#AdoptionTalk: What is “Correct” Adoption Language?

I’ve always called him my biological father. My mom called him The Sperm Donor. His mother – my biological paternal grandmother, who everyone called “Nana” – called him my dad.

Of course, Nana also persisted in referring to my sister, as my half-sister, even after I corrected her. And she called my daddy my stepdad, even though she knew he had adopted me.

I never liked that my mom called him The Sperm Donor, but I never bothered to correct her. That would have been disloyal – after all, he was the enemy. He had walked out on us – abandoned us

Throughout my life, I’ve allowed others to control the descriptors – some have called him my birth dad, my real dad, “that lying bastard that walked out on you and your mom….” The only one I’ve ever corrected is “real” dad, even though my preference is biological father.

#AdoptionTalk What is "appropriate" adoption language? Who decides?

Recently, we had to have an adoptive family assessment before we could get the final approvals to finalize Lil Bit’s adoption. She asked how we planned to talk about adoption in the family and I explained that we’ve already started discussing it – we read books about adoption, the boys have all seen pictures of their first moms, and the twins keep asking when we’ll go see the judge so he can give Lil Bit our last name….

She approved of everything except our use of first mom. Her professional opinion is that first mom might be confusing and we should use birth mom instead….

That makes exactly ZeRO sense to me. I can’t fathom how first mom is more confusing than birth mom, but whatever. She’s the professional (and her blessing is required to keep my youngest son forever), so I smiled and agreed to give her thoughts serious consideration.

But that combined with my own experience, got me thinking – who determines what is appropriate, or acceptable, or correct, adoption language?

As an adoptive parent, the answer is obvious – the most tender piece of the adoption triad, the most impacted, with the least input – the adoptee gets to choose how to refer to and/or address their parents and family, adoptive, biological, imaginary and otherwise. Each adoptee has the right to dictate the language used to describe his or her own personal experience.

Right now the boys are all under four and not quite ready to make life-changing decisions about whether to be right- or left-handed, so much like hairstyles, fashion decisions, and Halloween costumes, until they develop an opinion of their own Mommy and Dadddy choose adoption language. (Side note: I’ve lost Halloween decision-making-authority. The blond vetoed my adorable dragons and unicorn theme, because “I be a PENGUIN!!!!”)

I’m going to put this right out there, so there’s no confusion: I have a dad, and a biological father. I also have a sister, a brother, a half-sister, a half-brother. I also have a mom, a husband, 4 sons and 3 daughters.

My youngest sons have a mommy and daddy, a first mom and first dad, brothers, sisters, and biological siblings.

When they start to develop opinions about what labels they want to use or ignore, we’ll go with that. Because accurate adoption language is up to them – each adoptee decides for himself.

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This week’s topic: Adoption Language

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  1. madeleine melcher

    I totally agree, Jamie, that each adoptee should decide and PARENTS LISTEN- there is no more important voice on or about adoption than that of your child!

  2. Angel the Alien

    I kind of like the “first mom” thing. It is pretty literal and easy to understand, and it sounds a little more validating of the “first mom’s” existence. But maybe the lady thought it might make it sound like there were going to be additional moms in the future, like, “My first mom was Carol, but my second mom is Mommy… and who will my third mom be?”

    1. Jamie Nestrick (Post author)

      Maybe, I guess. But I don’t see that as an issue as long as we don’t ever refer to me as their second mom…

  3. Jenni

    I agree and we also use first mom. My children’s moms did more than birth them so it makes sense to use that term. They like it and that’s what matters.
    Jenni recently posted…How Far Does Your Love Travel?My Profile


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