Recently, a friend approached me in a private message asking for information about adoption. She was asking for her daughter-in-law and was curious to know what I knew. Whenever this happens, I can’t help but smile, thinking of the possibility that someone I know and care about may decide to start or grow their family via adoption, while at the same time, thinking of the child who stands to gain the love and support of an amazing forever family as a result. As per usual, though, I tempered my overenthusiasm just a tad so as not to appear like the crazy adoption advocate that I am to something along the lines of, “Oh, that’s wonderful. What would you like to know?” Translation: “Woohoo! I’m so excited when can we get you started?”
The thing about offering advice to friends interested in adoption is that it instantly transports you back to the time before adoption when the idea of it and the possibility of adopting were still new and untested, and the whole concept of it felt confusing and slightly out of reach. It’s important to take a step back before rushing into a happy diatribe about why your friends should jump on the adoption train right now and make it happen and instead, come from a place of relaxation, rationale, and common sense.
From personal experience, here are suggestions for providing the best advice possible to your friends who may be interested in adoption.
Do It in Person, If Possible
While we have become a nation that runs on our devices and texting seems to have overtaken phone calls, there is way too much information to type out and way too many possibilities for misunderstanding concerning adoption. Skip the lengthy thread and plan to meet in person to talk about adoption. Not only can you better describe your experiences in a no-distraction, face-to-face setting, you can also see your friend’s face to get a better read on how she is receiving your advice and whether or not what you’re saying is helping or hindering her cause.
And while texting and emailing offers a great opportunity for you to share links to helpful adoption education websites like Adoption.com and Adoption.org, it limits the amount of detail you can share from your personal perspective. Let’s be honest, there are a lot of emotions involved in the adoption process, and if a friend is showing interest, chances are the conversation may lead to other related deep issues as well.
I have had friends, acquaintances, and even strangers reach out privately via the Internet and have been able to share a decent amount of advice and information. But without being able to instantly see or hear your friend’s reaction, it makes knowing how much is too much (or not enough) difficult if not impossible to gauge. Having the ability to sit across from someone gives you instant access, and you will find that you can more efficiently cover a lot more ground without wondering if you’ve come across too pushy, scared them away by saying or not saying something they were hoping to hear, or not hitting on what they were really interested in learning but didn’t know how to express using a keypad.
Listen and Learn
Whether you’ve been an adoptive parent for a week, a month, a year, a decade, or beyond, you’re most certainly a valuable resource and can play a pivotal role in helping your friend to better understand adoption and what it’s about. At the same time, it’s important for you to go into this conversation with open ears and an open mind. Before jumping ahead with assumptions and advice, really take the time to listen to your friend and where she’s coming from—what her expectations are and what she is open to. Perhaps she is curious about adoption, but a year or two away from actually pursuing adoption. Maybe she has done some research but has questions about parts of the process that have changed since you went through your journey or haven’t yet experienced as an adoptive family.
Adoption is fluid from the perspective of all members of the community, and it’s important to not assume to have all the answers, but rather, take in the information and share what you know or work together to find the most current and accurate information.
Ask Your Friends Questions, Too
So your friend is interested in adoption but doesn’t know where to begin. Before he plunges into the process, you may want to help him out by asking some very basic questions often overlooked in the rush to get to the process. Questions such as these may be helpful: “What led you to consider adoption?” “Have you done any homework/research already?” “Are you ready to adopt?” “What sort of adoption are you interested in?” “What is your biggest concern?” What is your biggest hope?” If it’s a couple, “Are you both interested in adoption or just one of you?” If there are existing children, “How do you think Little Sally will feel about gaining a brother or a sister through adoption?”
Of course, you know your friends better than anybody and can best gauge the appropriateness of the questions you choose to ask; however, anyone who is truly interested in adoption needs a reality check, and in some cases, someone to hold her accountable for the choices she is going to make not only on her own behalf but on the behalf of a waiting child.
Be Ready to Be Open
While your personal business is yours to share or not to share, the subject of adoption is about as personal as it gets, and beating around the bush or watering things down is not going to be in the best interest of someone looking to learn what adoption is really about.
Beyond the process itself—the paperwork and home study and all of the legal formalities—most friends who come to you wanting to know more about adoption are looking for a more complete picture of what it means beyond finalization.
Like any family, yours is going to have its highlights and its blooper reels. As someone willing to open up to a friend about adoption, understand that you are not doing a disservice to your family or the adoption community by getting real.
Adoption is and can be a wonderful way to make a family and to be a family, but it comes with its share of cons, too. After all, all families no matter how they come to be experience the good, the bad, and the ugly.
While you definitely should share the sweetest moments like the moment you found out you were matched, the moment you met your tiny bundle or older child bundle for the first time, and the time your little one first said “I love you” or took your hand, you should be honest enough to share the other moments so many adoptive families also experience. Remember how difficult the waiting period was, and you were left wondering if or when you were ever going to hear from your agency? Remember thinking maybe you’re not meant to be an adoptive parent after all? Remember the logistical and legal screwups that delayed your ability to meet your child for the first time, and when you finally did, she was scared and upset, and you felt helpless not quite knowing how to best comfort her through the transition into her new family while dealing with the loss and trauma that comes with adoption. Remember the week or month or year that he avoided making direct eye contact with you, especially if he knew he was in trouble, and you wondered if he would ever come around, ever trust you, ever tell you he loved you like all of your other friends’ children seemed to do so easily.
Adoption is a growing pain for all involved—birth families, too—and this connection of highs and lows that bonds us all is important to acknowledge within your own adopted family and is just as important to share with a friend who is interested in starting along the path to adoption.
Introduce Friends to Other Adoptive Families
While your friend obviously knows you as an adoptive family and maybe has come to you for advice, it’s not a bad idea to suggest meeting up with other adoptive families you may know in a casual setting. As any adoptive family knows, no two adoptive families are alike, and it’s never a bad thing to hear from more than one source of information. It gives your friend a chance to see up close and personal other family dynamics and additionally gives her opportunities to take advantage of the experience to get different points of view.
We were lucky enough to have found a local adoption support network in our area before starting our paperwork, and this group basically was by our side throughout our adoption process and has remained ever since. Not only that, but we were assigned a “buddy couple” who sort of allowed us a view of their family, shared the ups and downs of their adoption journeys, and encouraged us by example rather than just words.
Be Ready to Recommend
While you may not consider yourself an expert in all things adoption, to friends who don’t know the first thing about it, you are just that and more. You’re their friend who has adopted. To someone on the other side of the glass, having that is immeasurable, and so yes, your friends are looking to you to step up and provide them with recommendations and even next steps towards their own journey.
Let’s assume, like most adoptive parents, that you have read every adoption website, blog, article, and book available about whatever area of adoption you are currently looking to better understand (which typically comes about post-adoption when you’re facing a small child and realizing that you better figure it all out for their cute little sake, and this doesn’t stop or shouldn’t stop well into adulthood). Now let’s assume that your friend assumes you have read, watched, and listened to every podcast available and wants to know where to get started.
Adoption.com offers great ideas on important, engaging books about adoption that you should consider reading. Additionally, you can check out some highly recommended adoption podcasts and, of course, the amount of articles is limitless on sites like Adoption.org and Adoption.com.
Get the Facts Straight
If your friends already know what sort of adoption they are interested in learning more about or hope to pursue, you may be able to go more in-depth with them and do a deeper dive into related issues. For instance, if they are interested in international adoption, you may want to cover issues like transracial adoption. Friends with questions about foster care and adoption will have a completely different set of concerns and questions and could benefit from Adoption.com’s Guide to Becoming a Foster Parent. No matter what sort of adoption they are interested in, you should only speak to what you know and either do some upfront research on your own or sit together and read through available information guaranteed to generate even more questions.
Don’t Be Pushy
Choosing to adopt is one of the most important and personal decisions a person can make—you should know. No matter if this is your friend’s first time reaching out to you or a follow-up to a conversation you started three years ago, respect his privacy and his timetable. While we have our friend’s best interests at heart and love adoption for the wonderful opportunities it provides, no matter how strongly you may feel your friend would make an amazing adoptive parent, she may not be at a place to move forward, may not agree with you, and/or her partner may not be on the same page.
Instead of being an adoption salesman, be a support system for your friend and a respectful advocate for adoption and the hundreds of thousands of children waiting for a family to call their own. Be a resource, a listening ear, and a shoulder for friends who are not only considering a life-changing decision for themselves, but also one that will impact the life of a child as well.
Visit Adoption.com’s photolisting page for children who are ready and waiting to find their forever families. For adoptive parents, please visit our Parent Profiles page where you can create an incredible adoption profile and connect directly with potential birth parents.