Misc.: Adoption

September 11, 2008: Issue 255

Let’s be sensitive about how we describe families that come together through adoption. First, ask yourself whether that information is relevant. Many times the answer is no; it’s sufficient to say a person or a couple has one or two or seven children without delving into the family’s origins.

Sometimes, though, this information does matter. Maybe we’re writing about a hereditary medical issue. Or maybe the timeline doesn’t make sense unless you explain that the middle child was 8 years old when she joined the family. In these cases, here are some guidelines:

•    Use adopt as a verb, not an adjective: “The Trujillos adopted Hannah in 1998 and Tristan in 1999.” This is an action the parent or parents took, not a label to place on the child. Avoid constructions such as “the Trujillos’ two adopted children” or “Hannah’s adoptive family.”

•    Never refer to children born to a parent or parents as their real, natural, or own children. When you must make this distinction (and again, ask yourself whether it’s relevant), use the word biological.

•    If you need to specify a child’s birth country, do it without using an ethnic or national label. Say “their daughter, who was born in China” instead of “their Chinese daughter.”

•    Avoid saying that biological parents “gave up” or “abandoned” their baby. “Placed for adoption” is a less emotionally loaded term.

When generally addressing parents, remember that families are created in all kinds of ways. Avoid exclusive language such as “Remember when you brought your newborn home from the hospital.“ Instead try “Remember the first time you held your child.”

Back to Style on the Go Archive
Back to BHG Stylebook Table of Contents