Positive Adoption Language How to Overcome Fear & Speak About Adoption

Since announcing our adoption a few weeks ago, it’s been such a joy to get to talk with friends and family about it! We’ve loved dreaming with those who are close to us about parenting, answering questions that people have, and sharing more about the details of our adoption plans.

And one thing that consistently comes up is how exactly to talk about adoption. Adoption can feel like a foreign topic if we haven’t had someone close to us adopt before (and even then, it can feel hard to navigate!). There are books and blogs and podcasts on it, which means there is definitely “insider” language. And anytime there is insider language surrounding a topic, I think it can be scary to talk about it without feeling like you might accidentally say the “wrong” thing.

I recently read a blogpost where the author said “be careful about the language you use but don’t be fearful.” I LOVE this sentiment! It so neatly wraps up how I feel about language. The words we use do have weight. They can portray what we value and what we truly think about something. But the fact of the matter is, we’re going to slip up, or not know the right thing to say every time, or simply say something that conveyed something we didn’t mean.

But saying something is still better than saying nothing out of fear.

Don’t let fear of messing up your words stop you from congratulating a friend or showing interest in a co-worker’s adoption plans. Don’t let fear of saying the wrong thing stop you from celebrating a couple from your church’s choice or asking deeper questions of your family member’s adoption.

But guess what? Fear in this area is mostly just rooted in a lack of knowledge! This is good news because it means that as we educate ourselves, the fear will slip away, and we’ll be more free and confident when stepping into these conversations.

So I want to share this list that our adoption consultant gave us that we have found super helpful as we navigate the waters of the adoption world. As I’ve shared it with close friends or family they’ve appreciated it, so I thought maybe others would as well!


Terms to Avoid Positive Adoption Language
Real/Natural parents Birth/Biological parents
Children of your own Biological children
Adopted child/Own child My child
Adopted child Child
Is adopted Was adopted
Illegitimate Born to unmarried parents
Give up or put up for adoption Place for adoption, made an adoption plan
Adopt out Adoption
Keep the child Choose to parent
Mixed Biracial
Biracial family Transracial family
Foreign adoption International adoption
Hard-to-place/available children Adoptable/waiting children
Handicapped Disabled/special needs

Please don’t be afraid of saying the “wrong” thing, or using one of the above “terms to avoid,” because you better believe I’ve used probably all of them at one point or another! I still catch myself saying something and then correcting myself. But it’s something that I’m passionate about… talking positively about a thing that’s as complicated and life-changing and messy and beautiful as adoption.

Let me leave you with this: be careful about the language you use but don’t be fearful.

Love, Team Douglas

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