Forever Families

Learning Positive Adoption Language
Fall 2013: Learning Positive Adoption Language

It’s back-to-school time, and I’m reminded that words are powerful. I adore words: to speak them, read them, contemplate them, be uplifted by them, help my three young daughters learn them and hear what they have to say with them.


For many, adoption involves a process for which there seems little common language. Honestly, I once thought it a foreign language, as well, before I learned to speak Positive Adoption Language.

The confusing use of terms such as adopt, real and your own can make adoption seem other than what is. This is especially true when hearing people say things about adoption who may not know how to word what they want to say.

Here is some basic Positive Adoption Language wording:

  • Was adopted, instead of is adopted
  • Biological, first or birth parent/family, instead of real parent/family
  • Adoption plan, instead of given up
  • Parents, instead of adoptive parents

Adoption is a legal process that happens one time and is final and forever.

It becomes confusing when the word “adopt” is used in Adopt-A-Highway or Adopt-A-Family for Christmas; this context is short-term and of little significance. No one pays a lawyer, goes to court and commits to deliver packages or meals to a family or picks up litter on a road forever, let alone pledge unending love and family, care, financial support and emotional connection. In reality, Adopt-A-(fill in the blank) is donation or sponsorship, not adoption.

Last week, I took my kids to a kids’ zone play area. One of the workers stood across the room and shouted to me, “Your girls are cute. Are they sisters?”

Thanks and yes, they are sisters, I said.

Quickly I knew where this was headed; every adoptive parent with more than one child knows this moment all too well.

She spoke louder, I guess in hopes I’d understand her: “No. Are they REALLY sisters?”

I find that young kids and most adults are confused by what adoption is.

Adoptive parents are real parents; first families are real, as well. Siblings are siblings, no matter how the family was formed. Families blessed by adoption love each other exactly the same way families formed biologically do. I promise.

I cringe when I get asked, “How much did they cost?” instead of what does the adoption process cost? Children are not bought. My kids are priceless to me.

However, the professionals, agencies, countries, U.S. and/or foreign governments all charge fees for everything they do to complete the legal process of adoption—just the same as the doctors, hospitals, anthologists and surgery rooms or NICUs charge fees for delivering a baby.

People are curious. I understand it isn’t meant to offend, but some things are personal, and I am concerned about what my young children think and how they feel.

My kids’ histories are their private and quite personal information that involves a deep loss—the loss of their first families. Many birth families loved their children, and so they did the difficult and heart wrenching steps necessary so that their children could be adopted and have a forever family.

The same guidelines goes for asking why adoptive parents didn’t have “their own” kids; my daughters are all mine, 100 percent. Otherwise, I’m working way too hard 24/7, missing sleep when I have sick babes, and worrying about all the same things every other parent laments!

Here is a simple rule of thumb when thinking about asking questions of families formed by adoption:

  • If you’ve been over to the family’s house for dinner then you may choose to ask, one-on-one and not in front of others, and the parents will decide if and what to share with you.
  • If you’ve not been over for dinner then please don’t ask about it. Most families don’t usually care to share such personal information with strangers, just like everyone else.

For those of you reading this willing to explore the use of words related to adoption I say bravo and I enthusiastically thank you!

Always with hope, Bobi

Bobi Spilker
About author:

Bobi is blessed with three precious daughters, ages 4 years to 7 years old. Among other things she is a malaria prevention, social justice and antiracism activist who is on the board of Directors of Adoptive Families of SW Missouri. She enjoys creating community service educational programs in her community and partnering with communities in her children’s birth counties to support community-identified priorities such as malaria prevention and education, children education & sponsorships, and basic needs of clothing and shoes.

View all posts by Bobi Spilker