Language is powerful. It’s the vehicle you use on a daily basis to communicate your ideas and notions about the world. Even when you aren’t consciously trying to do so, your word choice reveals a lot about who you are and what you think, feel, and value.
That’s why, when talking about adoption, it’s important to use positive adoption language. Your words matter. Adoption can be an emotion-driven topic, and sometimes individuals fail to realize that word choice in certain contexts can convey unintended negative messages. Phrases like “given up for adoption” and “real parents” are used too often and have damaging effects on how others perceive adoption, as well as how members of the adoption community view themselves.
Adoption Choices of Colorado is here to help! We know that you mean well. Language is a powerful force, and making small changes to it when discussing adoption can have a profound effect. Here are four phrases to avoid, as well as some suggestions on positive adoption language.
1. Avoid – “given up for adoption”
People tend to use the phrase “give up” when referring to bad things or destructive habits. Case in point, “Harry gave up drinking/gambling/smoking.” For obvious reasons, you shouldn’t categorize an adoptee by using this same terminology. The phrase also suggests a careless action, and deciding to place a child for adoption is anything but. Birth parents undergo an intense and emotional experience when making this choice. They take great care in selecting adoptive parents and display remarkable strength in moving forward with their adoption plan.
Alternatively, use the phrase “placed for adoption.”
2. Avoid – “real parent”
Using the words “real” or “natural” can be hurtful not only to adoptive parents but also to adoptees. They imply that an adoptee’s adoptive parents are somehow “fake” or “unnatural.” The truth is that adoptive parents are “real” parents, just as birth parents are “real” in their roles as well. These terms also imply that, because they are not blood-related, the relationships in an adoptive family are not as strong or lasting as relationships by birth.
Consider using the phrase “birth parent” or “biological parent” instead.
3. Avoid – “adopted child”
By using the adjective “adopted” when referring to an adoptee, you’re implying that this person’s position within their family requires a qualification. Adoptees should not be subject to classification. It sends the message that there is a different value placed on adoptees because they don’t share a biological connection to their parents, which can impact their identity formation and self-esteem. A person’s adoption is a part of who they are, but it shouldn’t be a stipulation.
It’s positive adoption language to use these phrases: “child,” “son” or “daughter,” and “family member.”
4. Avoid – “You’re adopted child is lucky to have you.”
Adoptive parents aren’t heroes. And by most accounts, a child removed from his or her biological family is not “lucky.” Being separated from biological family members can actually be quite traumatizing for adoptees. Saying a child is lucky to have his adoptive parents may also imply he’s not lucky to have his biological family, and in many situations, particularly open adoptions, that’s simply not the case.
Rather, try saying, “You guys are great parents!”
Using Positive Adoption Language
Words don’t just convey facts; they also evoke feelings. The way you talk and the words you choose say a lot about what you think and value. When you use positive adoption language, you say that adoption is a way to build a family — just as birth is. Both are important, and neither is more important than the other.
Adoption Choices of Colorado
For more information on adoption please contact Adoption Choices of Colorado. We can be reached via our website or phone 303-670-4401.
Support Adoption Choices
Adoption Choices, Inc. is partnering with Crowdrise, a fundraising website for nonprofits, to help our adoptive parents and birth parents with much needed financial assistance. We understand that expenses keep clients from fulfilling their dreams. Both with birth parents making a plan for adoption, and with adoptive parents growing their family. It is our mission to provide financial assistance through grants and scholarships, awarded annually in November, in honor of National Adoption Month. Funds assist adoptive parents with matching and placements, adoption finalization and helping birth mothers improve their lives through higher education — and much more.
However, we can’t do it alone. Please read up on our programs and donate money where you are able. Your donation will make a huge impact.
About the Author
Patience Bramlett, a University of Southern Mississippi news editorial graduate, is a seasoned and award-winning freelance writer. She is also a passionate reader, whose only wish is to live life without fear of the unknown. Her motivation and inspiration to live her best life stems from the words of John Lennon:
“When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy.’ They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.”
This year, she’s officially joining Adoption Choices Inc. as a Content Writer. Fueled by her love of family, she hopes to educate those looking to grow their families through adoption.
When Patience is not exploring Colorado with her husband, she’s drinking coffee, forever figuring out how to tame her hair, growing her library, and trying to break into the publishing career.
Gochnauer, Christina. “3 Reasons Adoption Positive Language Is Important – Adoption Magazine.” Adoption Magazine | Article, Adoptive Families, Parenting, Adoption Magazine | Article, Adoptive Families, Parenting, 6 Oct. 2018, https://adoptionmagazine.com/adoption-positive-language/.
McNaughton, Jessie. “The Importance of Positive Adoption Language.” The Importance of Positive Adoption Language, 5 Jan. 2016, http://www.adoptfamilyconnections.org/blog/the-importance-of-positive-adoption-language.
Rosenhaus, Nancy. “Positive vs. Negative Adoption Language.” Adoptions With Love, 25 May 2017, https://adoptionswithlove.org/uncategorized/adoption-language.