Making inclusive word choices around the holiday table
News from Presbyterian Children’s Homes and Services
LOUISVILLE — For many people, the holidays bring an abundance of casual conversation about family. That conversation, though, can be hurtful to adoptive families.
“People mean well, but sometimes the language they use about adoption has negative connotations,” says Michelle Hoevker, program director for Presbyterian Children’s Homes and Services’ foster care and adoption programs in Houston. “For years, people have said that unwed mothers ‘give up’ or ‘give away’ their babies, which implies surrender or a lack of caring. Now, there is a movement to honor a birth mother’s decision as compassionate and thoughtful. We say she is ‘placing a child in adoption’ or ‘making an adoption plan.’ ”
According to a release from the Presbyterian Children’s Homes and Services, Hoevker has a passion for working with birth moms, adoptive parents and adoptees of all ages — she is an adoptive mother herself.
She cites another expression, “put up for adoption,” which has a negative connotation. The term dates from the 1800s, when orphan trains carried children west. Children were literally put up on a station platform, like merchandise, for selection.
Hoevker offers examples of how individuals make a difference in speaking with, and about, extended family. We can welcome adopted relatives without referring to them or their new parents as “special.” Children may hear that as “different” or “second best.” If we receive Christmas newsletters with photos, we can share them at home and name all the faces regardless of how they joined the family.
Hoevker says individuals also make a difference by advocating for positive language in the media. Recently, when the New York Times ran a headline that began, “Son, given up for adoption,” Hoevker posted a polite response on social media. Within minutes, the news organization changed the wording on its website to “placed for adoption.”
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