I’ve been a mom for over six years, and I’ve been in the adoption community for almost eight. When we were waiting to adopt for the first time, every single opportunity we had to be shown to expectant parents felt like a Possibility—with a sparkly, mega, capital P. However, as the years went on and we gained experience and education, we learned that not every opportunity should be our possibility.
When you are new to adoption, especially when you are waiting for your first child, you are likely tempted to say “yes” to adoption opportunities against your better judgment. You are desperately waiting to be called “Mom” or “Dad” by a child, to tote around a diaper bag or decorate a nursery, to send out adoption announcements to loved ones. However, no matter how long you have been waiting to become a parent, there are some valid reasons to say “no” to an adoption opportunity, including:
- You believe all the other adoptive parents at your agency or attorney’s office are saying “yes” and you want in, too. Adoption is often, sadly, a process that encourages competition among waiting adoptive parents. However, a situation that might be ideal for one family may very well not be healthy for yours.
- You are not prepared for the “worst case scenario.” Say your attorney or social workers calls with a situation that comes with a “however.” There are risks associated with this possible placement, and the person outlines those risks for you. They may be legal risks (such as an unknown biological father) or physical risks (baby was exposed to multiple illegal substances). Whatever the risks are, you need to take them seriously and understand that there may be more risks you are unaware of. Are you prepared to parent this child if the “worst case” scenario is the true situation?
- You aren’t financially prepared for the child. I’m friends with many adoptive parents who are raising children with physical, mental, and emotional special needs. The needs of the children can be very financially demanding on the adoptive family. Not only are there co-pays, deductibles, and travel costs, but also the emotional toll such special needs takes on the entire family.
- You aren’t able or willing to make BIG changes. Say you adopt a child who needs the assistance of a wheelchair, but your home isn’t wheelchair accessible. Are you in a position to move to more appropriate housing? Say you adopt a child of color. Are you willing to change schools or switch churches to those that are more racially diverse?
- Your partner isn’t comfortable with the situation. It’s crucial that the couple both be on-board with any adoption opportunity. To proceed when one person is resistant or quite uncertain can create animosity and resentment that can lead to a deteriorating and damaged relationship. Likewise, the resistant parent may resent the child.
- Your current children aren’t on board with the situation. Though I certainly do not think a parent should ask a child’s permission to adopt, or the child’s opinion on what situations to consider, I do feel that parents should take into account their current family situation, especially the needs of any children in the home. It’s important that as you do proceed with an adoption that you touch base with your children and include them in the process.
- You are uneducated about the realities of the type of adoption you are pursuing. Adopting transracially, adopting a child with special needs, adopting an older child, adopting multiples, adopting siblings: these are all circumstances for which adoptive parents need to be prepared. Have you joined a support group specific to the type of adoption you are pursuing? What resources do you have in place? What books and articles have you read? What changes are you prepared to make?
- You plan to make promises or commitments you actually cannot or will not keep (in order to secure a placement). It’s very important that your adoption involve truthfulness, commitment, and transparency from beginning to forever. Do not make promises regarding openness with birth family, for example, that you do not intend to keep. When you do make promises, make promises with short time periods, such as agreeing to three visits within the first six months. Conversely, do not agree to visits once a year for 18 years, since a lot can happen (and change) in eighteen years.
- You want to say “yes” out of guilt. There is a family for a child who is placed for adoption. That family may or may not be yours. However, you should not say “yes” because you feel that this may be your “last chance” or you feel guilty for saying “no” to a child (who may or may not be “in need”). If you don’t have your partner and children’s support, if you aren’t prepared to healthfully and realistically parent the child, or if you aren’t willing to make the changes necessary to meet the child’s needs, the answer needs to be “no.”
When presented with a possible adoption, please do the following:
- Talk over the situation with your current family.
- Seek professional advice, if needed. (This might include medical explanations from a doctor, legal explanations from an attorney, etc.)
- Review all the information you were provided and ask your worker clarifying questions.
- Listen to your “gut.” Do not dismiss valid concerns.
- Take some time before you respond with a “yes” or “no,” if possible. If you are asked to decide right then, consider that you can say “no.”