Mother and her adopted son

Understanding Adoption Arrangements and Positive Adoption Language

40-year-old Hailey Smith was having dinner with a friend when her cell phone rang. Anticipating an important work call, she excused herself from the table and answered it in a quiet hallway, “Hello, this is Hailey.”

A shaky voice asked, “Were you adopted in 1978?”

Hailey, who had always known that she was adopted, soon discovered that the woman on the other end of the line was her birth mother. Since Hailey had had a closed adoption, she never received any information about her birth other than where and when she was born. Naturally curious about her birth mother, she often wondered where she was or what she was doing, but never felt the desire to search for her. Things were different for her birth mother though. After many years of searching and with the help of the Internet, she got to have a much needed and beautiful conversation about what had happened in 1978. They cried, they laughed and they felt at peace knowing that everything had happened as it should have.

When Hailey was growing up, her mother would read her stories about all different types of families. Some with two moms, some with two dads, some with just one parent and some who came from one mommy, but ended up with another. She would also have Hailey say a prayer for her birth mother, who she portrayed as a strong, brave and selfless woman. As Hailey entered her early twenties and witnessed friends have unexpected or unwanted pregnancies, she found even more love and respect for her birth mother for bravely choosing adoption so that she could have a safe and fortunate upbringing.

With National Adoption Awareness Month upon us, we decided to look at different adoption arrangements as well as tactics for crafting positive conversations. In recent years, the United States has seen a shift from closed adoptions to open adoptions. With celebrities like Katherine Heigl and Rachel Hollis chronicling their adoption journeys publically and society becoming more accepting (and way less judgemental!) of unwed mothers and the LGBTQ community, the stigma around adoption is finally fading away. With that being said, there is still a lot of work needed on dialogue and mindsets when it comes to approaching adoption.


Open Adoption

An open adoption refers to an adoption relationship between the adoptive family and birth parents in which identifiable information as well as contacts are shared between both parties. Open adoptions can range from simply knowing the name of your birth child to having contact before and after the adoption including phone calls, emails and visits.

Closed or Confidential Adoption

A closed adoption is when an agency finds an adoptive family for the child and shares no identifiable information to either party. The adoptive child’s birth certificate is essentially sealed, however, non-identifying information such as physical characteristics and medical history may be made available to those involved

Semi Open Adoption

Semi-open adoptions are a type of open adoption where there is less direct contact shared between the adoptive family and the birth parents. Typically, identifying information is protected, and an adoption professional mediates pre and post placement contact between the two parties

Today, birth mothers are usually allowed to make the arrangement decision in the adoption process, including how much contact she wants with the adoptive family and the child. It’s the agency’s job to find the appropriate adoptive family for each adoption situation.

If you or someone you know is considering adoption, it’s important to understand the different arrangements available, as well as the type of language that should be used in today’s world. To avoid perpetuating the stigma that adoption is taboo or should be kept a secret, it’s crucial to use positive adoption language.

Instead of saying “real” parent or “natural” parent, it is more appropriate to say, “birth” parent or “biological” parent. When speaking about the adoption process, one should say, “Make an adoption plan, choose adoption, place a child for adoption, or terminate parental rights” instead of “give up for adoption, put up for adoption, give away or abandon.” Simply remember to be careful with your words because most people who have come to the decision to choose adoption have most likely been through quite an emotional journey already.

It’s especially important to tread carefully when speaking to a child who has been adopted. has an amazing list of Do’s and Don’ts so we’ve shared a few below. 

DO: Treat siblings who joined families by birth or adoption equally. They are loved equally by their parents and experience all of the joys and trials of any sibling relationship.

DON’T: Distinguish between children who were adopted into the family and children who were born into the family unless it’s relevant.

DO: Recognize that families come in all shapes and sizes. Some families may have a single adoptive parent or permanent legal guardian and no other legal parent. Others families have same-sex parents. 

DON’T: Assume that the child has two opposite-sex parents.

DO: Talk with a family about how it celebrates the intercultural and/or interracial nature of the family. Many families make special efforts to include their children’s culture and heritage in daily routines and traditions. Available research shows that children clearly benefit from this practice.

DON’T: Ignore a child’s birth country, race, or genetic heritage. Especially in communities where there is limited ethnic diversity, children from racial or ethnic minorities need family and physician support to overcome racism and develop a strong, positive racial identity.

Many children who are adopted, especially at an older age, may be coming from a traumatic background. They may have had effects of alcohol and drugs while in utero or experienced abuse or neglect. According to the Institute of Family Studies, adopted kids display above average levels of problem behavior and lower academic performance, despite their advantaged family background and support. This could be attributed to the attachment theory, which states that a warm, intimate, and continuous relationship with at least one adult, usually the mother, is essential for the mental health of infants and young children. The Institute of Family Studies also reported, “According to traumatic stress theory, the likelihood of long-term emotional scars depends on the intensity and duration of the stress. Severe or prolonged early stress can have long-lasting effects on a child’s development, effects that a supportive adoptive family may only partly ameliorate.”

While you must treat your adopted kids the same as your biological kids, it’s important to understand that the same discipline strategies may not be effective. While no adoption is the same, they’re all anchored with love. This month, let’s work together to celebrate adoption and help children across the globe know that they were and are – always wanted.


On The Night You Were Born

Tiny Bee Gift Co On The Night You Were Born Book

I Wished For You: An Adoption Story

I Wished For You: An Adoption Story book

The Day We Met You

The Day We Met You

Sweet Moon Baby: An Adoption Tale

Sweet Moon Baby Book

Elfa and the Box of Memories

Elfa and the Box of Memories book

Picnic in the Park

Picnic in the Park book

At My House What Makes Family is Love

At My House What Makes A Family Is Love book

The Family Book

The Family Book



Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew

Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew book

10 Adoption Essentials

10 Adoption Essentials Book

Forever Mom: What To Expect When You’re Adopting

Forever Mom: What To Expect When You're Adopting Book

From Pain to Parenthood: A Journey Through Miscarriage to Adoption

From pain to parenthood book

The Open-Hearted Way To Open Adoption

This piece was originally published on The Tot.

Want to read more? Get a signed copy of I Now Pronounce You Husband and Expat.