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Adoption Terminology

Adoption has it’s own language. There are labels and terms for key players that are important for explaining who is who in the process. Adoptive families can be offended or insulted when the wrong terms are used, so its valuable to understand these labels if you have someone in your life who is affected by adoption. There are from my experience and opinion so take it for what’s worth:

Adoption Terms
mom/mother
– the child’s mom, from the point of adoption/placement onward

adoptive mom – the child’s mom, from the point of adoption onward (no need to use the distinction “adoptive” unless you’re talking about the biological mom also and there is a need to clarify who is who)

birth mom / bio mom / bmom / natural mom – the woman who carried the child in utero and gave birth to the child

real mom – both the adoptive mom and the birth mom are real moms

(apply the same rules for dad/father, adoptive dad, birth dad / bio dad / bdad / natural dad, etc.)

child – a person who is not an adult yet

child who is adopted – no such thing; it’s like saying a “child who is born”; the tenses don’t match

child who was adopted – child who was adopted (this label only needs mentioned when it’s truly relevant), it’s past tense

adopted child – there is no need to introduce a child as an “adopted child”; just a child. don’t single out the child who was adopted. it’s like saying “this is my C-section child” and “this is my vaginal birth child.”

forever family – the child’s family, from the point of adoption/placement onward

biological family – the people who share the child’s biology

sisters and brothers / siblings – children raised by the same forever parents

Jason and I really try not to be offended when someones calls one of us or one of Precious’ family members the wrong term. It’s rarely, if ever, done maliciously and usually a gentle eduction or reminder about the right terms is all that’s needed. When I hear someone say “Precious’ mom” I automatically assume the person is talking about me. I’m Precious’s mom today, yesterday, tomorrow, everyday since September 21, 2011 until eternity. I am Precious’ mom. When someone refers Precious’ birth mom as “Precious’ mom,” it catches me off guard more than it offends me. And, it makes me thankful that Precious doesn’t understand the implications of that yet, because it could be really confusing to her. She calls me mama. She knows me as her mom. We want her to know about her birth mom but I want her to be confident that I am and always will be her mom.

Jason and I have been careful to refer to Precious’ biological half-siblings as her biological half-siblings, because that’s what they are. I realize it is much easier to just say “sister” or “brother,” but we’re making that distinction from the beginning knowing that it’s likely we’ll have other children someday. Those other children will be Precious’ sisters and brothers, the kids she shares parents with, grows up with, spends her days and evenings with, fights for the bathroom with, celebrates birthdays and holidays with, goes on family vacations with, etc. When we’re with her biological half-siblings, I don’t mind calling them sisters and brothers but I want to help her understand, as she gets older, the difference between people who share your biology and people who share your parents.

We talk openly with Precious about her adoption. It’s nothing to be ashamed of and I hope she’ll be proud of her story. She’s not old enough to dialogue about it yet but we practice telling her all about her adoption so it’s a normal part of our lives and something she’ll come to understand more and more as she gets older.

If you’d like to read more on the topic of adoption terms and how it can negatively affect a child when the wrong terms are used, check out this post by Kristen at Rage Against the Minivan: parents, please educate your kids about adoption so mine don’t have to

I’ll be back tomorrow with Foster Care Terminology.

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7 Responses to Adoption Terminology

  1. tarynkay says:

    I am also more caught off guard than offended when people ask me about my son’s mom. Questions like: “How tall is your son’s mom?” are just confusing. How do you feel about the term “first mother”? I use that interchangeably with “birth mother”, mostly b/c more people understand what I mean by “birth mother” than by “first mother.”

    • mahlbrandt says:

      I forgot to include “first mom/first mother” to the list. Thanks for mentioning these. I do use first mom sometimes depending on the context. Usually in conversation with Precious, or writing in her baby book. I think this is especially relevant for kids who spent more than a day or two with their birth mom. I’m guessing with older kids in foster care, we’ll use “first mom” even more. Also, I could have mentioned Precious’ birth mom refers to herself as her biological mom.

  2. This is a great post. That little one is so sweet!

  3. Annie says:

    The only time I get upset is when someone says “your own child” in reference to my biological child and not my adopted children. I quickly correct them and say, “they are all my own”. Another question I really hate is, “Do they get along” in reference to my daughters. As if for some reason having an adopted child and a biological child could not get along. I tell them “they are sisters, they love and hate each other in the same breathe”

    • mahlbrandt says:

      The “do they get along?” thing is so silly. I forgot to mention “your own child” when referring to bio kids. I’ve corrected people several times with that one before. A little girl at our church (who loves Precious dearly) said to me once, “And maybe one day you’ll have a baby of your own, too!” and I was able to explain to her that maybe one day we would adopt Precious and then she would be our own. She seemed to understand. I didn’t think it would be appropriate to explain to her that we’ve chosen to foster and adopt instead of having children biologically.

      • Annie says:

        I wouldn’t get upset about a child saying it. There is very little a child could say to me, out of innocent curiosity, that would get me going. But if an adult says it to me… especially a parent… urgh… ahhahaha I try to say something in the most obvious way that that what they said is so un pc.

  4. Caroline says:

    You’ve done a wonderful job explaining these terms in a way that’s thoughtful, respectful, educational, and most importantly, that considers the child’s point of view, and best interests, above all else. THANK YOU for this! I’ve so enjoyed reading your blog, and all of your wonderful posts about Precious and the adoption experience.

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