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The Importance of Respectful Adoption Language

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Adoption has become more main stream with the help of celebrity adoptions and popular TV shows, like This is Us, but for too many people , it remains a topic they know little about.  This can be reflected in the words and phrases used when speaking about adoption.  Most of the time, off-the-cuff remarks or poorly chosen words are not used maliciously, but are indicative of the lack of knowledge surrounding the adoption process.

Words and phrases can evoke negative feelings when used in the context of adoption.  The opposite holds true when careful consideration is used to choose positive and respectful adoption language. The National Council for Adoption has put together this helpful list of commonly used adoption language with more positive replacements.

Accurate Language Less-Accurate Language
Birthparent/Biological parent Real parent, natural parent
Birth child Own child, real child, natural child
My child Adopted child, own child
Person/Individual who was adopted Adoptee
Born to unmarried parents Illegitimate
Make an adoption plan, choose adoption Give away, adopt out, give up, put up
To parent the baby/child To keep the baby
Child in need of a family Adoptable child/unwanted child
Parent Adoptive parent
Child who has special needs Handicapped child, hard to place
Was adopted Is adopted
Choosing an adoption plan Giving away your child
Finding a family to parent your child Putting your child up for adoption
Parenting the baby/child Keeping your baby
Confidential adoption Closed adoption
Unintended pregnancy Unwanted/problem pregnancy
Fully-disclosed adoption Open adoption

 

Patricia Irwin Johnston, an infertility and adoption educator, describes respectful adoption language as, “vocabulary about adoption which has been chosen to reflect maximum respect, dignity, responsibility and objectivity about the decisions made by birthparents and adoptive parents in discussing the family planning decisions they have made for children who have been adopted”.  So when Grandma Betty innocently asks why your adopted daughter’s “real parents gave her up”, try to not get offended and offer her examples of a more positive and respectful way to approach the subject of adoption.

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