Why It’s Important to Use Respectful Adoption Language

by Laura Christianson

In a column about sex education in my local newspaper, the reporter wrote that high school kids in a local school district who get pregnant “are taught to keep the baby or put it up for adoption.”

Call me hyersensitive, but I cringe when I see the phrases, “keep the baby,” and “put up for adoption.”

I’m a strong advocate for the use of what we in the adoption world call “positive adoption language” or “respectful adoption language.” When I see journalists using the worn-out phrasing, I dash off an e-mail to them, suggesting that they replace the tired language with the terms “parent the baby” and “place for adoption.”

The terms “parent” and “place for adoption are accurate descriptors of what happens when a (birth) mother makes a decision in regards to her child.

These days, many first/birth parents who decide on adoption make a carefully thought-out plan. Rather than “put up” or “give up” their child, which connotes something along the lines of sending an unwanted dog to the pound, birth parents “place” their child (often, literally), into the arms of his or her adoptive parents.

People who decide to parent their babies hopefully do just that. They don’t just “keep” their baby; they actively parent him or her.

While the distinction among the phrases may seem minor, words wield a tremendous power to shape opinions about adoption. I believe that adoptive parents and others touched by adoption have the responsibility to carefully consider the types of words we use to describe adoption. And we need to gently encourage others to incorporate respectful adoption language into their vocabularies.

WE are the ones who will shape attitudes towards adoption for the next generation.

Monica April 26, 2010 at 6:27 AM

I was just writing the other day on my blog about “PC language”. Being a mother to an child who is adopted and has a disability I get my fair share of dealing with how language has shaped others views. Thanks for putting your thoughts down… I enjoyed reading them.

Snohobob April 26, 2010 at 7:53 AM

Great articles! I like the way you educate with out stomping all over the abusive word slingers! You have my permission to use the phrase ” abusive word slingers” in one of your articles.

:: Mark :: April 26, 2010 at 8:17 AM

Great post.
Sometimes we simply don’t think. We just use words and phrases that have been around for a long time.
Thanks for pointing this out.

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