Lifetime adoptive parents Jamaal and Erin with their daughter

Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.

-Proverbs 16:24

The Lord says that the way in which we talk matters. Whether we choose positive or negative words can make a big difference to our listeners. Adoption is no different. It’s important that adoption conversations use positive adoption language to protect those people it affects the most. 

Simple Comments Make a Difference

People sometimes say unhelpful things that unintentionally may cause long-lasting negative effects on adopted kids or adoptive families. Their comments are usually not said maliciously. These people may lack an understanding of positive adoption language. A simple observation from a stranger can cause a child to feel bad about being adopted or unsure if their family really wants them.

Adoptive parents work hard to ensure that their adopted child feels unconditionally loved and a part of the family. So when these parents hear negative comments made about adoption, they feel heartsick.

Lifetime Adoption makes it a priority to promote positive adoption language and acceptance towards adoption as a way to build families. It only takes a few positive changes in how we speak about these things to guarantee that adoption is seen positively. 

What do we say when we talk about adoption?

Here are some negative phrases to avoid when discussing adoption, and positive adoption language to use instead:

Positive words to say…

Negative words to avoid…

Birth mother, father, or parents (Adoption is a positive way to build a family. It is about love for the child.) Real mother, father, or parents (When we use the term “real,” it takes away from the role of the adoptive parents.)
Birth mother, father, or parents Natural mother, father, or parents
Parent a child (The goal of adoption is to bring a child into a loving home.) Keep a child (A child isn’t an object, so we don’t speak as if they weren’t human.
Choose adoption or make an adoption plan (Birth mothers are choosing adoption out of profound love for their child) Give up (Adoption isn’t giving up on a child. It’s giving a child more opportunities and more people who love them)
Parents-they are the child’s parent, so it’s important not to diminish their role. Adoptive parents- using these words emphasizes the way they built their family.
My daughter/son/child (This is a positive way to ensure the child feels totally accepted. My adopted daughter/son/child (Using this language makes the child feel less than the biological children.)
Born to unmarried parents Illegitimate
Terminated parental rights Surrendered/Released/Relinquished
Child with special needs, or waiting child Handicapped child or available child (This diminishes the person’s ability to contribute using their God-given gifts and talents.)

Why does positive adoption language matter so much?

There are several reasons why speaking positively about all aspects of adoption matters so much. Here are just three reasons to consider.

It’s about people
When we discuss an adoption, we’re talking about a person who God created in His image. They are not objects but human beings who are worthy of honor. We should want to speak about them and their situation to help them, not hurt them. They aren’t an “adopted son or daughter” but “a son or daughter” who is part of a loving family.

It’s about families
Family is God’s idea. Adoption is a beautiful way to build a family. It’s not a second-best situation, but God’s way of building a family. Positive words reinforce the blessing of a family and its members.

It’s about a positive process
When we discuss adoption, we use positive words to show respect for the process. It’s how our kids came into our lives, so it only makes sense that our tone is one of gratefulness. Plus, we acknowledge respect and value for the child and their birth mother and their extended birth family members when we value adoption.

How can we help spread positivity about adoption?

Because words can impact the people around us, it’s important to use them wisely and carefully. Adoptions are very common today. Those familiar with positive adoption language need to educate other people.

We can encourage our friends and extended family members who may be unfamiliar with positive adoption terms. We can help them learn to use positive words rather than negative or outdated phrases that were used in the past.

Most people will be happy to change for the sake of an adopted child or their family. Humbly informing a stranger that your child hasn’t been given up but placed by a loving birth mother into your loving family may take courage, but it will help your child who overhears your words.

God cares about how we talk, so let’s continue to use positive adoption language to build up adopted children and adoptive families in our community.

Mardie Caldwell, C.O.A.P.

Written by Mardie Caldwell, C.O.A.P.

Founder of Lifetime Adoption, adoptive mom, adoption expert, and Certified Open Adoption Practitioner (C.O.A.P).

Since 1986, adoption expert Mardie Caldwell has been dedicated to bringing couples and birth parents together in order to fulfill their dreams.

“Many years ago, I was also searching for a child to adopt. We didn’t know where or how to get started. Through research, determination, and a prayer, our dream of a family became reality. I started with a plan, a notebook, assistance from a caring adoption consultant and a lot of hard work; this was my family I was building. We had a few heartaches along the way, but the pain of not having children was worse!

Within weeks we had three different birth mothers choose us. We were overwhelmed and delighted. Many unsettling events would take place before our adoption would be finalized, many months later. Little did I know that God was training and aligning me for the adoption work I now do today. It is my goal to share with our families the methods and plans which succeed and do not succeed. I believe adoption should be affordable and can be a wonderful “pregnancy” for the adoptive couple.

I have also been on both sides of infertility with the loss of seven pregnancies and then conceiving by new technology, giving birth to a healthy daughter. I have experienced first-hand the emotional pain of infertility and believe my experience allows me to serve your needs better.

It is my hope that for you, the prospective parents, your desire for a child will be fulfilled soon.”

Read More About Mardie Caldwell