What You Need to Know about Talking about Adoption | Positive Adoption Language

I have been a member of adoption groups and forums for years. The adoption world is quite different now than it was in the 80’s when I was born. Things are moving in a positive direction. For one, we are seeing a tremendous amount of open adoptions, which have been great for adoptees. They get to grow up knowing their family history and have their birth families as a part of their lives. Another big change is the adoption language being used. We currently live in a time where people are being more sensitive with their vocabulary. That’s a good thing, but not everyone got the memo that the wording has changed.

Here are a few key terms to be aware of:

“Real parents”

Somehow the term “real parents” is still being used. I am an adoptee, so this one probably annoys me the most. The parents who raised me, for better or worse, are my real parents. The parents who are related to me by blood are “birth parents” or “biological parents.” Those are the correct terms.

“Put up for adoption”

When a birth mother finds an adoptive home, she has decided to “place” her child for adoption. The phrases “gave up for adoption” or “put up for adoption” are no longer used. “Gave up” sounds like she has given up, which would be inaccurate. “Put up” originated during the Orphan Train Movement. From 1853 to 1929 trains took homeless and orphaned children from Eastern cities to the rural Midwest for adoption. The kids who did not have pre-arranged adoptions were “put up” on train platforms for selection.

“Keeping the baby”

If a expectant mother is exploring adoption and chooses not to proceed, she is not “keeping the baby.” She has “chosen to parent.”

“Can’t have their own children”

A couple who is unable to conceive should be referred to as “infertile.” It is not appropriate to say “they could not have children of their own.” Use of “their own” is considered discriminatory. It aims to differentiate between biological and adopted children. All of the children belonging to a parent are considered their own.

“Foster child”

When I was younger, a child who was temporarily placed by child services was called a “foster child.” In recent years, person-first language has become a priority. The appropriate wording is “child in foster care.”

“Is adopted”

I have always struggled with this last one. I grew up saying, “I am adopted.” The correct way is, “I was adopted.” That makes sense because the adoption was an event that happened in the past. It’s not my identity. This one is a little complicated because I believe that our past makes us who we are, so yes it did happen, but it is also who I am.

 

The old adoption terminology often makes members of the adoption triad cringe. I don’t think people use it meaning to offend, at least not most of the time. Old habits are difficult to break. For those of us involved in the adoption community, this is everyday stuff. For people who are not touched by adoption, they don’t realize how much things have changed. As a society we are working on this. It’s our job to educate and update.

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