When my husband and I began our journey to start a family, we were admittingly naive to what the process may entail for us. Now, many years later, we are an adoptive family and we most definitely get our fair share of curiosities. To add to the questions and curiosities we receive, we had a complicated journey that an enormous amount of people knew about thanks to social media and people sharing our story. After several years of infertility, we began the adoption process which led to six disrupted adoptions. One of the disrupted adoptions included losing a daughter after she was in our home for four months. While our journey is important and filled with adoption knowledge and lessons learned, for the purposes of this article, our tumultuous journey serves as a source for our adoptive family principles.
These principles are the things we implement, practice, and reinforce daily that make our adoptive family work. No adoptive family is perfect, but each adoptive family brings its own unique set of ideals that make them function as a family. It is my hope that the things that we do help someone else bring health and fulfillment to their adoptive family. As a family, we implement, practice, and reinforce five principles that we hope bring as much health to our family dynamic as possible. It is also important to note that the list I am sharing can also be viewed as our adoption best practices.
We Start Young
We are the adoptive parents of a nearly 4-year-old son who was adopted at birth domestically. He was placed into our care immediately after his birth. As his vocabulary began to increase, we made the decision to begin implementing adoption vocabulary in our home and within our family. We have and maintain an open adoption with our son’s biological family, especially his biological mother. Every open adoption is different, and ours continues to evolve, but as an adoptive mother, I do strongly recommend an open adoption if possible. As an example of starting young, we have always referred to our son’s birth mother as his “birth mommy” and he understands that he was in her tummy and not in mine. He is slowly learning that he has two families. Incorporating adoption vocabulary young is obviously based on what your child can process based on their age. We exchange pictures with his biological family and we visit his biological mother roughly two times a year.
We discuss adoption as often as possible and keep adoption literature in our home as well as other reference materials. We have children’s books about adoption, flashcards, and other resources in our home to use when appropriate. We began doing this as early as possible so that—hopefully—our son knows from very early on that he was adopted. We believe that being open and transparent about it makes it less difficult down the road. We don’t claim to have this figured out, but we strongly believe that the younger the child is in learning the meaning of adoption the better their ability to process will be.
No Taboo Topics
As we enhance the adoptive vocabulary used with our son, we also allow for him to ask the questions he needs to. Obviously, as a toddler, he is not there cognitively yet; but as he gets older, we plan to teach him that all his questions are safe questions to ask. We also plan to teach him that no topic is taboo when it comes to his understanding of adoption and what it means for him and us as a family. So, many adoptive parents—and even adoption professionals are hesitant to discuss certain topics within adoption because they fear that it will plant seeds that may not have previously been there. This is especially true in approaches to adoptees. However, in our home, we think it is best practice to discuss things as they transpire and not withhold certain adoption components out of fear. I would encourage taboo topics to be discussed, and when you find yourself unsure how to unpack a topic, seek help from adoption professionals or a trusted resource.
We Protect Stories
Each adoptee has a uniquely personal story. While we make every effort to thoroughly understand the details and circumstances of our son’s adoption, it is ultimately not our story to tell. We are hopeful that one of the perks of maintaining an open adoption is that our son has the space to ask questions about his story and grapple with it on his own terms. There will be questions that he has that I will never be able to answer, so it is our hope that his birth mother and other family members can answer for him. We make every attempt to allow things to evolve naturally and not force anything.
People will innocently ask about his story, but we monitor what we share regarding his story because it is a personal thing for our son. We make every effort to honor and protect his birth parents and their story. So many times within adoption the birth parents do not get the protection and post-placement care they need. Each adoption begins with them, and they should be valued at all costs. When we are asked about our son’s story, we share what is appropriate and uplifting for his biological parents. And once you are part of an open adoption, you truly do love one another and view each other as family.
Open Adoption: Leave the Door Open for it to Flourish
We have an open adoption with our son’s birth mother primarily (his birth father is also communicated with). There is no instruction manual for an open adoption. We live and learn with it every day. Prior to adopting, I never thought I would be able to participate in an open adoption. I never thought I would be able to share motherhood with another woman, but it has honestly come so naturally. We are both our son’s mothers and we both fulfill different roles. Through love and respect of one another, we come together for his benefit. Now I cannot imagine having anything but an open adoption. We include her on holidays, birthdays, and important events. She knows that she has access to us and we make relational decisions based on what is best for our son. It is an overwhelming emotion to see our son with his birth mother and to see us interact with each other. Open adoption is just so beneficial for the adoptee despite its challenges.
We allow our son’s biological family to set the pace for our open adoption. We always want the door to be open, so the relationship can flourish and so our son can reap the benefits of having access to his birth mother. There are difficult and uncomfortable times, but we all press on because we know it is worth it for our son to have the best understanding he can as an adoptee.
Constantly Remember It Is Not About Us
At times, hopeful adoptive parents come to adoption with the mentality of what is in it for them. They know they long for a child and they may not see past their desire to parent. They may not see past their desire to realize that parenting an adoptee is a lifelong commitment that exceeds normal parenting. Children who were adopted have an added layer of needs as adoptees. It’s not all a walk in the park, and I am afraid a large amount of hopeful adoptive parents may not understand that.
As difficult as it is to navigate an open adoption, we try to sit in the uncomfortable for our son. It is not about our comfort and what is easier and more satisfying for us as parents, but what is ultimately best for our son, an adoptee who deserves all parties to be committed to his well-being. Adoption is so much more than fulfilling a desire for a child. To view it any differently is unfair to the adoptee.
As I mentioned before, these prinsciples are more of a best practice that have proved to be beneficial for us as a family. Within our community and network of friends, we are often questioned about what it is like to be part of an open adoption. Since our son became part of our family, most of the questions we receive are centered on his biological family and how we navigate that relationship. There is so much work to be done within adoption and getting people to understand its complexities while also honoring everyone in the adoption triad. (The adoption triad refers to the birth parents, the adoptive parents and the adoptee(s). We use every opportunity we get to educate and inform people on the true ins and outs of adoption. As someone who has experienced six disrupted adoptions, I can attest to the fact that not all parts of adoption are appealing. But, in the end, it is worth it. Here is a list of simple answers I give to those curious about our adoption circumstaces:
– No, I do not feel threatened by my son’s birth mother. We have enormous mutual respect.
– Open adoption is not impossible. Is it difficult? Yes. Are there learning curves? Yes. Does it double the love and provide the answer to so many questions for the adoptee? Yes.
– Do I fear that my child will have resentment or other strong emotions surrounding his adoption? Yes, I do. I believe that any caring parent would have concerns because it is an unknown and unpredictable thing. However, implementing adoption best practices can hopefully help the adoptee’s emotional and mental health surrounding their adoption.
People will always make uninformed or misinformed comments because there is a great deal of ignorance within adoption. People do not know what they do not know, so instead of staying in a place of offense, use it as an opportunity to teach them. For example, so often people will say, “I can’t believe his mother gave him up for adoption.” In response, I say, “I am his mother, and his birth mother did not give him up for adoption. She made a decision to place him for adoption because she loved him and wanted to make the best decision for him. Promoting positive adoption language is always a best practice to implement.
If you are considering adoption or your curiosities do not fade, I encourage you to continue learning and understanding about adoption. Learning and understanding about the members of the adoption triad is also a critical thing to do if you are curious about adoption. Each member of the adoption triad, which refers to the birth parents, adoptive parents, and the adoptee(s), has a unique perspective and their own set of challenges. I also encourage you to be part of the change that is currently taking place in society. Society has come a long way in how it executes adoptions. There are ethical guidelines in place. Society is also taking note of how important it is to nurture and respect all members of the adoption triad. It is a positive change where ethical practices are being scrutinized; all members of the adoption triad are being heard and education around adoption is becoming more relevant and available than ever. Of course, social media is a big reason why the adoption community has undergone so much change. But, there are so many people within the adoption community doing the hard work. Adoptive families have a huge task in front of them, and we all need support on our journey. The best secret of an adoptive family is this: love your children well—no matter how they joined your family— while honoring and protecting their story and their journey as an adoptee to the best of your ability.