Using Positive Adoption Language

Just as with everything else these days, there are “PC” terms to use in the adoption world. While it may seem insignificant, the words you use when referring to your child’s adoption will greatly affect their self-esteem and self-image.

Your child/ren will learn to speak about their adoption based on the words they hear you using, so it’s important to use the correct terms from the beginning. It’s also important to talk to your friends and family about positive adoption language so they will know the correct terms to use as well. This will help them not only be good examples for your child, but will also put their minds at ease as to what the correct terms are to use. It can also take away any uncomfortable feelings they might have when talking to you and your family about adoption.

Some examples of positive adoption language are using the word “place” instead of “give up” when referring to your child’s birthparent’s choice to make an adoption plan. You usually “give up” things that are bad-you give up smoking, drinking, gambling, etc. Using that term could make your child think they are bad and that’s why they were “given up”. If instead you use “placed for adoption”, it acknowledges the loving, thoughtful choice that the birthparents made to find the perfect family for their child. Some other terms to keep in mind are: “parenting” vs. “keeping”; “birthmother” and “birthfather” vs. “real parents”; and “adoptee” vs. “adopted child”.

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  • Noemail

    Thanks for the example. Can you tell alternatives for birthmother?

  • Guylaine Hubbard-Brosmer

    Also, Adoptive Families Magazine publishes a whole list of Positive Adoption Language terms and gives both the “negative” comment, as well as the positive term. From the adoptive parent’s perspective, it is useful to understand why some terms are considered negative. For example, to take one of Michelle’s comments, referring to a child as an adoptee is appropriate and positive, as is saying your child WAS adopted instead of IS adopted. Adoption is the process by which you became a family and occurred in the past. Your child is not currently ‘adopted’, but can be referred to as an adoptee.

  • Guylaine Hubbard-Brosmer

    Birthmother is a difficult term to come up with alternatives since it really describes her role in the child’s life, just like the term grandmother does. The majority of my clients, and my own children as well, have called their birthmothers by their first names. You could get creative and use such a term as “bmama”, but there is no “standard” out there that is commonly used.

  • It is appropriate to use the term “birthmother”, but oftentimes another name is designated for the birthmother. This is something to discuss with her and decide if the child will call her by her first name or another name you choose (some adoptive families will use “mother” in another language for example). However, when explaining to your child who that person is, it’s appropriate to say, for example, “That’s Michelle, she’s your birthmother”. This would be similar to explaining who anyone in your family is (i.e. “That’s Papa-he’s your grandfather”).

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