Positive Versus Negative Adoption Language

By Julia Diamond
May 26, 2020

Language is a powerful thing, especially in today’s world. The words we use to describe others, ourselves and the world around us say a lot about who we are and what we believe. When speaking with others, especially on touchy subjects, we tend to reflect more on which words to say in order to not offend or “trigger” anyone. The words we use in situations like these are often categorized as “positive language.” They are words that give respect to the person we’re talking to/talking about and help us build bridges towards healthy dialogue, even when talking about the most sensitive topics.

In the realm of adoption, there are quite a few “negative adoption phrases,” and “positive adoption phrases.” Here at Heart of Adoptions Inc, our staff practices positive language and do all they can to help educate the families we work with to do the same. Here are some examples of negative adoption phrases, and their positive counterparts.

Negative: Real Parent / Positive: Birth Parent, Biological Parent

While it’s understandable that a woman who placed her child for adoption would consider herself to be the “real parent,” it’s important that she understand and come to terms with what took place. When choosing adoption for her child, she made a conscious decision to become a birth parent, knowing full well that this child would be placed in a loving home and raised by two adoptive parents. Both sets of parents have the right to call themselves “real parents.”


Negative: Even though she was adopted, I’m still her real parent.

Positive: Even though she was adopted, I’m still her birth parent.

Negative: Give Baby Up for Adoption  / Positive: Make an Adoption Plan

It’s quite common for women considering adoption to use the phrasing, “give baby up for adoption.” It’s what we hear on the television and in the movies. But most adoption agencies, prefer to use the more positive phrasing of, “make an adoption plan.” This phrasing better reflects how the adoption process works. Rather than “giving up” their baby, these women are making a clear, precise plan for their child and are in full control of the outcome.


Negative: I can’t become a parent right now. I want to give baby up for adoption in Florida.

Positive: I can’t become a parent right now. I think I’d like to make an adoption plan for my baby here in Florida.

Negative: Put Up for Adoption / Positive: Choose Adoption

Once again, the phrase “put up for adoption,” is very common and has a long history in television and movies. But these days, we prefer to use the phrase, “choose/chose adoption.” Much like the previous example, the reason we use that phrase is that it illustrates that the birth mother had a set of decisions to make and ultimately chose adoption because she felt it was in the best interest of the child.


Negative: When I was younger, I put my baby up for adoption in Florida.

Positive: When I was younger, I chose adoption for my baby.

Negative: Keep Your Baby / Positive: Parent Your Child

This phrasing is often used by adoptive parents, unknowingly. It’s easy to say the first thing that comes to mind when describing a situation, so we understand why some people say, “keep your baby.” The reality is when someone is choosing adoption, it’s not just about “keeping your baby,” it’s about being ready to become a parent. As we all know, parenting is not something to be taken lightly. If someone is not ready to become parent, then adoption is a loving and selfless choice to make. We need to reflect that notion in our language.


Negative: Our daughter came to us because her birth mother couldn’t keep the baby.

Positive: Our daughter came to us because, at the time, her birth mother just didn’t feel ready to parent a child.

Negative: ..is Adopted  / Positive: was adopted

While it may not seem like there is a whole lot of difference between these two phrases, there is actually a world of difference in the heart and mind of the adoptee. When someone is referred to as “is adopted,” that assigns those words to their identity. It implies that their status as an adoptee is something that defines them and is something that they carry with them every moment of every day. But when you say, “was adopted,” then you allow that person’s status as an adoptee to be a part of the story without it becoming a part of their identity. If you’re a person of faith, you can think about it in terms of being baptized. It’s not like people refer to you as “is baptized.” Instead, they say, “was baptized,” because that event was simply just the beginning of your journey in faith.

Negative: One fun fact about Jacob is that he is adopted.

Positive: One fun fact about Jacob is that he was adopted.