8 Things People Don’t Really Get About Adoption

What comes to mind when you think of adoption?

Stephan Petryczka January 30, 2018

Although it’s a great thing that adoption is such a popular idea today, here are a few things that ought to be clarified in conversations about adoption.

Often, we think of adoption as a “good deed” or a redistribution of young children away from a set of birth parents that are unable or unwilling to care for their birth children.  On the receiving end, in this conception, is a pair of happy, eager parents who are financially secure, emotionally-intelligent and otherwise prepared to care for said children.  Anyone, anyone involved in adoptions in any way can tell you that most adoptions don’t happen like this.

So what essential information is missing from this idealized, limited story about adoption?

Adoption is not just some "good deed."
1. Adoption is not just some "good deed."

Some of us might consider the act of adoption to be a redistribution of children away from parents that are unable to care for them to homes where (ideally) parents are better equipped to care for them. I’d like to think of adoption as a step towards understand and caring for another person, who may grow up to be different than what you had in mind. It’s a compassionate gesture to dedicate yourself to someone, whomever they may become when they’re no longer your cute baby.

However, adoption can be a great thing.
2. However, adoption can be a great thing.

At the time of my adoption, my parents felt that they could not comfortably speak with their neighbors or distant relatives about adopting my sister and me. I assume that others were bludgeoning my parents with shame that they could not conceive a biological child; this arrangement was unnatural. In turn, my parents internalized this shame and avoided sharing their thoughts and starting discussions about adoption. If those neighbors and relatives were still around, I’d tell them about how grateful I feel that my parents chose to adopt me from the decrepit orphanage I was put in.

Adoptees are not blank slates.
3. Adoptees are not blank slates.

One of the only things I wish my adoptive parents had been told (perhaps with annual follow-up reminders) is that they were not building humans from scratch. Adopted children are predisposed with genetics from two other people. My sister and I learned and borrowed a lot of ideas and habits from our adoptive parents. However, I was never going to be the jazz-playing scientist Republican that my dad wished I were. Sometimes I think he was so disappointed by the way I turned out, he doesn’t even wish to speak with me. It’s important to remember that nature factors into adoption perhaps as much, if not more than, nurture. Some adoptive parents are naturally more open to how their children may turn out. Others, not so much! Attempting to rear your children out of who they are at their core is begging for resentment and shame. To be an effective adoptive parent, I think the best policy is to consider yourself as a guide for your children to a better future.

Adoption affects everyone differently.
4. Adoption affects everyone differently.

Adoption touches every adoptee and adoptive parent in a different way. Some adoptions are very successful, others tragic. Some trends in adoption are detectable and recorded by researchers. For example, research shows that the younger a child is while adopted, the better signs of adjustment and attachment through adolescence. However, it isn’t possible to screen prospective adoptees’ or adoptive parents’ personalities or behaviors efficiently enough to prevent possible mismatches.

Unless invited, it's not appropriate to ask personal questions.
5. Unless invited, it's not appropriate to ask personal questions.

I, for one, have never minded answering questions about my life as an adoptee. It is my belief that the more people that understand how things are different for adoptive families, the better. I consider myself to be somewhat of an ambassador for the adoptive community and have pride in my experience. However, it’s a sensitive topic and not everyone feels this way. The other day, I overheard someone at a holiday party ask why one of their coworkers had adopted their child. I’m not sure what came over this person, but this is an extremely inappropriate, touchy subject for most adoptive parents (that likely involves infertility, miscarriages, or worse, not to mention the child's side of the story). Unless you’re told that it’s all right to probe, do your peers a favor and reserve your curiosities for the internet.

There is an element of mystery most of the time.
6. There is an element of mystery most of the time.

Unless you are adopting from parents that you know, or have a similar arrangement, most adoptive parents don’t have the slightest idea who they’re raising. Whereas biological parents might wonder about how their one son was born a redhead, adoptive parents have a lot more to consider. The key is to feel secure in and open to the mystery. Some adoptees go on to express their concerns and urges to search for their birth parents eventually. I, for one, did not ask questions for many years.

Most adoptees don’t appreciate being called “lucky”.
7. Most adoptees don’t appreciate being called “lucky”.

Life with an adoptive family in the United States is (probably) better than life would have been had I never been adopted from the orphanage in Kiev, Ukraine that I was originally given to. However, I have reservations about the entire experience itself. If I were really “lucky,” like so many onlookers seem to insist, I wouldn’t need to think about all the various ways that I am psychologically and emotionally more challenged than your average twenty-something. If you don’t believe me, consider that adoptees are 4 times more likely 4 times more likely to attempt suicide. I express this number with compassion but hope that I’m making my point. If you’d like another personal account on being called lucky, please read this Washington Post op-ed.


Birth parents are not necessarily bad, careless people.
9. Birth parents are not necessarily bad, careless people.

One last, major misconception about adoption: Children are abandoned because their parents didn’t care about them. In their own way, every birth parent cares about their child and their child’s outcome. Some authors insist that birth mothers experience a similar trauma to that of the abandoned child after separation. I learned, after a painstaking search, that my birth father had never known about my birth. I’ve met both of my birth parents and am happy to report that they are both good, happy people who were enduring very hard times when I was born.

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Stephan Petryczka

Stephan was born in Ukraine, adopted by an American family, and raised outside of New York City. After meeting with his biological family last summer, he has taken steps toward becoming involved in the greater adoptee and orphan service communities. Stephan recently began coordinating programs for the FRUA young adult group. He is currently studying for his Master's of Urban Planning at New York University.

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