Terms to use -- and ones to avoid -- when discussing adoption.


The words we choose say a lot about how we really think. Using positive adoption language (PAL) means choosing words that show respect for birth parents, adoptive parents, and adoptees. When we use PAL, we say that adoption is a valid way to form a family, just as birth is. Both are important, but one is not better than the other.

When describing family relationships

Use terms such as:

  • "Birth parent," "birth mother," and "birth father" to describe the man and woman who conceived and gave birth to the child. All of us have birth parents. However, not all of us live in their custody.
  • "Parent," "mother," "father," "mommy," "daddy," and "child" to describe the members of the adoptive family. It is not necessary to say "adopted child" or "adoptive parent" unless the situation specifically centers on adoption.

Avoid terms such as:

  • "Real parent," "real mother," "real father," and "real family" -- these terms imply that adoptive relationships are artificial and temporary.
  • "Natural parent," "natural child," and "one of your own" -- these terms imply that because they are not blood-related, the relationships in an adoptive family are not as strong or lasting as relationships by birth.

When describing the adoption process

Use terms such as:

  • "Make an adoption plan" or "choose adoption" -- these terms acknowledge that the birth parents were responsible and in control of their decision.
  • "Parent her child" -- when a birth parent decides not to choose adoption.

Avoid terms such as:

  • "Abandoned," "surrendered," "released," "relinquished," "gave up for adoption," "adopted out," or "put up for adoption."
  • "Keep her child" -- this implies the child is a possession and ignores the responsibilities of parenting.

For more information on PAL, contact Adoptive Families of America, 2309 Como Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55108, 612-535-4829 or 800-372-3300; or Patricia Irwin Johnston at Perspectives Press, P.O. Box 90318, Indianapolis, IN 46290-0318, 317-872-3055.

Source: National Adoption Information Clearinghouse

American Baby