Stop Pussy Footing Around When Someone Uses Inappropriate Adoption Language

Dawn Davenport


In the online world of adoption, adoption language is a big deal. Arguably, it’s a big deal in the “real world” too, but in my experience, it is mostly discussed (read: argued) online. I believe words matter, but I also think the way we ask for the preferred words matters as well.

In a past blog ( What to Do When Someone Uses Inappropriate Adoption Language), I talked about why and when we should correct someone’s choice of words when they are talking or writing about adoption. Should we automatically correct someone who uses the abbreviation “BM” for birth mother or refers to an expectant woman who may be considering adoption as a birth mother, or …well the list goes on and on. I also gave examples of how to correct someone in a way in a polite way so that they will not become defensive and will actually hear what you are saying and change the way they say it in the future.

Shockingly, not everyone agreed with me. (Said with tongue planted firmly in my cheek.)

I believe words matter, but I also think the way we ask for the preferred words matters as well.

Was I Wrong?

We received the following comment from an adoptive parent in response to my blog on how to correct someone’s inappropriate adoption language:

The other option [for correcting someone], which you did not include, is to directly correct the person’s language without making excuses for the correction (such as “I’m not trying to be picky” or “I’m not trying to embarrass you at all”). I understand that the intent of correcting another person’s improper and often rude adoption language is to educate; however, given that this problematic language is spoken almost exclusively by adoptive parents (or prospective adoptive parents), who have the most privilege in adoption, I don’t often feel I need to apologize in order to make a correction.

Sure, if a person is new to the world of adoption, a gentle correction may be necessary, but I’ve seen this over and over again with parents who adopted their children ages ago. They should, and often do, know better, but still fail to use the correct terminology.

In those cases, I have no qualms about clearly stating: “The proper term is ‘my child’s birth (or first) mother;’ she is not your birth mother” or “the use of BM as an abbreviation is considered rude and incorrect. Please take the time to type (or say) the words next time.”

As you state: words matter. There is a way to correct someone without being aggressive or rude, but also without apologizing for it.

My Response:

The adoptive parent is right that this direct approach is an option, but this approach will almost always result in the person becoming defensive or hurt, which lowers the odds of them ever changing their language.

I would also add that what is considered “correct” changes over time. No doubt the language we are using now will sound antiquated, naive, and wrong in the future. If you are speaking to someone who adopted in the past, they are likely using language that was taught to them or that they heard when they adopted. Why intentionally make someone feel bad? The only reason I would ever take that approach is if I thought the person was intentionally using language to hurt or demean another person.

What are your thoughts? Do you agree with the adoptive parent who commented or me?

Image credit: julie corsi

15/01/2020 | by Dawn Davenport | Categories: Adoption, Adoption Blog, Blog | 0 Comments

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