Is Adoption Right For Us?Posted by Kim
It’s been a while since I posted one of my “Q&A” topics, but given the reading I’ve been doing lately, I think I’m ready to tackle this one. It’s a question Fred and I get with some regularity: “Why did you choose to adopt?” And for those considering adoption, I’d like to turn that question around.
I phrased the header to this post “Is Adoption Right for us?” on purpose. As potential adoptive parents (“PAP’s” in adoption-circle lingo), that’s frequently where we start off. Something – infertility, knowing another adoptive family, a major world crisis like the Haiti quakes this year, a picture of orphans somewhere in the world – SOMETHING gets us started thinking about whether we want to adopt.
But I’d like to start from the get-go with a better question: Are we/Am I right for adoption?
Here’s why I say that’s a better question: it’s the parents who adopt who set the tone, it’s the parents who choose to bring a child into their home, and it’s the parents who are then responsible for meeting the unique needs of their adopted child. The children don’t ask to be adopted, frequently don’t even know it’s happening to them, and therefore shouldn’t be held responsible for satisfying some need or want or preference his or her parents may have had at the start.
The first question makes adoption sound kind of like a commodity – like “Is BMW the car for me?” where BMW is then responsible for convincing you to buy. The second question, at least in my opinion, asks us as the parents, “Am I willing to put in what it takes to meet the needs of a child who currently does not have a family?”
Because it’s not as straightforward as bringing a child home, and then we all live happily ever after.
It’s being patient and supportive and reasonable while the child adjusts to a new home, family, sometimes culture, country and language. It’s empathizing when that little person grieves the loss of first parents, familiar foster parents or orphanage caregivers, friends, and the surroundings to which he or she had become accustomed. It’s loving that little person long before getting reciprocal affection. It’s never getting to be the only real parents, becoming accustomed to the fact that we have to share their hearts with the parents who came first. It’s locating adoption-counseling services and paying for therapeutic treatment when needed.
It’s a lot of things, many of which biological parents experience in some measure, too. But it’s not the same. It’s not “worse” or even necessarily “harder” – it’s just different.
So what IS adoption? What ISN’T it?
In the “best” of situations, ADOPTION IS:
- Providing a child who has lost both parents (and who does not have an extended family member willing or able to step in) with a family, love, a home, and a place to return to for the rest of his or her life.
- Creation of an environment, in the context of that new family, where the adoptee maintains a sense of his or her story – even before the adoption, to the best of the ability of the new parents.
- Inclusion of the adoptee’s original culture into the new family. For transracial adoptions, this is especially key because the new member of the family doesn’t look like the rest. Everyone needs to adjust, not just the adoptee. He or she (and the parents) have a life-time of double-takes and weird looks ahead of them since the adoptee doesn’t “match” the parents. As a family, be prepared to handle that. In a positive, backing-of-the-child sort of way.
- Inclusion of the adoptee into the family’s original culture. (I don’t hear it often, but every once in a while someone will say, “and this is _______’s adopted son _______” NO. This is _______’s SON. Period. Yes, there are differences going on within the family dynamic, but it doesn’t need to be called out continuously in public. An adoption happens. Then it’s past. The ramifications go on, but the person IS a part of the family, just like every other member.)
- An emotional and at times exhausting proposition. Like giving birth to a child and then unlike it. There is a great joy and fulfillment that comes when you and your child have bonded. Nothing like it. But the bonding takes time and needs re-cementing through the different stages of life. Sometimes it’s a lot of work; other times, it feels like coasting through springtime. Neither should negate the other. It’s a great blessing and a huge responsibility all at once.
- An opportunity for great joy. I can testify from personal experience that there is something incredibly magnificent about looking at your kids and knowing that, in spite of the fact that there was a greater chance you would never have even met, here you are, loving each other and feeling like it’s the most natural thing in the world.
- Opening yourself up to become passionate about cultures, issues, and ideas you had never considered before. When it’s your child who is affected by prejudice or ignorance or something else like those, it’s surprising how quickly you find yourself becoming an advocate for broader societal change. I know I have!
In the best of situations ADOPTION IS NOT:
- Getting to custom-select your child. This can be deceiving up-front, especially when adoption agencies or attorneys seem to all-but-guarantee a gender, a race, an age, and even whether or not the first mom/birth mom used drugs, had HIV, or took pre-natal vitamins. But even if you get all the things on your list, you’re still taking parental custody of a little person with his or her own personality, biological background, and a major loss and trauma to contend with. You don’t really know who you’re adopting till after the adoption is finalized. Be prepared to love without expectation, as hard as that is to do in actuality … at least be cognitively prepared and then work to follow with your emotions.
- A replacement for biological children. If your heart is set on a child who looks just like you and has your father’s dimple in his chin, fertility treatment is the way to go. Adopted children have been through enough, just by virtue of their having been qualified to be adopted. They don’t need the burden of living up to un-met dreams and expectations on top of it all.
- Swooping in to save a desperate victim. This one’s tricky. Yes, adopting does provide a child who doesn’t have a family with a family. But on the other hand, it frequently is the parents’ choice to complete the adoption, not the child’s choice of the family. So when we adopt, as the parents, we’re getting what we want – kids! Those kids don’t owe us a thing. Most of the AP’s I know actually get this. But we have to take it a step further and correct those around us who mistakenly think we’re heroes for adopting. Our kids hear how we respond (or don’t), and it impacts how they view themselves and their life story.
- A one-time deal. The ramifications of adoption, self-identification, having been “given up” (feels like “rejected” or “not good/easy/pretty/loveable enough to keep”), and belonging keep coming back up as the adoptee enters new developmental stages. Several of the adoptees whose stories I’ve been reading didn’t really go through the big adoption self-search until their early adulthood! Which means we, their parents, need to be ready and available to re-visit what the adoption means at any time. And sometimes that means going along with a grieving process that may feel like our kids wish we weren’t here because they wish they’d never been available to be adopted. Even if that’s not what they mean – a rejection of us. And THAT one is the hardest, I can already say.
- A dangerous or hopeless venture. I think some people shy away from adopting because they have this idea that “damaged” children are little psychopaths just waiting to tear your family apart or set your house on fire. Yes, children who have been severely abused or neglected require a lot of therapeutic intervention. But they’re still kids. Love, training, consistency, security, play, affection, and belonging is what they need. And yes, they may have on-going foibles and echoes of their pasts, but I know quite a few parents whose biological children have gone off in an unexpected direction with their adulthood. There are no guarantees, but then in life, where are there any? Meeting your child where she or he is can make for some very tight bonding, perhaps tighter than in some biological families. If you’re up for the openness and emotional work, it’s totally worth it.
There’s my two-cents for now. If I’ve missed anything or gotten anything completely awry, please comment! I’m a work-in-progress just like everyone else, and happy to re-examine what I’ve said.
I would say I’m an advocate for adoption. But I’m an advocate only in certain cases – when the need is truly there, when the parents are truly willing to look at the process through their children’s eyes and live accordingly, and when the family has a sufficient support network around them (including a knowledge of available therapeutic resources).
Given all that, I say “go.” Make yourself available. You might be just the person or couple some young one needs.