Adoption touches most
of our lives in some way. If you are not directly involved with adoption, most
likely you know a neighbor, friend, or family member who is.
of Americans have "seriously or somewhat seriously" considered adopting.
have a family member or close friend who has been adopted, adopted a child, or
placed a child for adoption (Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, 2002).
Adoptive families have unique challenges. If they
understand these challenges and learn effective ways to handle them, they will
be better off. Researchers Foli and Thompson (2004) found that three things
help adoptive parents make the adoption experience positive and fulfilling:
Take the Time to
the losses. While the gains usually far outweigh the losses, it is
important to recognize the losses. The birthmother has lost a child. The child has
lost her birthmother. The adoptive parents may never give birth to a child that
shares their genes.
for the right reasons. Examine
your motives for adopting and make sure they don't include strengthening your
marriage, easing depression, or lessening the pain of infertility. It's best to work through
these issues before adopting.
time to think through the differences between adoption and giving birth to a
child. Be sure that this way of becoming a parent is right for you -- over your
lifetime and not just in the moment.
parenting - not pregnancy - the goal.
Believing that adoption is second best to giving birth will harm your relationship
with your adopted child. When your goal is parenting rather than pregnancy, you
will rear your adopted child in healthier ways (Foli & Thompson, 2004, p.
open attitudes. If you're flexible in how you think about what makes a
family, you're more likely to have a successful adoption (Clark, Thigpen &
Yates, 2006). Define family by relationships instead of genes.
or developing common interests is a great way to bond with your adopted child. You
can also find similarities in sleep patterns, personality traits, food you
like, work habits, sense of humor, etc. (Adesman, 2004, p. 32). When you notice
differences, pay special attention to positive ones. For example, you might
have two left feet but your adopted daughter dances beautifully. Celebrate
these differences (Adesman, 2004).
prepared for insensitive questions. When
you adopt a child you will most likely get some rude or insensitive questions
and comments. Here is some advice for handling these comments:
- Learn to take
other people's comments in stride.
- Remember that most
people are just curious or trying to be friendly.
- Think through the
comments you are likely to hear and plan responses you feel comfortable with.
- Use humor if that
works for you. When people ask one adoptive mother if all her "diverse"
children are hers, she says, "Yes. They are all mine. They all have different
fathers" (Morse, 2004).
- The way you
respond to others teaches your adopted child how to respond, so behave in ways
you hope your child will behave.
Get as much information as possible about
your child. Many adoptive
families say they didn't know what to expect. Even when they were given
information, they didn't really understand what the information meant for their
child or what impact it would have on their family (Rycus et al., 2006, p.
problem is especially common in special needs adoptions and international
adoptions. One mother who has adopted several children from China said she learned over time to expect "surprises." All the children she adopted have serious
medical problems or other significant issues that weren't discovered until after
the adoptions were final. Research confirms that her experience is not unusual (Rycus
et al., 2006, p. 223).
Learn about adoption. Get parenting education
and training specific to adoption. Adoption agencies usually
require this, and many agencies provide it. Many resources can be found through
the Internet. A few are listed at the end of this article. Specific training
and education you should look for include:
- How to talk with your child about
There are different approaches to this important conversation, depending
on your child's age. Plan on having this discussion many times throughout
your child's life.
- How to recognize signs of grief
in your child.
Even if you adopt your child as an infant, he will experience some degree
of grief over the loss of birth parents, just as you might experience
grief over the loss of the ability to have a birth child. You can learn to
accept and understand this grief and develop strategies to help your child
- How to build attachment with your
Attachment doesn't always come instantly, even with biological parents and
children. Building attachment takes consistent and lifelong effort. If you
accept this reality, it will help you weather the hard times.
Most adoptive parents
are able to successfully form a strong, healthy relationship with their adopted
child (Nickman et al., 2005, p. 989). Attachment generally forms through
consistently and lovingly meeting the child's needs (Robinson, 1998, p. 38).
Children who were
neglected or abused before adoption have special problems forming attachment. You
may need the help of professionals who specialize in attachment disorders.
Find opportunities for
self-directed learning. Check out resources online or subscribe
to a magazine or newsgroup for adoptive families.
Have realistic expectations. Learning about
adoption and about your child will help you be realistic about your
expectations. Many adoptees fantasize about their birth parents, and many
adoptive parents also have unrealistic expectations. Having expectations you
will never be able to meet sets you up for disappointment and failure.
Remember that things take time. Adoption,
as well as parenthood, is a lifelong process and not an event (Rycus et al.,
2006, p. 226).
Establish a support system. Before
you adopt, think about the support you will receive from family, friends, and
the community. Are the people closest to you willing to offer needed help and
emotional support? Are they fully in favor of your decision to adopt? Will they
help your child feel accepted?
Extended family members need to
be prepared also. Pass along some books or pamphlets about adoption. Help them
understand how to talk to your child. If your family is not supportive, and
some aren't, you will need other people to turn to for support.
Participate in support groups
that practice skill building. Many online adoption
communities offer online groups, provide lists of local groups, or teach you
how to form your own support group. Friends you make in these groups can become
supports through later stages of adoption.
Find a coach or a mentor. This
person could be a skilled adoption specialist and/or more experienced adoptive
parents. You can learn a lot from adoptive parents who have already been through
the experience and understand its ups and downs (Rycus et al., 2005, pp. 224,
Know how to get help from
professional resources. Learn how to find and access resources that can help your
family thrive. It's okay to acknowledge that you can't deal with everything on
your own. A school counselor, your adoption agency, or your social worker can
direct you to good professional resources. It is up to you to speak up when you
or your child needs more support.
Continue to nurture your marriage and other
relationships. A strong marriage is
a vital support during the challenges of parenting and the added challenges of
adoptive parenting. Families that report having strong marriages and having
both parents equally committed to the adoption have better experiences with
adoption (Clark et al., 2006, p. 182). It is vital that spouses be committed to
each other. This is one of the best ways you can help your child feel secure. A
loving marriage based on understanding, honor, and respect can ease other
pressures in the family (Foley & Thompson, 2004, p. 189). See the articles
listed under "Marriage" on this website for specific ideas on how to strengthen
by Tanya Bailey, Research Assistant, and edited by Stephen F. Duncan,
Professor, School of Family Life, Brigham Young University. Fall 2007.
Adoptive Families Magazine
Adoption Learning Partners - An
Online Adoption Education Community
Are You Ready
to Adopt? What You Can Learn from Your Motives
an Adoptive Parent - Resources for Adopting Parents
Child Welfare Information Gateway
The Learning Center - Support for Adoptive
Every Adopted Child Needs OneReferences
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child: A positive approach to building a strong family. New York:
Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System. (2006). The
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Retrieved November 15, 2006.
Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute (2002). National adoption attitudes survey research report.
Sponsored by the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption. Retrieved October 13,
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