The PROPER Language of Adoption

As a nod to National Adoption Month this month I’ve been sharing some of my feelings about being an adoptive parent. One subject I feel very strongly about is proper adoption language, the language used within and typically modeled by the adoption community to express relationships and familial ties. Like it or not, adoptive parents are in the position of constantly having to justify their familial relationships to and educating others, especially if, like us, adoption has happened transracially (across races). I’ve lost track of the number of times someone has sidled up to me to ask, “Is he your son?” “Are they real sisters?” and “Are you her real mom?” These are “real” questions, asking us to quantify our relationships with our children. My kids have also been asked similar questions, like, “Is that your real mom?” (What messages are my kids receiving?)

I have several things to say:

  • Yep, we’re “real”—alive and breathing. 
  • The questions and comments are offensive. They undermine the concept of family.

Adoption language is the language of families. Here’s a primer for you: 

  • Parent, mommy, daddy, sister, brother for describing adoptive family members. 
  • Birth parents, birth father, birth mother for describing the man and woman who conceived and gave birth to a child. 
  • Was adopted instead of is adopted. 
  •  My child instead of adopted child or own child. 
  •  Placed for adoption or made an adoption plan instead of orphaned, given up, unwanted, or abandoned.

Yes, we are conspicuous; we look different. But we’re a family, like any other. Please extend your acknowledgement to us and other adoptive families by using proper adoption launguage.



Filed under Adoption Issues, Adoptive Mom's Perspective, Advocacy, International Adoption, Multicultural Families, The International Mom

4 responses to “The PROPER Language of Adoption

  1. Jennifer

    I agree with you up to here. “Placed for adoption or made an adoption plan instead of orphaned, given up, unwanted, or abandoned.”
    My daughters are from China and the reality they will soon enough discover for themselves is that they were not placed for adoption. Their parents were reacting to an unknown number of factors that lead them to be place their/my daughters in a public spot for discovery. This is not an adoption plan. At best it’s hopeful thinking. I’d rather they have that discussion with me first than hearing it from someone else or googling it up and thinking that everything else I’ve told them was a lie too.

    • theinternationalmom

      Hi Jennifer,
      I view “adoption plan” as rather broad. I believe that my girls’ birth parents were faced with terrible choices and they chose life for them. But choosing life brought forth another problem, a child. Due to government policy, the child couldn’t remain so a plan was made to covertly place the infant in a public area to be discovered. Painful, gut-wrenching. An act of hope? Grace? Love? I don’t see this as a lie, but a likely scenario…and a plan.

  2. Well done, Judy.

    The “child of my own” is the nails-on-the-chalkboard one for me.

    • theinternationalmom

      Hi Lori,
      “My own” is another phrase that bothers me as well. Perhaps with gentle insistence, modeling, and time the language surrounding adoption will change.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s