What’s So Important About Positive Adoption Language?

Positive adoption language (PAL) means more than just being politically correct, or in the know, about adoption language.  It really does have deep seated roots and evokes emotions that affect each member of the triad in a different way.  However, the overall consensus is that PAL embraces the true spirit of adoption, particularly open adoption, and uplifts the members of the triad, building self-esteem, confidence, and healing.

Positive Adoption LanguageCommon adoption terms that are confused are:

  • Placing your child for adoption VS giving up your child for adoption
  • Deciding to parent the child VS deciding to keep the child
  • Birthmother/birthfather VS real parents
  • Adoptive parents VS not the real parents
  • My birthson/birthdaughter VS my real or natural-born child

Using positive adoption language in your home and around your child will have a positive impact on your child’s self esteem.  It is important for your child to know the love, care, and concern that went into their adoption plan.  Using simple terms such as, “chose to place for adoption” can convey that care and concern.  Negative terms such as, “gave up for adoption,” conveys that there was not much thought that went into the decision.  It also implies that there was something wrong with the child and that is why they were “given up.”  Typically, we give up things that are bad for us: smoking, drinking, gambling, etc.  Children are not “given up for adoption.”  The birthparents take painstaking effort to  choose the parents they believe will be perfect for their child.  There is a lot of love in that process, more than most can imagine.

Another common distinction is “keep” the child versus “parenting” the child.  It’s not a matter of simply keeping the child.  Most birthparents would “keep” the child if that were an option for them, but they want more than that for their child.  They want their child to be parented in a manner that will positively benefit their child and, for whatever their reason may be, they don’t feel that parenting is in their or their child’s best interest at the time of birth.  Adoptees also need to learn the language involved in their adoption story and be prepared to share that story with others, as questions and explanations are going to be inevitable.  Being armed with PAL will provide the adoptees with knowledge and confidence when talking to others about their adoption story.

Birthparents benefit from the use of positive adoption language as well.  Just as it’s important to use positive adoption language with adoptees to help them understand the care and love that went into their adoption plan, the birthparents also need affirmation that the decision they made was done out of love.  Birthparents may not have the support of others in their adoption decision and the language that is used can also affect their self-esteem and feelings surrounding the adoption.  Using positive adoption language can help birthparents in the healing process.  This will in turn effect their comfort level with embracing their role as a birthparent, both in society and in their birthchild’s life.

Adoptive parents can also heal from the adoption experience by using positive adoption language.  Adoptive parents are affected by the birthparents’ grief and also need to understand that the birthparents really do entrust their child to them and want their child to be raised in that specific family.  Adoptive parents need to have the affirmation that they are their child’s parents.  They need to be prepared with the right language to speak with their family, friends, and child.  Positive adoption language fills that need.  It is important that family members and friends are familiar with positive adoption language.  The adopted child could easily ask any one of them about their adoption, or talk with them about their story.  If the family member or friend uses terms that are negative, the child will likely internalize that and begin to doubt the truth of their positive adoption story, or feel they did something wrong to be placed for adoption.  Since the child’s best interest is at the core of adoption, especially open adoption, it is imperative that they grow up surrounded by positive adoption language.

As an adoptive family, is it important to begin getting accustomed to using this language early in your adoption process so that once you do adopt, it will be natural for you.  It also gives your family and friends time to hear you use the language, talk about it if everyone is open to discussion, and also gain familiarity and comfort with using the language themselves.

Everyone benefits from positive adoption language, or PAL.  It’s important to be mindful of how your language affects others, and more specifically, that it does in fact affect every member of the triad, members that all deserve the utmost respect for their part in the process of adoption.

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