Positive Adoption Language

The language we use when talking about adoption can have a lasting impact on families who have had adoption touch their lives. Using positive adoption language can promote a healthy conversation and avoid offending anyone. See below for a list of negative adoption language, and then suggestions on converting each to positive adoption language.

While positive adoption language is a good baseline, it may not work in every situation. For example, some birth mothers prefer to be called first/natural mothers. Be flexible in using the terminology that the people you are talking to are most comfortable with.


Negative Adoption Language Positive Adoption Language
Real parent, natural parent, real family Birth parent, biological parent, birth family
Adoptive parent, adoptive Mom, adoptive Dad Parent, Mom, Dad
His adopted child His child
Own child Birth child
Adoptable child, free child, available child Waiting child
Foreign adoption Inter-country adoption, international adoption
Unwanted child Child placed for adoption
Gave up her child for adoption, didn’t keep her child Placed her child for adoption
Adoptee Child who was adopted
Is adopted Was adopted
Illegitimate Born to unmarried parents
Reunion with birth family Make contact with birth family
To keep To parent
Where did you get your child? Did you adopt? If so, which country did you adopt from?
Were you unable to have your own children? How did you decide to adopt?
Relinquished Made an adoption plan
Take back Disrupted adoption