Adoption Language


j0309615Words are powerful. They’re loaded with meaning. How something is said denotes how the person saying it feels and what they think. Words can lift someone up, but they can also tear them down. The nuances of language can undermine. Hurt.

Proper adoption language stops misconceptions about adoption. The correct words convey the correct facts. Make this language yours. This language reinforces the relationships within your family. By doing so, you model it for your child and those outside of your family as well.

Introduce the positive language into your child’s school. Educate others. If you don’t know no one else will. Here are some to start and you can add your own as you see fit:

  • Parent, mom, dad, sister, brother, etc. for describing adoptive family members
  • Birth parents, birth father, birth mother for describing the man and woman who conceived and gave birth to your child
  • Was adopted instead of is adopted
  • My child instead of adopted child or own child
  • Placed for adoption or made an adoption plan instead of orphaned, given up, unwanted, or abandoned

Parents: Has there been a time where you needed to replace a descriptive term someone was using with proper adoption language? How did you feel and what was the response of the other person?

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

7rin September 22, 2010 at 2:46 am

Positive adoption language” starts with the word “adoption“, because “legalised child abandonment” just doesn’t bring in the punters.


Judy September 22, 2010 at 4:32 pm

Thank you for sharing your perspective.


michelle March 16, 2010 at 5:02 am

Yeah, I agree. Different people will choose different words to describe their experiences, and honestly I almost always used biological mother or birth mother growing up. Lately, I’ve started taking away the qualifiers.

I think one of the things that has convicted me on this is that many women who placed their children don’t like the title, but are stuck with it because it is the industry standard. They, more than anyone else in the triad, do not get the opportunity to choose their own words for their own experience. (fascinating articile on the history of the word birthmother can be found at ) Many are called birthmothers before they ever even relinquish. You’ll frequently hear couples talking about being matched with a birthmother, when in reality the woman is not yet a birthmother. At that point, she is just an expectant mother considering adoption. I wonder about the subtle influence this might have on her perception and decision, and also the impact on the couple hoping to adopt if the mother then chooses to parent.

I guess I think too that some of this language sort of sanitizes the experience in way that might not be true or healthy. I support parents using language that is their child’s choosing, as you have done, or that seems most appropriate for their child’s age or situation. We sure do need to be mindful of our kiddos and their emotions. As an adult though I question the use of some the language now considered standard.

Thanks for discussing above. :)


michelle March 14, 2010 at 1:45 pm

Hi Judy. :) I am blogging about the same thing right now. As an adoptee and adoptive mom, I have mixed feelings on adoption language. Some of it has helped adoptive families gain acceptance, which I am grateful for. My family is just my family, and it’s not second-rate, second-best, or inferior. In that sense, positive adoption language has helped the way the public perceives adoptive families.

At the same time, as I continue to process my thoughts and feelings on my own adoption, I do not feel that all the language is reflective of my experience. There are also many women who have relinquished who do not like the term birthmother at all, so I question its continued use in the adoption community.


Judy March 15, 2010 at 6:17 am

Hi Michelle,
We wrestled with what to call the women who gave birth to three of our children so we talked about this with the kids, “What do you want to call the woman who gave birth to you?” “Birthmother” was unanimous and so it is. I believe everyone needs to find terms that work for them.


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