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Using Positive Adoption Language: What’s the Difference Between “Giving Up,” “Putting Up,” or “Placing” a Child for Adoption?

By Ryan Yau

If you are familiar with adoption, you have likely heard someone talk about “giving up” a baby for adoption. While this is a common way to refer to adoption, it can also contribute to negative misconceptions about the adoption process. The notion of “giving up” a child makes it seem like a bad thing for both the mother and the baby.

Words that carry unfavorable connotations affect how birth mothers and adoptive children think about adoption. Part of allowing birth mothers to make the most informed decisions in an unplanned pregnancy involves clearing up any negative misconceptions. Adoption Choices of Arizona can help you understand the benefits of Positive Adoption Language and ways to talk about adoption.

What is Positive Adoption Language?

Positive Adoption Language (PAL) attempts to provide a new way to talk about the adoption process. Instead of using words that may carry negative connotations or prejudice, PAL uses neutral words to promote clearer communication. This has the ultimate benefit of a better understanding of the adoption process, allowing birth parents to make more informed decisions.

Why is it Good to Use Positive Adoption Language?

Parents who adopt or children who are adopted may encounter language in their everyday life that makes them feel invalidated. A lot of language around adoption can make it seem like a negative process, which affects both parents and children. By avoiding negative language, PAL can help validate the lives of adoptive parents and children.

What Phrases Should be Avoided? How Can You Rephrase Them?

“Giving up” a baby for adoption is a common way to refer to the adoption process. This perpetuates the longstanding stigma that women placing their children for adoption are too lazy to take care of a child. In reality, there are many valid reasons to choose adoption for your child, and not everyone has to want to be a mother. Raising a child is a big responsibility, and admitting that you can’t is best for you and your child. Instead, “placing a child for adoption” carries no such connotation and is an objective way to refer to the process.

In cases of unplanned pregnancy, you may hear that a birth mother “decides to keep the baby.” However, phrasing the decision to raise a child in such a way lessens the weight of the decision. Many different aspects must be considered, such as a birth mother’s financial situation, emotional state, job prospects, etc. Furthermore, this can deride other options, such as adoption or abortion, framing these as “losing” a baby. More neutral terms like “raising a child” should be used instead to avoid any negative implications.

How Should You Refer to Adoptive Parents and Children?

A child’s biological parents are sometimes referred to as their “real parents” instead of their adoptive parents. However, this implies that adoptive parents are illegitimate and devalue their role in taking care of and raising a child. Even using the phrase “adoptive parents” can have similar negative connotations. While it is an objective phrase, it is unnecessary to add unless adoption is being actively talked about. Simply referring to adoptive parents as a child’s “parents” is enough and validates their role as legal caretakers.

Similarly, referring to a child as an “adoptive child” is unnecessary unless adoption is the topic at hand. The negative stigmas around adoption can make children who are adopted feel different. Constant reminders of being from an adoption agency instead of a hospital can be detrimental to a child’s self-worth. Especially in cases where parents have both biological and adoptive children, singling out a child can add to feelings of alienation. Just saying “child” affirms their role in their family without bothering the child.

Finally, although we consider adoption to be a positive thing, being overly congratulatory about adoption can be harmful. Phrases like “you’re a good person for adopting” or the like may be intended as compliments but can be othering. For the child, it may lead them to think they are being raised out of some incredible act of generosity. This can further make them feel different from non-adopted children. You should still congratulate others for adoption, but without painting it as some exceptionally benevolent gesture. The parents may just want to raise a child, and adopting a baby is just as valid as birthing one.

Employing Positive Adoption Language in Your Everyday Speech

It’s important to use Positive Adoption Language when referring to the adoption process. Doing so can help combat prevalent stigmas around adoption and lead to more informed decision-making. If you are already considering adoption, you may want to look at your options for nearby adoption agencies. If you are still looking over your options, Adoption Choices of Arizona can keep you informed about the adoption process.