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Positive Adoption Language Matters [6 Phrases People Still Get Wrong]

We’ve all heard the phrase “words matter.” Our culture is one of constant change, adaptation, evolution, and personalization.  In this fast-paced world we live in, new words and definitions are changing every day and it can be hard to keep up with everything.

When you think about adoption, it’s natural to think about the costs, the process, where you want to adopt from, and much more. But, even with adoption, words are just as important as the entire process.

Because many people are not personally connected to adoption and its process, they tend not to be as familiar with adoption terminology.

By taking the time to better understand the need for positive adoption language and using accurate terms, you can help dispel many common adoption myths and misconceptions.

Here are 6 helpful examples of terms and phrases to use, and related terms you should not use when talking about adoption:

Do: “birth parent”; Don’t: “real parent”

Using the term “birth parent” allows the birth family to continue to hold value without lessening the importance of the adoptive family. “Birth parent” shows that both families play special roles in the child’s life. The term “real parent” can be hurtful to both adoptive parents and adoptees, as it implies the adoptive parent is “fake” or “unnatural.” “Real parent” can also imply that the relationship between an adoptive family and an adoptee isn’t as strong because they aren’t blood-related. Adoptive parents are just as real as birth parents to the adoptee.

Do: “place a child for adoption”; Don’t: “give up/give away for adoption”

The phrase “place child for adoption” provides a better description of a birth mother’s decision. It also implies the birth parents still love the child and want the best for them. More often than not, the phrase “give up” has a negative connotation and suggests a careless action. In truth, birth parents experience a lot of difficult emotions when choosing adoption. They are the ones taking the time to select the adoptive family, and do so with great care and emotional strength. We don’t know what any person is truly going through, so use phrases that don’t judge a person’s character or decisions.

Do: “to parent”; Don’t: “to keep”

There are times when the birth mother changes her mind about adoption and chooses not to move forward with her adoption plan. In these situations, she chooses to parent her child instead. Though it may be difficult for hopeful adoptive families, it’s important to be respectful of every birth mother and her decisions. Using the term “to keep” implies a child is an object or possession. It devalues the difficult decision the birth mother is trying to make for her child, especially women facing unplanned pregnancies. It’s important to not use phrases or terms that cause hurt to any woman making a difficult life choice.

Do: “child placed for adoption”; Don’t: “unwanted child”

When you use the phrase “unwanted child”, you can do a lot of damage to a child’s self-esteem. Being an adopted child does not mean they were not wanted by their birth parents. It’s important to remember that we don’t know the full circumstances behind why a child’s birth parents placed them for adoption. Therefore, we need to be respectful and use phrases like “child placed for adoption.” This phrase gives a more accurate description of the situation without putting the birth family in a negative light.

Do: “international adoption”; Don’t: “foreign adoption”

When talking about adopting a child from another country, you shouldn’t use the term “foreign adoption.” The word “foreign” can sometimes suggest a feeling of not being welcome. It’s also often used in a negative context of someone who doesn’t belong. Every child should be made to feel included and welcome, no matter who they are or where they’re from. By using the term “international adoption,” you’re making the effort to make the child still feel welcome into their new country and home, and less of an outsider.

Do: “child”; Don’t: “adopted child”

By using the term “child,” that simply states that the child is no different from any other child in any family. Adding the word “adopted” implies the child is somehow different than a biological child within that same family. It can also make the child feel they don’t belong or aren’t fully part of the family. You should always use words that make everyone, including a child, feel welcome. They are no different than anyone else.

Words truly make a bigger impact than you may realize in every aspect of your life. Especially if you are talking with someone about adoption, it’s important and respectful to be aware of the correct terminology so as not to inadvertently hurt the other person.

When you’re talking about adoption, a simple rule of thumb – remember to always be mindful of your words.