An adoptive family is a family who has welcomed a child born to another into their family and legally adopted that child as their own. After the adoption is complete, the child’s name often changes to the name their adoptive family has selected for them, and that child legally becomes a part of their family, just as if they have been born into it. The adoptive family can vary in age, race, nationality, and gender. You may not be able to spot an adoptive family unless there are clear racial differences, as adoptive families are very much your normal family unit.

The adoptive family is often portrayed in the media on one end of the spectrum or the other. You may have seen horror stories of abuse from adoptive families portrayed on crime shows or in the news. You may have also been recently seen the more positive portrayal in the show This Is Us. Shows like This Is Us have done a tremendous job in portraying the truth in adoption that typically is overlooked. The show often focuses on foster care and does a great job of showing the foster care system as well as dispelling some of the myths about it. The media tend to only report or tell extreme stories. There are hundreds of thousands of adoptive families in the world who all represent wonderful families who are figuring out the intricacies of adoption along the way.

Adoptive Family Types

There are many reasons for which people may choose to adopt a child. Some common reasons are infertility or pregnancy-related medical issues. Others may choose it simply because they prefer or value adoption as a way to start their families. It is also a popular way to start a family for same-sex couples or single parents. No matter the reason for which adoption is chosen, no two adoptive families look the same or will enter adoption with the same story. Each family will go through their own journey and have their own story to tell.

The adoptive family may look very different from the adopted child. In cases of transracial adoption, the family will have a child from a different race. There is a lot of training and consideration that the adoptive family needs to take when adopting transracially. They provide an understanding that the child will have a very different experience in the world from the adoptive family. It will also help the family understand the needs of their child and some cultural aspects that should be honored. There is also immense value for the adoptive family to provide racial mirrors for their child and give the chance to have mentors who will understand and be able to aid the child in situations the parents may not have the experience.

Some adoptions do involve some level of biological connection. As more families become blended, stepparent adoption has become more common. If a child’s biological parent has passed away or chosen not to be in the picture, the stepparent may choose to legally adopt that child as their own. There is also kinship adoption in which any member of the family’s child adopts due to a variety of reasons. With the unfortunate surge of the opioid epidemic, there are more and more grandparents adopting their grandchildren. Kinship adoption can also occur as a way to keep the child in the family when the biological parent is unable to care for the child or if they have passed away. You can find some great information here about stepparent adoption.

Becoming an Adoptive Family

There are three main ways that a family becomes an adoptive family: domestic, international, and foster adoption. With domestic adoption, a family will typically adopt a baby. It includes adoptions that are done within the United States and usually privately through an agency or adoption professional. Although most are infant adoptions, some can be different.  For those who are wanting to adopt internationally, the child will likely be a toddler by the time the adoption process is complete. For those adopting from foster care, the range can vary but often are involving the adoption of an older child. A good side of adopting from foster care is that the process is typically little to no cost.

The process for each type of adoption will look different, but will typically involve hiring an adoption professional. These professionals will lead the adoptive family through the process and make sure that all of the legalities are taken care of. These professionals may also match the adoptive family to the child whom they will adopt if the adoptive family has not already been matched with a child privately. The process can take anywhere from months to years depending on the type of adoption. For foster care, the process can be shorter because the child is usually chosen from children who have already been deemed legally free to be adopted and are simply awaiting a family.

Each type of adoption will require a home study, which includes the study of the adoptive family’s home, life, and interviews with each member of the family. After the home study has been completed and approved, the wait to be matched will begin, or in the case of foster care adoption, the child may begin to transition into the home.

Adoptive Family History

The adoptive family has been around since biblical times. Families would regularly take in children of their relatives who had been orphaned by illness or needed refuge for any reason. There wasn’t any legality to these arrangements, but the sentiment was much the same as it is today. In the book of Esther, Mordecai took in his niece, Esther. The Bible does not go into the reasoning for this adoption, but it is believed that her parents likely passed away. Moses was placed into the river by his mother who feared he would be killed by the order of the Pharaoh. Moses’ sister, Miriam, followed him as he floated down the river in a basket to ensure he remained safe. Moses was found by the Pharaoh’s daughter who took him as her own.

The history of adoption as it appears today began in the late 19th to early 20th century. Around the time of the Great Depression, many families simply could not afford to care for their children any longer and felt no choice but to place them into the care of others. Sometimes friends or family, but other times children were placed in orphanages, which led to an influx of children into the system, and a need to find a way to place them with families more efficiently. It led to the introduction of what would come to be known as The Orphan Train.

The Orphan Train was the invention of officials who were seeking a way to get children out of orphanages and into the home of an adoptive family. They would advertise in various towns where the trains planned to stop. These advertisements would appeal to families to make room in their home for a child in need. Once enough interest was expressed, children were boarded onto these trains and taken to their new homes. Some of these children were accepted as equals to the biological children in the homes of their adoptive family, while others were used to work in the fields and help with the household.

It was not until the 1950s that adoption became a more regulated and legalized process. Home studies started to become a standard requirement for adoptive families before they could pursue adoption. Many states begin banning non-agency adoptions, and international adoption becomes more prevalent. In 1969, President Nixon created the Office of Child Development to ensure that children were being not only represented but protected throughout the foster and adoptive process. In 1979, the first openly gay couple jointly adopted a child. These events in adoption history have laid the framework for the present adoptive family.

Adoptive Family Experience

The road to adoption can be difficult and lengthy, and life after can also have its trials. The experience of an adoptive family can often be very different than others. Children are placed into an adoptive family at all ages. No matter what age a child is they will live a different reality than children who were not adopted. It will be a part of their identity. They will one day have to deal with this identity dilemma. For an adoptive family, they will have to deal with the fact that a child whom they love as their own has a family outside of their own.

Whether the adoption is open or closed, an adoptive family will have to contend with having a birth family as a part of their life. In a closed adoption, many would believe that a birth family would not be a factor in their day-to-day life. However, closing an adoption does not change the connection an adopted child will have to their birth family. In an open adoption, this connection will be even stronger. An adoptive family must try not to negate this relationship or identity.

The relationship an adoptive child has with their adoptive family will be completely different than the relationship they have with their birth family.  It is easy as an adoptive family to feel protective and even sometimes possessive of your child. While some may look at it as a competition or having to “share” a child, the two families will mean something different for the child. Learning how to cultivate a positive and loving relationship between the adoptive and birth families will help the child by relieving the tension of having to choose or feeling fearful to communicate their feelings.

Open adoption has become quite a bit more popular over the years. People have seen great value in allowing and encouraging a child who has been adopted to communicate ongoingly with the biological family. It takes away the mystery of the biological family and also allows them to have connections to turn to for answers. There are many situations where open adoption is not an option, but when it is, it can be a wonderful thing to pursue an adoptive family. There are a lot of myths surrounding open adoption and a lot of feelings that go into working with open adoption. It takes a great amount of communication as well as understanding; its training is more prevalent in the application provided by adoption professionals. Hopefully, with this further training, the fears that surround it can be dispelled and viewed as a positive part of the adoptive family experience.

Adoptive Family Resources

The training of an adoptive family should begin before adoption occurs. It is typically a requirement in most adoption journeys. It can range from reading books to in-class training, which will cover various subjects depending on the type of adoption the family is pursuing. For an adoptive family who is adopting internationally, this education will focus largely on cultural and racial information. For those who are adopting domestically, what they will receive will revolve largely around raising a child who has been adopted. If the adoptive family is adopting a child who is a different race, some of it may surround transracial adoption.

Regardless of what education an adoption professional provides to an adoptive family, the family must seek out resources to help them after the adoption is complete. Many adoption agencies will provide adoptive family support groups who meet continually and will be a great ongoing asset throughout the child’s life. Having the support and insight of those who are also going through the same experience can be invaluable. It is also great to build connections for your child with children who have also been adopted and are going through many of the same experiences.

If you are unable to find groups in your area, you may find some great support in online communities. has forums that are dedicated to various types of adoption situations. If social media is preferable, the I Love Adoption Facebook group is a great place to go for advice, experience, or a listening ear. The support you can gain from other adoptive families, birth families, and adoptees in these groups will be a great asset as you navigate your role as a member of an adoptive family.



Considering adoption? Let us help you on your journey to creating your forever family. Visit or call 1-800-ADOPT-98.