Being a parent isn’t easy. Being an adoptive parent has additional challenges. Some parenting challenges have nothing to do with adoption; others are very specific to the unique relationships adoption brings into play.
I am a mother of six, four of whom were adopted. I have been an adoptive parent for 16 years. Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way that have helped strengthen our family.
1. Celebrate adoption.
My husband told me a story about his high school biology class. His teacher told the class they were going to learn about blood typing and genetics using their parents’ blood types and comparing them to their own. The teacher asked the students to make sure their parents knew about this assignment. Over his years of teaching, he had several students learn in class they were adopted or one of their parents was not their biological parent.
When a child learns about their adoption from someone other than their parents, it seems like adoption is something to be ashamed of rather than celebrated.
Families are created in many different ways and are more diverse now than ever. Celebrate the fact that your family was created through the miracle of adoption. Share each adoption story with your children. Over the years, my children have begged, “Please tell us the story of ________’s adoption.” Sometimes it is their own story they want to hear, sometimes the story of a sibling. Each story is miraculous and each brought children into our home and created a family. Adoption is something to be celebrated.
2. Honor and respect birth parents.
We have 3 sets of birth parents between the 4 children we adopted. Their birth family circumstances are very different. We honor and respect the decisions they made to place these children in our home.
We do not talk negatively about our children’s birth families. Sometimes there is negative information that is important for our children to know. We have shared this information (when age-appropriate), followed by, “She has made some mistakes in her life, but she loved you and wanted you to have a good home where you would be safe and loved.” In situations where you do not know the birth family or the child was removed from custody due to neglect, drugs, etc., find positive things to say, such as, “Look at your beautiful eyes. You got those from your birth family.” Or, “I didn’t meet your birth parents, but maybe you get your amazing art talent from them.” Find the positive. It’s there.
I received permission from an adoptee, Becca Neal, to share her recent post on an adoption-related Facebook group:
“Hello fellow adoption community! My name is Becca and I am adopted. I was adopted at birth into a Caucasian family. My parents have always been open with me about my story, and this, I am so grateful for. I believe the topic of adoption should be as natural to the child, as the brown hair on their head. If my parents were to of (ever) talked negatively about my birth family or my adoption story in any way, I would have questioned their love for who I was biologically. Them loving my birth mom unconditionally, and showing that with their actions, has been the most meaningful part of my story to me. Without my birth mom, I would not be. And without my adoptive parents, I would not be me. The truth is special to us adoptees. There’s no more act of love you could give us adoptees, than remind us (adoptees) how amazing our birth parents are—because although they could have made mistakes, they at least did one thing right by placing us with our parents.”
3. Get involved in an adoption community.
No one likes to be the odd one out. Your children may not know other children who were adopted at school or church, but there are active adoption communities around. Look for Facebook groups posting about adoption activities, events, and classes. Ask adoption agencies or other adoption workers where you can find an adoption support group.
We have attended classes and activities since our children were small. They love going to meet other adoptees. It’s good for them to realize they are not alone out there. They also enjoy going to these adoption events because it is a chance to have some fun in the name of adoption. It makes them feel that adoption is special.
It’s beneficial for us as parents to network with other parents and have a safe place to talk about adoption. We were facing a difficult situation with our two daughters who share the same birth mother. Their birth mother wrote to them and told them about being in prison. We hadn’t told them she was incarcerated, feeling they were too young, at age seven, to understand. So we held onto the letter ourselves while we worked through what to do. I attended a meeting one evening and I asked the group of adoptive parents present what they would do. One mother who adopted many children from foster care said something along the lines of, “It is easier to tell them difficult things before they hit their teenage years. It becomes a more natural part of their story rather than finding out you withheld information and feeling betrayed later on.” It was good advice. We shared the letter with our girls and told them their birth mother wanted them to know so they could learn from her mistakes and make better choices in their own lives.
As parents, none of us will get it right in every situation. We will make mistakes raising our children, but by being positive about adoption, we help strengthen our children and family. We can be instrumental in helping our children celebrate their identity and embrace their possibilities.
In what ways have you strengthened your adoptive family? I’d love to hear your ideas!
If you are considering adoption as a way of building your family and would like to speak with an adoption professional about your adoption options, click here.