On Using Positive Adoption Language

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Pictures of our son, Ben, adorn his birth mother's desk at work. Jen's colleagues -
most of whom are not aware that she placed Ben for adoption - often note how much he resembles Jen. They ask her how old he is, how he's doing in school, and what sports he's involved in.

One day, a co-worker asked Jen a question about Ben she couldn't answer. She stated, "My son doesn't live with me."

"Does he live with his father?"

"Yes."

"Is his father from a previous relationship?" asked the colleague.

"Definitely not."

Knowing her colleague was thoroughly confused, Jen explained that she had placed Ben for adoption when she was a teenager.

Her colleague responded, "When I was in high school, one of my friends gave up her baby for adoption."

"Placed," corrected Jen. "I placed my child for adoption. I did not give him up. No birth mother ever gives up thinking about her child or gives up loving him. His birth father and I made a plan for him and we placed him with loving parents."

The cliches "give up" and "put up for adoption" slip out of our mouths unnoticed. However, they are inaccurate descriptors of what takes place when birth parents choose adoption. Yes, birth parents do "give up" their parental rights. But the phrase "give up" connotes more than that. It implies that birth parents give up on their child. It stigmatizes birth parents for deciding they aren't ready or able to parent. It sends a strong message to birth parents that adoption is the wrong choice.

The phrase "put up for adoption," relegates the child to the status of a forlorn puppy at an animal rescue center, or a cast-off household item, up for auction to the highest bidder.

Instead of propagating the use of these outdated and hurtful cliches, those of us touched by adoption can make a positive impact. That may mean retraining our own minds and hearts, as we carefully choose the words with which we describe adoption. We can gently correct and educate our family, friends and co-workers. As we become
more deliberate about our word choices, we'll discover that respectful adoption language will begin to feel as natural as the cliches once did.

Credits: Laura Christianson

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