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Updated: Dec 12, 2022

What is PAL, and why is it important?

Positive adoption language (PAL) is wording that communicates respect to all the parties involved in an adoption, including adoptive parents, adoptees and birth parents. When you use PAL, you’re acknowledging that there are many equally valid ways to form a family. Language changes and evolves over time, and sometimes we may not realize that our word choices can convey unintended negativity, especially with a topic that elicits many emotions like adoption. For example, you might hear common phrases like “giving up your child for adoption” and “unwanted child,” or someone asking about a child’s “real” parents. These common terms and phrases can cause damaging effects and stigma about the adoption process and those involved in it. Choosing positive language affirms that adoption is a valid and equal option, not a second-best option, to parenthood. It’s not about being “politically correct”; it’s about being emotionally correct and empathetic.

PAL for family relationships

To describe the parents who conceived the child:

Before adoption/placement has been completed, use: “expectant mom,” “mother to be,” "first parent" or “someone considering adoption.”

After an adoption/placement has been completed, use: “birth mother/father,” “biological family/parents” or “first mother/father.”

To describe members of the adoptive family use: “mother,” “father,” “parents” and “family.” You don't need to use “adoptive mother/father” or “adoptive family” unless specifically referring to the adoption process.

Terms to avoid include labels such as “real” or “natural” to refer to a child’s birth parents, as it carries a negative implication that adoptive parents are “fake” or “unnatural.” Adoptive parents are just as real and valid as birth parents.

PAL for the adoption process

When discussing placement options, use terms like: “Place your baby with an adoptive family,” “make an adoption plan” and “entrust your child to adoptive parents” to acknowledge that the birth parents are undergoing a tremendous emotional experience and that they are responsible and in control. “Decide to parent the child” and “plan to raise the child” can be used when a first parent is considering the adoption process. Avoid terms like: “Give up,” “give away,” “relinquish,” “abandon,” “surrender” and “put up for adoption.” These phrases are typically used in negative contexts and shouldn’t be used as labels for children. These terms also imply indiscriminate or careless actions, which is contrary to the intense deliberation and emotional decisions that first parents face on an adoption journey. They take the utmost care in selecting adoptive parents, displaying strength and responsibility in their decisions.

PAL for the adoptee

When referring to or speaking to the child:

Instead of saying “adopted daughter” or “adopted child,” use “daughter,” “son” or “child,” unless specifically referring to the adoption process. When referring to individuals, use “adoption” as a verb that describes the way their family was formed, such as “he was adopted,” or as a noun, like “as an adoptee, Sarah ...” Using affirming language is crucial in an adoptee’s emotional development to ensure that the child feels confident and safe within their family role.

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