I am an adoptive parent, and when I went through the required education seminars prior to adopting, it was stressed that our choice of language can have a big effect on the perception of our children and those around us, and even of ourselves.

Now, several years after adopting my children, I find myself cringing when I see questions like How do I tell my nine year old that his dad isn't his dad and that his biological father died before he was born?

It's not because it's a bad question (in fact, I think it's an excellent question), but because it makes the assumption that anyone who doesn't contribute DNA is not a "real" father.

A couple of paragraphs from the Positive Adoption Language page on adoptivefamilies.com:

Words not only convey facts, they also evoke feelings. When a TV show or movie talks about a "custody battle" between "real parents" and "other parents," society gets the wrong impression that only birth parents are real parents and that adoptive parent's aren't real parents. Members of society may also wrongly concluded that all adoptions are "battles."

Positive adoption language can stop the spread of misconceptions such as these. By using adoption language, we educate others about adoption. We choose emotionally "correct" words over emotionally-laden words. We speak and write in positive adoption language with the hopes of impacting others so that this language will someday become the norm.

The link above also provides a list of "Positive vs. Negative" language when it comes to adoption.

So my question is this:

Should we actively encourage "Positive Adoption Language" on this site?

Should we edit questions and answers that do not use "Positive Adoption Language" in the interests of promoting a better understanding of adoptive relationships?

  • What are your preferred terms for the biological parents and the adoptive parents? That matters, too. Jul 19, 2017 at 16:25
  • @anongoodnurse If you look at the link I provided, you will see the suggested terms. Generally, "birth/biological parents" and "parents" would be the preferred terms, unless you specifically need to distinguish the fact that the adoptive parents are not biological parents, in which case you would use "adoptive parents". Jul 19, 2017 at 18:32
  • Sounds fine to me. I'd like to hear from the community, though. Jul 20, 2017 at 2:33
  • @anongoodnurse - Where I live, it is common to speak of the child's "first parents" and "adoptive parents." Nov 24, 2017 at 4:27

1 Answer 1


My thought would be to encourage the use of those terms where appropriate. As you've stated, the word choice does matter. How we think about the "parents" in a given situation (whether biological or adoptive) and how we frame them as "real" parents makes a difference in how we form our answers. Encouraging people to see adoptive parents as real parents is almost universally a good thing.

However, I wouldn't go ahead and edit a question without the OP's approval. Because word choice matters, that word choice frames how we think of the problem and thus the answers. Changing that wording might be more pleasing, but may eliminate a source of solutions for the OP. For example, given the question you cited above, look at walen's answer. That whole answer hinges on telling the OP that the adoptive father is the "real" father. And I would hope such an answer would help the OP (or anyone else reading it) realize that an adoptive father can be more of a "real dad" than a biological one can be sometimes. And I would hope that would help the OP reframe that problem in their mind. If you were to change the language of that question, you would lose that spectacular avenue of advice.

TL/DR: encourage the use of better terms, but remember that how someone uses those terms (for better or worse) shows us how they are thinking about things. And that is valuable information.

  • If I'm understanding this correctly, you're advocating adhering to the spirit of the suggestion but not the letter of it. This is very much how I see it as well. Jul 22, 2017 at 5:43
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    @anongoodnurse Right, I want to encourage people to use more positive terms where appropriate. I don't want to edit posts in a way that changes tone and framing because that lets us know how the OP feels about things and how we can help them reframe the problem to provide alternative solutions.
    – Becuzz
    Jul 24, 2017 at 12:12
  • I'm with this. Don't modify someone's post. If individuals who think this is right want to encourage, by all means do so. Aug 12, 2017 at 2:41

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