Back in 1980, Kool & The Gang released the song “Celebration” which shot to number one on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. The hit lyrics urged listeners to “Celebrate good times, come on!” While the finalization of adoption was unlikely to have been the event that this American band had in mind for celebrating, the legal recognition of a child becoming a member of one’s family is indeed worthy of a big celebration. But how can one celebrate the end of the legal process of adoption? Here are nine possibilities:
A Picture Perfect Ending
Have you ever attended a birthday party, graduation, or a wedding where pictures were not taken? Because momentous and happy occasions are a big deal, people want to remember them. What better way to remember than taking pictures of the events as they unfold? Adoption finalization is definitely an event to memorialize through pictures.
If in-person attendance at the final adoption hearing is allowed, arrange for someone to take pictures of the proceeding and those in attendance. Because the judge controls the courtroom, it is always best to have your attorney first ask the judge’s permission if pictures can be taken during the actual hearing. The photographer needs to be someone other than the adoptive parents who will be busy participating in the hearing.
In cases where the adoptee is a baby or young child, taking pictures of the final hearing will allow him or her to get a glimpse into what happened on such an important day in his or her life when he or she gets older. Be sure to include shots of the adoptee, family members in attendance, the judge, the courtroom setting, and even the courthouse. Since adoption final hearings are typically the only happy hearing judges handle, judges are usually willing to pose for pictures with the adoptee and new parents if politely asked.
Adoptive parents may even want to hire a professional photographer. With relatives in attendance, this event provides a great opportunity for family photos. If you are not allowed to do so in the courtroom, the family members could gather at a spot in the courthouse or even back home if a celebratory gathering is planned afterward.
The pictures taken do not have to be normal family shots that so many default to when relatives gather. The use of letterboards for family pictures has trended recently. Attendees can be given such a sign with an adoption message to hold while they say “Cheese!” for the photographer. A young adoptee might hold a board that says, “Officially a Smith now.” If the judge is willing, she might lift a sign that says, “I helped with the happy ending.” Get family members involved in advance to see what line they want their own sign to have.
COVID-19, of course, has upended the way things including court proceedings are handled. Zoom hearings are the new normal for many. While sadly the family does not get the courtroom experience, it may allow the proceeding to be recorded. How fascinating it will be for the adoptee to see his or her actual adoption hearing at an older age when he or she can grasp its significance. If permitted by the judge, family members who live a great distance away who could not attend in person may join the Zoom hearing (although likely muted and not on camera).
Having pictures of the adoption finalization is the perfect opportunity to enlist the aid of a scrapbooker to organize them. Adding information such as the date, time, location, name of the judge, number of the courtroom, etc. will aid in the memories when the book is viewed years later. It might also be fun to include some comments and quotes from those in attendance to describe what they saw and how they felt.
Remember How You Got There
While finalizing an adoption is an end to celebrate, recognize tough things had to occur in order to reach that destination. As they say, “you can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs.” The birth family is legally broken by an adoption. In order to create a forever family, the door must be shut on the child’s physically living with his or her birth family. And that door is forever shut because the parental rights of the birth parents are terminated in order for an adoption to occur. But that sounds sad and not a reason to celebrate.
What needs to be celebrated, though, is not the negative. Accentuate the positive. A courageous birth mother made an extremely difficult decision to take the action which was best for her child. That type of self-sacrificial love needs to be commended and never forgotten. Without such a decision, there would be no adoption and no cause to celebrate.
If there is contact with or a means to have contact with the birth mother, why not pen a sweet note expressing thankfulness about what her decision means to your family? Think family broadly and include words from siblings old enough to write, grandparents, and aunts and uncles. Build the birth mother up because she has allowed you to build your family. Her child was a part of her life that she voluntarily shared with you. Let her know you recognize her decision was not an easy thing for her to do, and stress the courage and love it took her to place her child through adoption with your family. Allow the birth mother to grasp how many lives she has touched positively beyond just her child’s.
We Are Family
Members of an adoptive family do not always look alike. But there are other ways to demonstrate a family tie. A fun way to celebrate a recent adoption is to say it with clothes.
Dressing alike is a visible sign evidencing a family connection. A color theme is one way to look alike. For example, if blue is chosen, the men and boys could wear blue shirts and the ladies could wear a similar color blue dress or blouse. To go all out, women could wear the same outfit. Some websites offer matching clothing for adults, children, and babies. How adorable is it for a little girl to wear a miniature version of what her new mom has on for the final adoption hearing?
Older children or teens being adopted may enjoy being presented with a new custom made t-shirt for the occasion of their final hearing. If possible, get a t-shirt in their favorite color. Add language to the shirt which announces the big news such as “Officially the newest Smith,” “I stole their hearts and then I stole their last name,” “Born in 2015, became a Smith in 2020,” or “Went to court on 12/15/20 and got sentenced with a new last name” (the last name can be put on the back of the t-shirt).
It’s A Small World
When the adoptee is from a foreign country, the finalization of adoption brings two worlds together in one family. Why not embrace the joining of two countries and their cultures? Celebrate togetherness as well as differences.
After an adoption’s final hearing is concluded, a celebratory meal is often on the agenda. The food being enjoyed can give a nod to the country of the adoptee’s birth. If dining out, select a restaurant that offers food from that foreign country. If serving food at home, you can include a dish that is native to the new family member’s home country.
Another thing that is distinctive about a country is the language spoken. If English is not the official language in the country from which the adoptee comes, learn a few phrases in the child’s native tongue. Choose a word or phrase related to celebrations such as “Congratulations!” or “This is a happy day!” to learn. Translation tools are available online to assist with providing not only the foreign words to say, but help with how to pronounce them. Have the entire family and any guests at a post-hearing celebration practice saying the phrase. A homemade banner bearing the phrase could also be displayed.
To prepare for an adoption finalization celebration, do some research on the adoptee’s culture. Is there a special custom, particular color, or certain activity connected to celebrations in that country? If so, try to incorporate it into the festivities.
Deck The Halls
Finalization may not occur at Christmas, but decorating can still be involved in an adoption celebration. Deck your celebration venue’s halls with adoption themed items.
Balloons are a common and easy item to use to make adoption celebrations more fun. They are even a tangible representation of what is happening. Just as balloons expand, a family has expanded with the addition of the adoptee. When young children are present, blow up a balloon to explain that just as adding air makes a balloon grow bigger adopting a child makes a family grow bigger. Pass out balloons that have not been blown up and let celebrants try their hand at expanding them. Specialty balloons could be ordered that reveal a word or words on the balloon such as “Forever Family” or “We’ve Expanded.”
Remember The Adoption
We shouldn’t forget The Alamo or an adoption’s finalization either. Kool & The Gang’s “Celebration” includes the phrase “A celebration to last throughout the years.” Birthdays and wedding anniversaries are commemorated yearly, so do the same for an Adoption Day. The finalization impacts a family forever so continue to celebrate the family’s expansion annually.
Remembering details becomes more difficult as time passes. Boost memories by filling an adoption time capsule during a contemporaneous celebration of the finalization. Ask guests attending your celebratory event to bring an item that relates to the adoption. For example, if grandpa loves to read the paper, have him bring the paper for that day so the adoptee can see what was going on in the world when he or she officially became a family member. If the child was born in a different city, a souvenir for that location could be placed in the capsule. Young siblings could draw a picture of what their little brother or sister looked like. Set a specific future date for the time capsule to be opened so the celebration can continue through the years.
The adoptee is not the only family member affected by adoption. The lives of any siblings in the family will also be forever altered. If the adoptive parents have one child in the home already, that child will no longer be an only child. He or she has been promoted to a big brother or a big sister. Don’t forget to celebrate a sibling’s change in status as well.
Acknowledge a sibling’s new role with a tangible item. Present him or her with a t-shirt announcing to the world that he or she is now an “Official Big Brother” or “Official Big Sister.” Children who are a bit older can grasp more of what is going on in a court proceeding. If the hearing is held in person in a courtroom, the judge could be asked to present the older sibling with a small gavel which bears the date of the adoption final hearing—the date the sibling officially became a big brother or sister to the adoptee. The day is special for all the children in the family.
Are You Game?
Parties and family celebrations often involve playing games. With a little creativity, familiar games can be adapted to have an adoption theme.
Everyone likes to whack at a piñata because they know it holds sweet treats. How sweet it is to finalize an adoption, so celebrate the sweetness of an adoption day by filling a pinata with candy. Since adoption is all about family, the candy inside the pinata might reflect what each family member finds to be the sweetest candy. If a baby has been adopted, use a snack size Baby Ruth for his or her choice. Celebrations commemorating an adoption day in later years can reflect the changing sweet tooth of family members.
No donkeys are involved in an adoption, but family trees are. A new branch is being added to the family tree. Draw a tree on craft paper and attach it to a door. Provide each family with a branch to attach to the tree, but they must do it blindfolded. When everyone has had a turn, allow the adoptee (if old enough) or a young family member if the adoptee is not old enough to move the branches to the correct locations to show family relationship — grandma and grandpa on top, mom and dad beneath them, and the adoptee and siblings below them.
Completing The Family
Finalizing an adoption allows a piece to be added to the family puzzle. Turn a family picture into a jigsaw puzzle for an adoption finalization celebration. Give each guest at the celebration a piece of the puzzle and have attendees work together to finish the puzzle. The final piece should be given to the adoptee to complete the puzzle. While an enjoyable activity, finishing a puzzle also illustrates how the addition of the adoptee has allowed the family to complete the picture of their new, expanded family.
Sometimes endings are sad, but the end of the adoption process (the finalization of an adoption) provides a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the creation of a forever family. It also marks a momentous event in family history which can continue to be celebrated yearly. Celebrations will vary depending on the age of the adoptee, the place of the adoptee’s birth, the makeup of the family, and what the family enjoy doing. Celebratory activities could involve picture taking, eating special food, playing games, and documenting the details of the day. The exact activities undertaken are less important than taking the time to savor and celebrate the end of a legal process which results in the joy of a newly expanded family.