Supporting Adoption) Chapter. 

Sean and Jen's family is hoping to adopt again! We hope you'll spread the word about their hope to adopt too. This an amazing family, and Sean and Jen are wonderful parents to their little ones. We really admire these guys! You can learn more about this beautiful family at their adoption blog: http://seanandjenfamily.blogspot.com
and from their online profile on itsabooutlove.org

Respectful Adoption Language: 

Negative Terms
Preferred Terms
Gave up her child for adoption
Placed her child for adoption
Real parent; natural parent
Birth parent, biological parent
Adoptive parent
His adopted child
His child
Is adopted
Was adopted

Don't forget you can enter the giveaway of your choice an additional time by sharing this post on facebook! Just tag our facebook page and comment on the giveaway you're entering, saying what you did and including your email address. 

Also, by commenting on any guest posts from Adoption Week you can enter the giveaway of your choice an additional time as well. 

What are your experiences with positive adoption language? (Or with trying to speak sensitively in general! It can be tough to say the right thing in situations we don't understand.) We'd love to hear your thoughts! 


  1. It is important to know how to talk about adoption without creating conflict. Great info

  2. I love this post. Sometimes people will ask me about Josh's parents, and if he feels like they're his real mom and dad (since he's adopted) and I always am taken aback by that thought. There's no doubt in a million years he is theirs and they are his. Whether they share the same genes or not. Anyway, thanks for sharing!


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