When my husband and I began our adoption journey six years ago, I had an agency director insinuate to me that all couples should be fully open-minded, should be willing to take any situation that came their way, and should be willing to change any aspect of their life to suit a potential placement. She believed families should change to meet adoption situations, not determine adoption criteria based on what they felt best capable of offering to a child.
I remember the guilt I felt during that time, the questions that circled around in my brain while I tried to fall asleep. I spent a lot of time worrying during those months that we hadn’t set our criteria correctly, but when my husband finally asked if we could sit down and talk about what was wrong, we had one of those life-altering talks where we dug to the root of what was bothering me and I came out on the other side of the discussion feeling empowered to choose our criteria based on what we could offer a child—not based on fear and guilt.
When my husband finally asked if we could sit down and talk about what was wrong, we had one of those life-altering talks where we dug to the root of what was bothering me and I came out on the other side of the discussion feeling empowered.
As you and your spouse determine your adoption criteria, it’s important to discuss some basic topics, and then take a deeper dive into what you feel called to pursue. Accept that what may be right for one family might not be right for yours, and you may be more open-minded in some areas than some people, and more closed-minded in others. We are all unique, and what we have to offer is perfect for one child, and imperfect for another.
1. Adoption should occur because a child needs a family; not because a family needs a child.
As you determine what your adoption criteria is, keep this fact in mind. There is no such thing as the perfect child, and adoption brings hard times no matter what child is placed with your family. Instead of seeking perfection via making a list of what you’re willing to accept, make a list of what you feel you’re fit to accept. Hopeful adoptive parents need to move past thinking of adoption criteria as a wish list. Adoption does not exist so that you can welcome a child into your family; it exists because children need homes where they can thrive. Consider this as you’re writing down your adoption criteria. Don’t think about what a child can do for you and your life; think about what you can do for a child and his/her life.
2. There is a difference between uncomfortable and unsuitable.
As we discuss our adoption criteria, we all have a base level of what makes us comfortable, and it probably involves a healthy child with no drug exposure, our same ethnicity, a birth father who is completely on-board with the adoption, and no other red flags.
But maybe our situation, experiences, resources, families, and all of the other assets we have at our disposal make us ideal for a child who has special needs, a transracial placement, an open adoption, a sibling placement, or whatever else may come your way.
Don’t limit yourself based on what makes your stomach hurt a little. Have the hard discussions based on what you have to offer a child, and if your personality and your abilities lend themselves to something that challenges you, take the time to digest all of the feelings and determine together as a couple where you can excel. Being uncomfortable is okay because it will challenge you to think and examine, but it’s also okay to deem yourself unsuitable for certain situations as well.
3. What can you do to expand your educational and social circles?
Sometimes there is no way to know what you’re suitable for until you’re exposed to families who have accepted placements that fall outside the realm of healthy same-race infant placements. Most adoptive families are more than eager to help you determine what you feel you can offer to a child, so dig into your local community to see what resources you can uncover. Many local churches have adoption groups, and you may even be able to turn to social media to find adoptive families in your area.
Start asking questions and networking, then start talking to families. Begin discussions and ask questions to help you determine what your reality would be like should you accept a placement that pushes your initial comfort boundaries. If experienced adoptive families have learned anything, it’s that our comfort levels evolve over time. We have learned to rise to the occasion because parenthood requires that, and most adoptive families are happy to help hopeful adoptive parents determine what situations they’re best suited for.
Some things come down to a leap of faith.
Sometimes you have to just step out on a limb and say that yes, you’re willing to accept the unknown. As you’re having discussions with your spouse about what you feel you can provide (not what you’re willing to accept), talk about how much faith you feel you have as a couple to handle the unknown, because there’s a lot of that in adoption. We haven’t created these children ourselves, and we haven’t been in control of much, so we have to expect the unexpected. We have to learn to roll with the punches and we have to believe we are resilient enough to not just pull through and succeed so our children can thrive. Take the time you have as a waiting hopeful adoptive couple to strengthen your marriage, learn to work together as a team, and rely on faith to help you as you determine what children you can best serve through adoption.