I will never forget the first time my son met his grandparents. He was around three weeks old when he met my mom for the first time, and just over a month when he met my husband’s parents. There is no doubt it was love at first sight for all of them. He was tiny and so sweet. They have been fantastic grandparents ever since, and it’s evident that my son adores his grandparents right back. He asks every day if he can go “babysit” his Lola (Filipino for Grandma) and Papa, and whenever my mom comes into town, he does his best to monopolize her time by locking the two of them in his bedroom to play. But, becoming a grandparent through adoption isn’t always easy for everyone.
Adoption has changed over the decades, and the way many grandparents view adoption can be outdated. Don’t worry, I’m not judging you. If you haven’t been involved in this ever-evolving world, you haven’t had the chance to become educated on the topic. Future adoptive parents are required to take classes that teach them all about the path they are embarking on, but most of the time, grandparents aren’t offered the same educational benefits. We can’t expect you to understand and agree with everything right away. Adoption comes with a learning curve.
If you are a grandparent through adoption, or hoping to become one, here are a few tips that might help you ease into your new role:
Be “open” to open adoption.
Adoption used to be talked about in hushed voices, or kept completely secret. Birth mothers were rarely acknowledged or even known. But today, adoption is celebrated! The majority of children who are adopted know their story from day one. They know the names of their birth mothers, and many even have relationships with them. Please don’t be afraid of open adoption! It is a beautiful thing and research has shown it to be healthy for both the child and his/her birth mother to have contact. Just as you have the ability to love more than one of your children, a child has the ability to love more than one adult in his or her life. A child can’t have too many people to love and support them!
Don’t be afraid to get to know and love your grandchild’s birth mother.
She is a real person, with real feelings. By placing your grandchild into your family, she has experienced deep love, and deep pain. The mother of a woman who placed her child for adoption shared this piece of wisdom: “If your grandchild is in an open adoption and you have the chance to be around the birth mother or communicate with her—LOVE HER. Express gratitude, write her notes, talk to her at family gatherings, and on special days. Make her feel like an important member of the family. I watch what happens when my daughter (who is a birth mom) goes to the family gatherings of her birth daughter. She is pretty much ignored by the extended adoptive family. She wants so much to spend time with her birth daughter, and be invited to these special events, but hates being ignored and made to feel unwanted.” Please, if you do have the honor of a relationship with your grandchild’s birth mother, welcome her, embrace her, include her, and don’t be afraid to love her!
Learn correct adoption terminology.
Words matter. A common mistake is using the words “gave up” to describe the adoption process. “Placed” is a better term. Your grandchild was placed into your family with love. Pay attention to the way a word or phrase would make you feel if it was said about you or your situation. One woman described an encounter she had with a man whose daughter had adopted a child. In talking about the situation he said, “My daughter had to adopt . . . ” While I have no doubt this man loves his grandchild, using the words, “had to adopt,” brought a negative image to mind. The child is a blessing, not a burden, and though his intent was not to say that his grandchild was a burden, the impact of his words implied otherwise. Along those lines, please don’t refer to your grandchild as your “adopted grandchild.” Being adopted is only part of who they are, it isn’t the factor that defines them. Please don’t use it as such.
Embrace this new child as your own.
Many adoptive parents have described instances where their child is treated differently than the biological grandchildren. While it seems like a no-brainer, it never hurts to remind extended family that this new child is legally a part of the family—just as if he or she had been born into it. There is no reason to differentiate between those who came biologically and those who were adopted. It’s no matter how a child joins your family: biological, adopted, or step-grandchildren. The important thing is that you are all there now, and that family is a place where everyone feels loved and supported.
Respect your grandchild’s story.
Often, adoption feels miraculous. The way a child finds his or her family can be a topic of conversation and an exciting story to tell. However, please remember that while you might have played a part in the story, it is still not your story to tell. Sharing the intimate details of your grandchild’s life, biological family, and adoption story can be harmful to your grandchild. Adoption stems from loss, and even the happiest adoptions have aspects of emotional pain involved. Put yourself in the place of your grandchild. Would you want the entire town to know your backstory before you understood it for yourself? Allow your grandchild to have privacy. As they grow, they can decide where and with whom to share their story.
If you have questions- Ask!
If there is an aspect of adoption that you don’t understand, or a concern about the way things are done—ask! Your children will be more than happy to talk to you about it. There are so many resources available, and there is bound to be a book or a professional you could talk to on the matter. Understanding the research and the “whys” of the way adoption is today will help to ease your mind. Your children and grandchildren will appreciate the fact that you are putting forth an effort to understand and learn about their world.
But, aside from all this, the best thing you can do is just be yourself. Be the amazing grandparent you know how to be. Love your new grandchild with all of your heart. Spoil them the way only a grandparent can. Enjoy the wonder, the energy, and the excitement a new grandchild brings to your life. You can’t ever go wrong with that!