Respectful Ways to Talk About Adoption with Others

Adoption is an incredible way to start and grow a family. For many, however, adoption can also be a sensitive and emotional subject to discuss. Conversations about adoption, therefore, should be met with compassion and respect. In the United States, over 1.8 million children have joined their families through adoption. Even more Americans have been touched by adoption in one way or another, either by being adopted ourselves, adopting a child, or just knowing someone who has been a part of the equation.

This is one of many reasons Adoptions With Love wants to spread awareness on the importance of positive adoption language in everyday conversations. Whether you are an adoptive parent, birth parent, or were adopted, the language in which you speak about your experience with adoption can make a big impact on everyone involved. Even if you are not a part of the adoption triad, the language you use to talk about the subject can impact how others perceive it. In this article, Adoptions With Love will discuss some of the respectful ways to talk about adoption, including words and phrases to avoid.

Whether it is intended or not, some people will talk about adoption using phrases that feel very negative and that, as an adoptive family or birth parent, can feel quite hurtful. For example, some people may use the term “give up for adoption” in when referring to the selfless act of making an adoption plan for a child. Another common phrase is “real parents,” which some may unknowingly use when referring to a child’s biological parents. Adoptive parents would agree that they are very much real parents, putting in great time, care, and love needed to raise a healthy child.

As a member of the adoption triad, it is important that you become an advocate of adoption, and that you educate others on how to talk about adoption in a positive, respectful manner. When you hear inaccurate phrases of misinformation regarding adoption, do your best to correct it respectfully, without being defensive. Be an educator. For example:

If you are a birth parent who made an adoption plan, people may say to you, “I could never give my baby up like you did.” Your reply may be:

I did not “give up” my baby, I gave my baby the best possible life I could give at the time. I placed him/her in a loving home, with a stable and supportive family, where he/she will encounter so many new opportunities. I made a thoughtful adoption plan for my child’s life.

For more ideas, read one birth mother’s perspective here.

If you are an adoptive parent, you may hear people say, “You are a saint for adopting a child in need!” or “How lucky your child is to have found you!” In return, you may say:

We are the lucky ones, to be able to call ourselves parents. We needed our child, just as much as he/she needed us.

Adoptive parents also hear things like, “How could anyone give away such as a beautiful child? The birth mother must have been a teenager, poor, or on drugs.” Your reply may be:

While we want to respect our birth mother’s privacy, the truth is, most birth mothers who choose adoption are in their twenties. They are thoughtful young women who make a plan in their child’s best interest, to give their child the best possible life – We are so grateful that she chose us to fulfill it.

If you were adopted, or if you adopted a child, you may be asked questions such as, “Who are your real parents and why aren’t you with them?” The proper response would be:

My parents are my real parents. They raised me, fed me, taught me, supported me just like your parents do. If you are referring to my biological parents, that information is private. I can tell you that they loved me and wanted me to have the best possible life, and that life is here with my parents.

Positive vs. Negative Adoption Language Examples

If you have not been personally involved with adoption, it is important to be sensitive to how you talk about it. The impact of certain words can cause pain, even when unintended, if phrased the wrong way.  Here are some more examples of the most commonly used negative adoption language are listed below, as well as the positive phrases that should be used instead when you want to talk about adoption:

Don’t Say: Instead Use:
Real Parent Birth Parent or Biological Parent
Give Up for Adoption Make an Adoption Plan
Put Up for Adoption Choose Adoption
Keep Your Baby Parent Your Child
Unwanted Pregnancy Unintended Pregnancy
Unwanted Child Child Placed for Adoption
Adopted Child My Child / Their Child
Is Adopted Was Adopted
Adoptive Parent Parent
Track Down Parents Search
Adoptable Child Waiting Child
Relinquished Made an Adoption Plan

Other Dos and Don’ts on How to Talk About Adoption

Do recognize that a child will come to understand adoption gradually, as he or she grows, just like any other developmental leaps.

Don’t bluntly ask an adoptive parent if he/she plans on telling the child he/she is adopted. Most likely, this is already a conversation in the home. As most adoptive parents understand, it is important to openly discuss the adoption with the child continually throughout his/her life.

Do use a sympathetic and sensitive tone when discussing adoption. You do not know how much adoptive parents have been through with infertility, or other very personal factors that lead to the decision to adoption. You also do not know the emotional journey that birth parents experienced in making their decision.

Don’t ask adoptive parents how much the adoption cost. Children are not property to be purchased, and the fees that go toward the adoption process should not be openly discussed.

If you are an adoptive parent, Do discuss intercultural and/or interracial relationships among your family. Many blended families make it a point to celebrate their children’s culture and heritage – as they should! A person’s background is part of what makes them so special.

Don’t ignore your child’s ethnicity, as if it is not a positive part of his or her identity.

Keep a positive message is another important factor to keep in mind when discussing adoption. While you may have the best intentions when you say that a child is “so much better off to have you as his parent,” it is problematic. Why? You are assuming that the birth parent was unfit to raise a child. This statement also implies that the adoptive parents should be glorified. These are all common misconceptions of adoption that only continue to spread stereotypes and misinformation.

Positive language is the best way to talk about adoption because it helps debunk adoption myths and stigmas that adoption once had. It also helps educate others on this topic. In using positive adoption language, we celebrate and show respect to birth parents for making that loving, courageous, and selfless choice; to parents by adoption, we validate their role as their child’s forever family; and to adopted children, we recognize his/her story, family, and extended family.

For even more information on how to talk about adoption, please download our free Guide to Talking About Adoption below. If you are an adoptive family or expectant/birth parent looking to learn more about adoption, please do not hesitate to call Adoptions With Love at 1-800-722-7731. Our caring staff is available any day and any time.


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