Do You Speak “Adoption”?
A couple of posts ago I said that adoptive families have more in common with typical families than we have things that are different. By and large this is true, but (there’s ALWAYS a “but” isn’t there?!), there are some unique feelings, conversations, or processes that we as adoptive families DO need to address in the course of our family life.
It’s National Adoption Awareness Month and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention some of these situations. Adoption IS a wonderful way to build a family (for us, it’s all we’ve ever wanted), and it IS amazing to see your own soul grow to depths you could never imagine. But there are some things you definitely should be aware of as you enter the process.
What I have to say is based on our experiences and research, but can’t possibly cover all the situations in the adoption process. As always, these opinions are my own. You may have different experiences, and if you do, please leave a comment! I’d love to hear what your process has been.
In no particular order:
*Adoption is NOT EASY. For those of you thinking it’s going to be easier than going through endless IVF or other fertility treatments, or it just sounds like something “fun” to do, you are living a delusion. Wake up now and realize that the adoptive process is fraught with land mines like uncertainty (there are no legal guarantees for you as the adoptive parent for at least the first year in most states, although each state varies in its child welfare codes. Get to know yours. TODAY). There is TREMENDOUS injustice in the world of child welfare. Welost our first two babies, a sibling set, when they were sent back to live with the biological family that had tried to starve the infant to death (and there’s NO question in my mind that the toddler girl had been sexually abused when she came to us), and there is often loss (we lost five baby girls who had been placed with us in the span of three months before our now-daughter was born). Don’t EVER let someone tell you that it’s an easy or “simple” way to add a child to your home. And what I just mentioned above was about domestic adoptions. The international adoption process is its own world filled with forests of paper work that must be filled out exactly and turned in on time, and with enough hurdles to trip up LoLo Jones more than once.
*Be up front and open about adoption with your children from the very beginning. Make a pact with yourself first and foremost that nothing about adopting your child will be a secret. If your child senses ANY hesitation or angst in your spirit from the earliest part of their childhood, it WILL impact them. Your child will naturally NOT want to do or say anything to hurt your feelings in ANY way, and if he/she senses that a particular subject is off-limits, he/she will stuff their natural curiosity and questions. That is NOT GOOD. You HAVE to be okay ahead of time with talking about every aspect of adoption, as your child is developmentally ready. I’m not talking about laying everything out for an 18month old, but I am saying that every aspect of adoption has to be okay with you first and foremost. Last year our then 11 year old daughter found a copy of a photo of her as a baby with her birth mother on the last visit they had. She put it up on her new bulletin board in her bedroom. I totally supported her and told her it looked great. And then I went into the bathroom and hyperventilated for a little bit. But there was NO question that I must support my daughter in being naturally curious about that connection and wanting to see that photograph. And just because she wants to know who that person is, it doesn’t mean she hates me. (At least that was the mantra I said to myself 125 times a day for the next few days.)
*Plan on how you’re going to talk about adoption with your adopted child BEFORE you adopt. Even if you’re planning on adopting a newborn, be very clear with your spouse (and your other children if you have any) on what your family culture will be concerning adoption. From the earliest times of both of our children’s lives, adoption has been a “good word” in our house. We socialized with other adoptive families when our kids were toddlers so us parents could talk about “stuff” and our kids could play together. From the beginning we talked about how some babies were born from their mommy’s body and some babies were chosen very special with great intention to be a part of the family and they didn’t come out of the mommy. Mister Roger’s book, “Let’s Talk About It: Adoption” is a great resource and conversation opener I think. To this day (no exaggeration) my daughter BEGS me to go to the hospital to get a new baby, because that’s how you get babies doncha know….you just walk in, choose the prettiest one with the thickest hair and the longest, most delicate fingers and take her home!! Now, our daughter has developmental delays, so things are bit simplistic for her still, but you get the point: in her heart and mind’s eye, the best place to get a baby is the hospital! “There’s probably one waiting for us now Mom–c’mon, let’s go!” (I swear she just brought this up a few weeks ago. Never mind the fact we’re not even living in our own home right now….)
*Another benefit of making adoption the best thing that could have ever happened to your entire family is that some day, some where, when you’re not around, some kid is going to say something totally rude and ugly to your kid about being adopted. It’s going to happen. Remember, the world says that kids are “given up” for adoption because they’re not wanted by their “real mom and dad”. You MUST get in front of this with loving force and use the language of being “chosen”, and that they are the BEST thing you could have ever hoped for. So when these incidents happen (better to brace yourself and never have to deal with it than to be caught off-guard), your child will hopefully be armed with the truth that comes from your sincere and honest heart, and will be able to deal with that four foot ignoramus with something like, “Well my mom and dad CHOSE me for them. They could have had ANY kid in the whole wide world, but they chose ME! I LOVE being adopted!” (as said by my daughter a few years ago when some neighbor kids thought they could rattle her cage). You’ll still want to break their noses off so hard they’ll never smell again, but a part of you deep down will be warmed to the core, and you’ll want to bake your kid some chocolate chip cookies and then wave them in front of those jerks.
*Be very clear with your child about what the definition of “Mom” and “Dad” is to you. We have always told our kids that ANYone can make a baby, but it’s the person who has pledged his life to be WITH that child everyday of their lives that makes them the parent. To that end, we don’t use words like “step dad/step mom” when referring to other families. A mom is a mom and a dad is a dad. It’s who’s putting in the blood, sweat and tears on a daily basis that counts. There is no caste system in God’s kingdom and I cannot STAND it when people refer to their kids (and parents for that matter) as “step”, “foster”, “adopted”, “real”. WHATEVER. We also don’t make ANY kind of a deal about how other kids look like their siblings or their parents, etc….We don’t talk about our own family resemblances because we don’t in ANY way want our kids to feel like the “odd one out” ever. Trust me, they’ve already figured out they don’t look anything like you or their siblings. And it’s only a negative thing if having everyone in a family “match” is a big deal to you. I don’t care about that stuff. It’s just genetics, and highly overrated if you ask me.
*Be ready to have VERY candid discussions with your child about how he/she came into this world and then into your family specifically. And be ready to have those conversations at the most inopportune times, like when you’re trying to stay alive on the 405 near Wilshire at 5pm on a Friday, or when you’re trying to get through the very busy checkout stand at the grocery store. Different things will trigger your child’s need to know and you need to be ready to set aside your own agenda for a few minutes and make yourself available. That will go a LONG way in keeping the doors of communication between you and your child WIDE open, both now and in the future as he/she matures. If you don’t make this subject mysterious and mystical, it won’t hold NEARLY as much power as if you’re uncomfortable about talking about any aspect of the process.
*Be ready to support your child in making contact with his/her birth parents when he/she is developmentally ready. Have these discussions with your spouse LONG before the teen years hit. Decide how YOU feel about it first and foremost and then process those feelings. If you lean toward crazy-nut-job like I can very easily, get wise counsel outside your own head. Understand that if/when your child wants to pursue finding his/her birth parents, it is in NO way a judgement (good or bad) on your parenting abilities. (as I’m saying this I have a brown paper bag right next to me. I’ll be right back) The subject may never come up. Or it may. Just be ready BEFORE the time comes. (Is anyone else here lightheaded??!)
*Get connected with other adoptive families. It’s not only very heartening to know that you’re not alone in your journey, it just may help you from going off the deep end before that child becomes legally yours. You will experience emotions and feelings that ARE unique to the adoption process and it’s important you be connected with people who “get it”. If rough times hit (and I sincerely hope they don’t), you will need people around you who don’t second guess your sanity, your commitment or your resolve. After losing our first sibling set in a horrific nightmare about two years previously, a baby girl who had been placed with us right before Christmas was sent to a less than optimal situation right after Christmas and someone, who “should” have had our backs and been the most supportive, said to my husband, “Well, you knew going into this that that could happen.” He got off the phone and cried. Get into a network of adoptive families and get their phone numbers and e-mail addresses and then use them.
Well, that’s all I have. I’d love to know how you’ve navigated these often murky waters!