Grandparents and Adoption

I will never forget the day I approached my mother and shared with her that we were going to begin the adoption process. With a stunned look on her face, she asked many questions about our reasons for growing our family through adoption. We also added to the shock by telling her that we were adopting internationally. She eventually came around to loving the idea and was one of the first people to welcome our son to America. While my mother, Paulette Parker, was involved during an international adoption, Jackie Freeman is the grandmother of children adopted domestically. I met Jackie in a writing group when she reached out to me sharing her connection with adoption. As Jackie shared her comments about loving her grandkids through adoption, I realized that just like my mother, she played a vital role in supporting the adoption process and the life of her grandchildren. I’ve asked both my mother and Jackie to share their experiences with being grandparents through adoption. They responded to the following questions: 1). How did you become an adoptive grandparent? 2). What were your thoughts when the child was adapting to the family?  3). What are some ways or strategies you use to bond with your grandchildren?  4). What does adoption mean to you?

While their answers to the questions are different in some ways, love is the common connection that intertwines their stories together. Also, as grandparents, they offer tips on supporting their families through adoption in their stories. I hope you will be inspired by their stories and see the level of faith that comes with supporting their families through adoption.  

Jackie Freeman–Grandmother Through Domestic Adoption and Foster Care

I’ve always loved being called Mom. But nothing prepared me for the joy of being called “MIMI” nineteen years ago by my first granddaughter. This child stole our hearts before she was born, but when she declared my official moniker, MIMI, I was over the moon.

Four years later, our second son, Joe, and his wife Carla chose the path of adoption to grow their family. At first, I wondered how I could love someone not of my blood. Quickly, I reminded myself of the “in-laws” (father, mother, daughters) that I loved unconditionally. “Bloodline” did not limit my capacity to love. 

Joe and Carla were in contact with the birth mother throughout the pregnancy. Plans were made. Hope rose. But, following the delivery, the birth mother elected to parent her newborn. Devastated, as if we all had experienced a stillbirth, our empty arms longed for a baby.

In her outpouring of grief, Carla discovered a young woman, pregnant again, who wanted to be the change agent Carla’s family needed. This young woman decided to place her child for adoption and kept up constant communication with Carla and Joe. Carla flew out to meet this young woman, and, while there, labor and delivery ensued. My daughter-in-law was present through every step of labor and delivery. From the first breath, this little baby girl was a Freeman!

Because of my husband’s grave medical condition and crossing state lines, I had to wait two weeks after birth to finally hold this bundle of joy in my arms. As she gazed at me with those big beautiful brown eyes, I wondered what God had in store for us. I felt that God shared with me the discoveries, lessons, and growth we would achieve together. These are the same thoughts and prayers I had for my first granddaughter.

I commend my son and his wife for preparing our beautiful little princess and us for the questions we would get about her role in our family. At an incredibly young age, our grandchild was asked about her birth mother and her adoption. She didn’t miss a beat in her response: “My birth mother loved me so much that she gave me to people who could take better care of me than she could. She loved me that much.” How incredible. It was a marvelous lesson that I learned on my journey as an adoptive grandma.  Since the adoption of this little granddaughter, my son and his wife have fostered several children, always hoping to adopt. They always knew their role was to care for the child until the best place for them to live was located. 

The next adoption came in a pair. A pair of sibling girls. At 7 and 8 years old, each one was just as talented and beautiful as my other granddaughters. One significant story from this adoption occurred at the courthouse on the day of the adoption. The judge asked my son what he felt he and Carla could offer these girls. Joe reflected the joy in my heart when he replied, “Your honor, it isn’t as much as what we can do for them; it’s what they will bring to us as part of our family.”

I think that is how “forever families” are formed. Looking for strength and love from and for each other, no matter your birth order or circumstances.

This year, a little boy joined our family–a medically fragile baby boy. At first, I was cautiously guarded with this child. I was afraid his life would be cut short due to health issues. But God so graciously gifted this little guy to the right family! Carla, Joe, and the girls have rallied around him, and today, at 2 years of age, he is a miracle. Our little Freeman farmer has fallen in love with tractors and his MIMI.

During the years of fostering, I had grown attached to the children, and when they left, a part of me went with them too. I didn’t want to feel that loss with this fragile little baby. I’ve learned that holding back and not bonding denies love to not only the children but myself. God gave me an enormous heart, enough to go around. I pray when any of the children who have come in and out of my life look back on time spent with me, they will think to themselves, “This must be what love looks like.”

Paulette Parker–Grandparent Through International Adoption

My two daughters are 17 years apart. My eldest daughter Kim has two sons; thus, I have two grandsons. My daughter Deirdre was born three years before my eldest grandson. Thus my daughter, Deirdre, is around the same age as my eldest grandson. He is married, and they have my great-grandchild. Deirdre and her husband, James, shared with me that they were going to adopt. At first, I was hesitant because I did not truly understand why they would want to adopt. Still, as I asked more questions, I started to love the idea of adoption in our family. 

After waiting for about two and a half years, Deirdre and James shared they were adopting a boy by presenting me with a glass mug. They placed the names of all of the grandchildren on the mug and then added one unfamiliar name. James shared with me that the additional name was the name of my grandson. I was excited and thrilled. 

Deirdre and James went to South Africa for over a month to complete the adoption process of their son. They let us know what was going on each day and how much my grandson was changing and growing. They told us that he did not speak much, and maybe “Gogo” would be an easier term to call me because it is a term he used in his orphanage. “Gogo” in South Africa means “grandma”. From the day I met him he has always called me Gogo. At first, I hesitated with the term and thought he would be confused as my other grandsons and great-granddaughter call me Granny. But two years later, there is no confusion. He calls me Gogo, they call me Granny, and I love it. 

Our grandson joined our family in May of 2019. He was about 3 years old and very quiet when I first met him. He came to me, and I just hugged him because I was so happy that everyone was finally back in America. I will never forget his small face. He looked so curious and as he explored the living room. He was hesitant with my cat but felt happy to be picked up. 

Our family really took to my younger grandson. My other grandsons are over 30 years older than him, but they love him and enjoy playing with him. My other daughter Kim has a granddaughter, and we love watching our grandchildren play together at our home.  

Our grandson has gone through two surgeries and many cultural adjustments during his two years in America. As his Gogo, I try to do my best to support my daughter and son-in-law with him. 

My daughter asked for strategies I use to bond with their son. Well, I do the same thing I would do with any of my grandchildren. We do arts and crafts together. He helps me take care of my flowers outside of my house. We go to the playground together and walk my eldest daughter’s dog. 

Our grandson has brought a joy to our family that would not have happened if our paths had not crossed through adoption. People make comments that he is blessed to have us, but I disagree. We are beyond thrilled to have each other. I believe that God gave him to us. Adoption for us was an opportunity to come to know our grandson, something we think we would never have had if he was adopted to another family. We can’t imagine life without him.

Tips for Prospective Grandparents Through Adoption

 Jessica Wambach Brown wrote an article about becoming a grandparent through adoption. She left the following tips (which seem familiar to me in my experiences with my mother and Jackie).

1). Respect the Adoption Story

Every adoption comes with a story from various backgrounds. In Jackie’s story, her grandchild came to her through foster care and domestic adoption. My mother had her grandchild come to her through a closed international adoption. While it is natural to want to hear everything about the child’s background, it is understandable if the adoptive parents want to keep details of the background private. 

Through their writings, it seems as though Jackie and my mom try very hard to respect the adoption stories of their grandchildren. They both share what is fine to share. In both of their writings, I also noticed no negative comments about the birth parents, no comments of their families “saving” the child. They fully understand there is love among all parties shared with all individuals. I feel they should both be commended for being so thoughtful and willing to learn in a situation that seemed so foreign to them in the beginning.

2).  Open Your Heart

I loved that in both stories the grandparents were stunned and naturally questioned the idea of adoption. Instead of fighting the idea, they became open to it. And then, once the adoption process was complete, they welcomed it. Now it seems as though both grandmothers came to find out that they couldn’t imagine themselves without ALL of their grandchildren. I believe it truly takes a certain amount of faith to come to such a huge step of acceptance in the adoption process. For both of these women, it is their faith in God.

As both sets of grandparents learned, the adoption process is complicated and has many players involved. There are so many moving parts, and so much emotion poured out of the adoptive parents and child. Support for the parents and the child through the adoption journey is key to creating a safe space for all, and the grandparent can fit here. The openness to adoption can contribute support, advice, a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on, many prayers of comfort, love, and encouragement. I think that Jackie’s children will agree with me that the love of Mimi and Gogo is well appreciated by each family.

3). Educate, Educate, Educate

Grandparents are not required to take the courses adoptive parents are taking. Still, it is helpful for the adoptive parents to educate the grandparents through the adoption process. I’ve heard of some families where the grandparents read adoption literature, and some take classes with the adoptive parents. For the most part, the adoptive parents teach lessons to the grandparents in hopes they will understand. In our family, we have a personal example of this. Through our various classes, we are taught it can take years to complete an adoption. While you are waiting, it can be emotionally taxing and draining. This was definitely true for our three-year wait. For my mother, she did not understand. I remember when my mom came home, and she shared a joke that a Pastor shared. The joke was that my husband and I took the “easy way out” when we decided to adopt our son. While she found it funny, we did not. We had a tough adoption process, and then the adjustment was emotionally tolling to our son. While my body was not physically altered, my emotional state was crazy. Nope. It was not the easiest time. This was shared with my mother with the explanation as to why it was offensive. She understood and now defends our family if someone addresses our “easy way out.”

Grandparents are able to contribute so much support and stability to the life of the adoptive child and the adoptive family. My mother and Jackie are wonderful examples of women who accepted their children’s choice to adopt and welcomed it. They are learning from their children, educating themselves on adoption, and open to the possibility of loving another child. “Gogo, can I come and see you and watch TB (TV)?” my son asks as I’m ending this article. I find the timing perfect.

Are you and your partner ready to start the adoption process? Visit Adoption.org or call 1-800-ADOPT-98 to begin your adoption journey. We have 130+ years of adoption experience and would love to help you.