Dealing with Unsupportive/Uninformed Relatives in Adoption

What can you do when someone close to you is raining on your adoption parade?

Julianna Mendelsohn September 21, 2018
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Most people start their adoption journey with a mix of both anxiety and excitement about the road that lies ahead of them. Whether it is your first adoption or you have adopted previously, odds are you still want to share with the people closest to you that you are planning on adding to your family via adoption. Unfortunately, what should be a happy conversation can often become frustrating or sad for prospective adoptive parents when their family or friends are unsupportive of their adoption plans. Often, this is the result of them simply being uninformed about the realities of modern adoption. So, what can you do when someone close to you is raining on your adoption parade?

1) Educate, educate, educate!

Most Negative Nancies are really just concerned for you and your well-being. Most of the time, they are uninformed about how modern adoption really works. Perhaps they’ve watched too many Lifetime movies about birth parents “coming back” for children, or maybe they don’t know anyone else who has adopted. Acknowledge that you are grateful that they are concerned for you, but let them know that their fears are unfounded. Send them articles about how adoption works that are relevant to the path you are pursuing: international, domestic, or foster to adopt. If they seem really willing to learn, a great resource I recommend often to clients in my adoption consulting business is the book In on It: What Adoptive Parents Would Like You To Know About Adoption by Elisabeth O’Toole. In fact, before we adopted our daughter, every member of our immediate family got a copy of that book, and it was very helpful in answering some of their questions and relieving us of the burden of having the same conversation ten times while we were already so busy with adoption paperwork.

2) Consider the source.

How much do you truly care about this person’s opinion? If it’s an immediate family member, sure, you’ll want to get them on board, but if it’s someone you aren’t particularly close with, take whatever negative comments they may have to say with a grain of salt, give them some basic education if you feel like it, but don’t stress about it. Remember: this is how you are building your family, and the decision you have made about what is best for you. If they continue to make negative remarks whenever you see or talk to them, establish some boundaries and be firm. Let them know that their opinion is not going to change your mind. This is what you are doing, and they can either choose to be happy for you and think good thoughts that it all goes well, or they can choose to zip their lip.

3) Think about your child.

Some people, unfortunately, cannot be swayed by any amount of education. Their fundamental feeling is that adoption is, for some reason, wrong in general or wrong for your family. Knowing how negatively they feel about adoption, think about whether or not you will want them around your child in the future. If their opposition is based in feeling that adopted children aren’t “really your kids,” or if they are opposed to the proposition of you adopting internationally or transracially because of racial biases, what might they say in the future with your child in earshot that could be hurtful to them? Sometimes—unfortunately as we go through life—we have to sever some relationships because they are unhealthy. Having someone around your child who is going to speak badly about adoption or who is prejudiced against people of your child’s race is, in my mind, not negotiable. In those situations, you will have to have a difficult conversation with this person and let him know that unless he is willing to make some fundamental changes, he won’t be able to be a part of your child’s life. Sometimes this is an impetus for people to grow and learn; sometimes, it is the end of a relationship.

4) Remember: you don’t need anyone’s approval!

If you are pursuing adoption, you have undoubtedly thought long and hard about it and done a tremendous amount of both soul-searching and research before deciding to start the process. If you are adopting because of infertility, you have already undoubtedly experienced a great deal of difficult times before deciding to adopt. Even if someone is your best friend in the world, or your own parent, if you and/or your partner or spouse have decided that adoption is the best plan for you to grow your family, you don’t need anyone else’s input into that decision unless you ask for it. Frankly, it’s not their life! Give yourself permission to focus your energy on those people who are supportive and let the rest be background noise.

5) You ESPECIALLY don’t need anyone’s approval on social media.

Many prospective couples like to share announcements of their intentions to adopt on social media, much like some couples announce their pregnancies. I think it is wonderful for couples to celebrate publicly in this way, but remember that it may draw unsolicited comments from the digital peanut gallery. One alternative is that if you don’t feel like you want to open up your adoption plans to scrutiny from everyone who “follows” you, is to create a “secret” Facebook group and only invite people who you truly care about and announce your plans in the group. This is what my husband and I decided to do when we adopted, and it was a great decision in the long run. It allowed me to keep those I am most fond of up to speed on our progress, and I even used the group to share baby pictures and info after our daughter was born. Odds are, you have some folks on your Facebook friends list who you might not even know that well. Don’t give your weird cousin (don’t pretend you don’t have one; everyone does) or old coworker or some person you barely remember from high school an opportunity to cast a shadow over what is, and should be, a celebratory and exciting time in your life!

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Julianna Mendelsohn

Julianna Mendelsohn lives in sunny South Florida where, odds are, it is hot enough right now that she is sweating just a little, no matter what she is doing. She is the brains, brawn, blood, sweat, and tears behind The Adoption Mentor and is thrilled to be able to help others build their families through adoption. She is a former elementary school teacher, current MS in school counseling student, Sephora junkie, and the momma via domestic adoption to one lovely daughter.


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