adoption beth demme

How to Talk About Adoption

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adoption beth demme

How To Talk To Adoptive Families

By Beth Demme

It’s #NationalAdoptionDay!

As a parent by adoption, I’ve seen firsthand how people struggle with adoption language.

Here’s a very simple vocab primer: an adoptive parent is a mom or dad who has adopted a child after the biological parents’ rights have been relinquished or terminated.

Sometimes people say “natural” or “real” when they really mean “biological.” There have been times I felt hurt by inartfully worded questions. Can I be really honest with you? I may never forgive the woman who compared our adoption experience to choosing a puppy at the pound. Nope. Not even close. 

In our family, I am the mom. I’m not just an adoptive mom, a fake, or some kind of substitute. I am the real mom.

While I am the second mother in a series of two, I’m not a second-place contestant.

As I tell my children often, they will never know a day without my love. Because my love for them is not temporary, and our family is not temporary, I am their forever mom.

While my children and I don’t need labels to know where we belong in each other’s lives, I understand why people outside of our family might.

I know how useful labels can be because my daughter loves arts and crafts. She loves to paint, draw, color, sew, duct tape, scrapbook, bead, loom, etc. In order to keep all of her supplies organized, she and my husband spent an entire Saturday re-organizing a closet and building shelves to hold everything. Once it was all loaded in, we put labels on each shelf and each box.

The labels are important to her organizational system. The labels tell her where each thing belongs. More importantly, the labels tell you where to put things when you come into her system.

Adoptive and biological parents are not in a competition.

Unfortunately, most of the available adoption terminology labels adoptive and birth families relative to each other, as if we are in competition. (First or birth or natural or real parents versus adoptive or second or forever families.) This construct creates a chasm in how we talk about birth-families. Some adoptive parents deny birthparents any standing at all, others treat them with such reverence they seem super-human.

For me, the key to avoiding this sense of competition is recognizing that my status as Mom — for real and forever— does not dishonor the birth-parents who gave life to my children. I think about my children’s birthparents often, though I’ve never met them. Each couple made a selfless decision that brought amazing joy to my life. My children are a gift from God and from earthly parents.

No label can change the weight of this gift. No label can change my status as mom, just like a marker isn’t changed into a pencil by being dropped into my daughter’s pencil bin. 

If you have the opportunity to speak to an adoptive family, you don’t need to stumble over your words. You can honor them by keeping it simple. You can always use mom and dad. After all, it’s the truth.

For more tips on adoption language, check out this free pdf:


Have you worried about your word choice when speaking with an adoptive family? Do you have questions about adoption? As always, I’d love to hear from you via e-mail, Twitter, or Facebook.

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Originally published on October 27. 2014.

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  1. Pingback: Adoption Awareness Month 2015 - Beth Demme

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