Adoption Terminology: When to Step in and Educate and When to Let it Go

Worried you'll wear yourself out if you pounce on every single "put up for adoption" you ever encounter?

Amy Harmon July 16, 2016
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Adoption is beautiful. But adoption hasn’t always been well understood. In our recent history, adoption was generally spoken of with shame or secrecy. As a result, though attitudes toward adoption have changed drastically over the past several decades, there are a few lingering common phrases that spur a twinge of pain as they are spoken. We have all heard the common phrases like “gave up a child,” “can’t have their own child,” or “real parents,” to name a few.

As adoption has become more open, people have begun to speak of adoption with terminology that more accurately portrays its beauty. And as people become more educated about appropriate terminology, it helps to build a better community. But it can be difficult to know when to teach others about positive adoption language . . . and when to just let their less-than-stellar language choices go.

Here are a few tips to know when to let it go, and when to step in and educate.

When to let it go:

Online forums

There are people out there who feel so empowered by the anonymity of cyberspace that they will spout out horrible things just to get a rise out of others. Online forums are not a place where you will change anyone’s opinions. People don’t write awful comments so they can learn from others. They are trying to pick a fight. There won’t be any convincing done in this situation. I suggest avoiding negative forums all together.

Someone just passing through your life

Everyone seems to have an adoption connection. Maybe you are at the grocery store and someone has a story to tell. This may be one of the times you don’t have to worry about it. You do not have to feel compelled to teach the world. You can allow that person passing through your life to learn from someone else.

Some people will never change

Unfortunately, there are people who can’t be taught. We all know someone who refuses to change. They may “catch” themselves after speaking out of turn or not put forth any effort to use the knowledge you have shared with them. You may find that these are the type of people who will naturally fade out of your life. If you have asked them to change their adoption language and they choose not to, there isn’t really anything you can do about it. They will not grow with you. Save your energy to build where it will have value.

When to educate:

Others you know will be adopting

While in a meeting at work, I announced that my husband and I were adopting a child. To my pleasant surprise, one of my coworkers jumped right in with educating the group. He explained that positive adoption language was one of the big things he learned about when adopting his own children. This prompted questions from the group and opened up a forum for educating others about “old language” and acceptable language. I will always be grateful for that man who spoke up on behalf of my family.

Someone who will be a part of your life

It can be very difficult to change hard-wired perceptions in people. But if that person will be a large part of your life or the life of your child, you may need to step in and offer some education. Be kind, and patient. Especially if they are putting forth effort. Acknowledge their progress and let them know how important it is to you.

When you have an opportunity to change adoption culture

Posting online and sharing articles can help educate your friends without putting them on the spot. Using positive adoption language consistently may help to make adoption terminology more natural for people. They will pick up on appropriate terms and expand their own knowledge base.

Have you had any successes in teaching adoption language? What advice do you have for deciding when to correct and when to let it go?

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Amy Harmon

Amy Harmon lives in Kansas with her husband and two boys. Each child was a miracle; the first through adoption and the second through IVF. Her family is her passion, but in addition to that she is an RN, pianist, avid reader, slow jogger and an adoption advocate.


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