Positive adoptive language

The words we use say a lot about how we really think and feel. Words can either hurt or heal. The conscious and consistent use of positive adoption language conveys our values and affirms birth parents, adopted children and adoptive parents in the conviction that adoption is a valid way to build a family. Therefore, it is important to use terms that are respectful and non-judgmental.

Positive Language Negative Language
Biological/Birth parent Natural/Real parent
Tummy mummy/Daddy Real/Own mommy/Daddy
Birth child Own/Real child
My child My adopted child
Born to unmarried parents Illegitimate child
Placed for adoption/
Make an adoption plan/
Found you a loving family
Give up/Give away/Surrender
Search Track down parents
To parent a child To keep a child
He/She was adopted He/She is adopted


What NOT to say to an adoptive parent or Adopted Child & Creative ways to answer these insensitive questions

Adoptive families are not as common and sometimes, people’s comments and questions come across as hurtful and insensitive.

Oftentimes, they do not stem from malice but rather, from ignorance, preconceived ideas, unprocessed understanding and discomfort with the subject.

When faced with such questions, we can choose to *W.I.S.E.Up:

W Walk away or do not respond
I Say, “It is private, so I would rather not discuss it”
S Share something about  your adoption story
E Educate others about adoption

*Schoettle, Marilyn, W.I.S.E. UpPowerbook, Center for Adoption Support and Education, 2000

For Children:

Even after you talk to your child about adoption, it will not be surprising when his friends and peers ask questions that you may find insensitive, intrusive and even rude.

As parents, you can equip him/her with answers so that your child will feel empowered to handle them confidently.

Here are some of the frequently asked questions and ready answers for your children to learn:

Is that your real mom (or dad)? Answer: Why are you asking/ Would I call her mom if she wasn’t/ Yes, a real mom is the person who takes care of you.

Why didn’t your real mom keep you? Answer: She couldn’t take care of me, but my mom will always take care of me/ This is stuff we talk about at home/ It is personal. I don’t feel like answering that questions.

Where are you from? Answer: What do you mean? Do you want to know my ethnicity or where I was born/ I was born in Indonesia, but now a Singaporean, like you/ I’m from another planet.

For Adults:

How much did you pay for him/her? Wow, it’s so expensive! Anwer: Oh, he/she is priceless! How much did she pay when you give birth to your child?

Why did his/her birth parents give him/her away? Answer: Well, we feel it muse have been difficult decision for his/her birth parents but they did what they felt was best for him/her at that point of their lives.

Your child does not look like you (father) at all! Answer: Oh, I think she takes after her mother.

How come your children look so different, one white, one brown? Answer: One is born in the day and one at night.

Why don’t  you adopt someone of the same race? Answer: He/she is meant for us.

How lucky you are or lucky he/she is! Answer: Actually, we are the lucky ones to have him/her.

You are such nice people to take him/her. Answer: Oh, and you are nice to have your children too.

Why can’t you have your own children? Answer: He/she is my own child. Did you mean biological child?

Now that you have adopted, God will bless you with your own child very soon. Answer: Thanks, God has indeed blessed me with more than I have asked for.

What if his/her birth parents want him/her back? Answer: We have gone through several levels of checks and legalization to make sure all parties are sure of this adoption.

Where did he/she come from? Answer: Do you mean which country he/she is from? Oh, it is (name of the country)

Did you breastfeed your child? Answer: I wish I did. It does wonders. Did you?

Why would you want to parent someone else’s child? Answer: He is my son and I’m forever his daddy.

Why do you want to tell your child you are not her real parents? Answer: We are her real and forever parents, and we tell our child about her biological parents because we love her and it is not something to be ashamed of.

Are you his coach/teacher/helper? Answer: I am everything to him.

Person gives a triangular stare from daddy to mummy to baby, then says “is this child…”. Complete the answer for him, “She is a lovely baby, isn’t she?

Source: Our Very Own 2, Stories Celebrating Adoptive Families by Touch Family Services.