You’ve spent weeks or days or months or maybe even years researching. You’ve filled out enough forms to fill a small shed. You’ve checked your finances and his finances three times over. And you’ve thought it over until it’s about the only thought left in your head.
Without a doubt, you’re ready to adopt. You’re excited about the journey you’re about to take. You’re happy and nervous and tired and ready (not necessarily in that order), even though you know you’ve still got a long way to go.
The last thing you want to think about is having to debunk the myths and misunderstandings surrounding adoption when sharing the happy news with family and friends.
Although there is more information available now than ever before about fostering and adopting, the questions are never in short supply—especially from sometimes well-meaning family members who may have heard a story from a friend of a friend who had a bad experience.
The truth is, the history of adoption has not always been pretty, the media has jumped on sensational stories as if they are the norm, and of course there are lingering issues, even today, within foster care and adoption, just as there are with any institution that deals with issues as complex and delicate as child welfare.
Despite that, the adoption community strives to be transparent and to educate all parties involved to promote healthy outcomes for the entire adoption triad. The truth is, the majority of adoptive families live full and quiet lives under the radar and are our families, neighbors, and friends.
So how do you approach a skeptical family member or friend who may react with wide eyes and dropped jaws rather than the hugs and pats on the back you’re hoping for?
Take a deep breath and remember who this is about. The end game is to provide a family to a child in need—and, on your end, to grow your family to include a little one who is going to need you to put her needs ahead of the pack’s curiosity.
Be selective. Just as a couple expecting a biological child expects to enjoy sharing their happy news, so should you! Because yours is happy news! Better to build up a circle of family and friends who you know will celebrate with you and can serve to support you and reinforce your decision first.If you know that so-and-so is going to react badly, either consider placing them lower on the list or don’t feel obligated to say anything for the moment.
Be a myth buster. Realize that your loved ones are not going to run to the library and check out every book and article about adoption like you did. However, having some FAQs on hand, in writing, may be helpful and reinforce to them that you’ve done your research and know what you’re getting yourself—and them—into. While you shouldn’t feel pressured to explain your reason for adopting or the entire process itself, by presenting some facts, you can quickly diffuse well-meaning worrywarts. The Adoption Myths Guide points out many misconceptions people have regarding adoption.
Provide a timeline. Be ready to explain the process so that they are clear as to what you’ve already done, what you’re in the midst of doing, and what you still need to do. Most people have no idea how complicated and lengthy the adoption process can be. By giving them an overview, you may save yourself some grief in the long run as family becomes excited and you begin to receive daily texts, phone calls, and emails asking if it’s happened yet. And what’s taking so long? The adoption process is unpredictable. Let them know that you’re in it for the long haul and they’ll be the first to know when you hear something.
Own your story. Before you open your mouth, decide how much you’re willing to share and remember it’s your tale to tell. If you’ve always known that adoption was your first choice, then perhaps none of what anybody says will matter and this will be an easy story to share. However, if you’ve been on the infertility roller coaster and spent years debating and deciding if adoption is an option, the thought of negative voices may be terrifying to you. Aside from this being a happy time, it can also be confusing and emotional under the best of circumstances. You are not obligated to share every little detail of your decision to adopt or how you arrived at this point. Focus on your current chapter and keep your eye on the happily ever after.
Don’t be offended by the defensive. A little pushback should be expected, even from the most well-meaning family members. Remember, just as you’re going to worry and be concerned about your little-one-to-be for the rest of his life, those feelings don’t go away no matter how old a child grows. Give nervous grandparents time to digest the news without expecting them to throw you a parade. While you’ve had time to research, digest, accept, and become excited by the prospect of adoption, this is news to them.
Choose to be stubborn. If, despite your best efforts, family members are critical or even rude, dig deep and remember that this is your decision and your path to walk, not theirs. This is not a court of law and you shouldn’t feel obligated to defend your position. It’s common for some doubting Thomases who have heard nothing or know nothing about adoption to project their fears onto you. It’s also pretty common for these same folks to turn into melting gobs of proud grandparent, aunt, and uncle goo when they finally hold your little one for the first time, have a chance to sit down and read a bedtime story, or toss a ball in the backyard. They will eventually know without a doubt that this child was meant to be a member of the family.
Seek support. Have your partner’s back. It’s important to know that you’re on the same page and to be able to share with one another your hopes and fears–and it’s ok to experience both no matter how certain you are in your decision to adopt.
Consider confiding separately in one or two of your closest friends first. Sometimes it’s easier to share your news with a neutral third party before “going public.” It’s important to secure a trustworthy support group while you make your way through the process. Knowing that you have someone in your corner to share with will be more helpful than you can imagine. No matter how excited and positive you are about adoption, we all experience ups and downs before it’s over. Sometimes you may want to express fears, frustration, or anger of your own, and maybe family is not the best outlet for that when you’re also leaning on them to cheer you on.
Enjoy the Moment. Remember to enjoy this moment because it will become part of your family story. You can’t control what others think or feel, but you can control how you react. Take that deep breath–or maybe two or three or ten. Someday, your child is going to want to hear about how you came to be together, and rather than allowing it to be filled with outside drama, this is your chance to enjoy your journey to becoming a family. That is the endgame and that is what matters.