What is Positive Adoption Language and Why is it Important?
How we communicate and the words we choose impact people when we speak. Words are powerful; they telegraph our values and our beliefs. Take adoption for instance. Adoption is not a new subject, but many of the older, outdated terms used to describe adoption can feel emotion-laden and judgmental.
One of our goals at Adoption Choices of Colorado is teaching others — birth mothers, adoptive parents, adoptees and anyone else who comes across our adoption agency in Colorado how to talk about adoption in a respectful and positive way. Whether you are new to the adoption journey or not, that’s okay. It’s never too late to learn the differences between positive and negative terms in the adoption world.
That said, here are a few adoption-related terms rephrased into positive adoption language to get you started.
Give Up a Child vs. Place a Child for Adoption
“Give up” is a way we often describe getting rid of something negative in our lives. For instance, someone might say they’re “giving up” cigarettes when they quit smoking. Or, perhaps, that they will “give up” a bad habit for Lent or a New Year’s Resolution. While the intention underneath may be good, the wording itself is very negative. Saying a birth mother will “give up” a child reinforces an outdated image of adoption where the birth mother was expected to have her child in secret then return after the birth as if nothing had happened. As if she was simply able to discard her baby like an unwanted child.
But adoption has changed so much since then. Birth mothers now have full control over their adoption journey, and have a say in what happens. This is why Adoption Choices of Colorado uses the term “place a child for adoption.” Right away, the feel is different. It conveys a birth mother making a positive and loving choice. A selfless and courageous decision to create an adoption plan and place her child with a caring and supportive adoptive family.
Real Parent vs. Biological/Birth Parent
Here is another example of well-intention with poor word choice. When someone refers to a child’s birth parents as “real,” it discounts the validity of their adoptive parents. See, “real” is not defined by biology. A real parent, is any parent — biological or adoptive — who cares for a child’s needs and raises him or her. Thus, calling a parent who has become a parent through adoption something other than “real” implies the family unit is lesser than those created through birth.
This is why we use the terms “birth parent” and “adoptive parent.” These clearly identify who we are talking about, and doesn’t disrespect or demean either member of the adoption triad. It removes any confusion from the adoptee as well. We understand that when he or she asks about their “real” parents, they mean “biological” or “birth.” Yet, not using the correct terminology can cause a lot of damage that could’ve been prevented.
Unwanted Child vs Child Placed for Adoption
Describing a child as “unwanted” inherently implies a flaw and gives him or her the assumption that they are unlovable. This can cause much emotional pain and damage their self-identity and self-confidence. Depending on what type of adoption you choose when you place your child for adoption, the adoptee may never learn the reasons why you decided not to raise him or her yourself.
It’s important that your child — whether through you, the adoptive parents or anyone else — hears the more positive phrase, “child placed for adoption.” Immediately, this assures them that your choice to not parent had nothing to do with them being unwanted. Rather, it was because you loved and cared for them that you placed them with their adoptive family.
Illegitimate / Born to Unmarried Parents
“Illegitimate” is an outdated term that can be very hurtful to an adoptee. It conveys the false image that he or she is somehow at fault with the circumstance of their own birth. As we know, this couldn’t be further than the truth.
It’s better to replace this word with the more positive phrase, “born to unmarried parents.” This describes the circumstances of the child’s birth without assigning a negative label, or placing fault where it doesn’t belong.
Give Away Baby / Make an Adoption Plan
Much like the term “give up” described above, the term “give away” implies discarding an object that is no longer wanted or useful, such as cleaning out our closets and giving away the clothes that are outdated or no longer fit properly. However, instead of rejecting something that no longer works, it’s less damaging to use different wording.
“Make an adoption plan” illustrates the power of choice that a birth mother had in the adoption process. How she is able to sit down with her adoption caseworker, talk about her expectations and form a plan that will benefit herself and her child. By making an adoption plan, she is willingly making a choice to help grow or build a family in a loving and positive way.
What Difference does Positive Adoption Language Make?
There are certainly many more adoption-related terms than the ones mentioned above. However, we hope that this gives a good starting point for and helps you see your choice to place your baby for adoption in a more positive and confident light. We understand that many stereotypes and myths still surround adoption today, and that it may take time to switch what you say about adoption and how you view it as a whole. That is completely okay! Just know that adoption is a wonderful choice to make for both you and your baby. That, through using positive adoption language, you can see yourself the way we at Adoption Choices of Colorado do.
Positive adoption language not only validates your adoption journey as a birth mother, but it also helps you feel supported and confident that you are making the best decision possible. Everyone involved in the adoption process deserves to feel respected and supported throughout their respective journeys. Making a conscious choice to choose words that emphasize the important contribution each person makes to the adoption experience can help make the entire journey more uplifting and positive.
If you are facing an unplanned pregnancy and want to learn more about your adoption options, contact Adoption Choices of Colorado by email, phone, or text: Email Us, Text us: 720-371-1099, Call us: 303-670-4673 (HOPE). If you are hoping to adopt, please contact us here.
Meet the Author: After graduating from University of Michigan with a degree in Education, majoring in English and Social Sciences, Brianne Davis has spent her adult life as an educator; first in the public schools, later through martial arts. Her ability to convey difficult concepts, navigate varied learning styles, and always keep it interesting defined her reputation as an impactful instructor. Many of her early published blogs centered on the goal of helping other instructors effectively teach children for whom learning is a struggle. Once an empty nester, she committed to sitting in traffic less and writing more. With those goals in mind, she, along with her husband and dogs, packed up, sold their family home, and moved to the banks of the Columbia River in Central Washington’s wine country, where the pace of life is slower and the sun shines brighter. Realizing in our modern age, more of us turn to the internet for information than ever before, Brianne, now dedicates her time to educating others through blog writing.
As a life-long information junkie, Brianne enjoys taking deep dives into new topics, then condensing them in an interesting way to convey valuable information in a relatively short amount of space. Once her career, Brazilian jiu jitsu and mixed martial arts remain hobbies, along with boating, reading and traveling.