Talking to other adoptive parents about adoption is a game changer for adoptive families in the same way talking to other parents about our childrens’ schooling, talking to other sports parents about the teams our children participate in, or talking to other parents who are dealing with medical issues on behalf of their children is beneficial and key to making sure we are giving and receiving the best information available. Adoptive parents should be talking to other adoptive parents about adoption to learn what we don’t know and share what we do know.
“When you become adoptive parents, it is a life-changing decision that not only impacts you, but also your entire family. If you are trying to determine whether adoption is right for you, it’s good to know the basics of what adoptive parenting entails.” (Adoption.com, “Adoptive Parents“). Because, let’s face it, the adoption factor makes parenting an adopted child different from day 1. Not different in a bad way. Not in a good way. Just different. Part of that difference comes from the qualities and motivations of parents who choose to grow their families through adoption, and part of that difference comes from the histories and experiences of adoptees entering into their forever families.
It seems like common sense, then, that to get the best or most accurate information about life as an adoptive family, rather than relying on a third-party resource, you should go directly to the source. It also seems like common sense that tapping into a parent who has experienced what you’re about to experience or are currently experiencing makes more sense than turning to a well-meaning, but misinformed family member, friend, or neighbor who has only experienced adoption through stories of a coworker’s sister’s daughter.
And yet, many adoptive parents do not or are not willing to seek out adoptive parent to adoptive parent relationships. I have found that like so many other social issues, adoptive families are no different than birth families in trying to deal with and solve parenting problems. Whether it be a lack of education on the topic or fear of being ridiculed for not having it all together, parents often choose to suffer in silence than risk not looking like Parent of the Year (on a side note, there is no such award, people). And then there are some parents through adoption who are afraid that talking about adoption or issues they or their children may be experiencing will somehow lead to future problems—a don’t fix what’s not broken mentality. It’s their opinion that not talking about adoption to anyone is the better option.
And then there are many parents who have been there and done that and discovered how freeing it is to open up about the adoptive parenting experience and have seen the benefits it brings to parents and children alike. In her article, “The Benefits of an Adoption Support Group,” adoptive mom and Adoption.org writer Rebekah Yahoves discusses how adoption support groups can provide adoptive parents with validation and peace of mind relevant to what they’re going through as a parent to an adopted child. Additionally, it also provides an opportunity to celebrate with other adoptive parents who “get it” when it comes to the milestones of the adoptive parent-child relationship, including experiencing the overlooked “firsts” with older children that some who have parented from birth may not realize or relate to.
As a mom of two who has had the opportunity to engage with hundreds of other adoptive parents and families, I strongly urge you to do the same for the following reasons.
Adoptive Parenting Is Different
Childwelfare.gov talks about the impact of adoption on adoptive parents here in great detail, covering everything from the reasons adoptive parents adopt to the emotional toll the process can take to the impacts of parenting an adopted child. As stated in the article, “settling into parenthood or the ‘postadoption period’ can present its own difficulties for parents. In some cases, adoption-related concerns arise long after the adoption has been finalized, and parents may be unprepared for issues that may come up throughout the lifelong adoption journey. Some stressors are the same types of challenges that all families—biological and adoptive—face; however, there are other potential stressors unique to adoption and adoptive parents may want to familiarize themselves with these possibilities.”
Adoption is a lifelong commitment and can be an ever-evolving one, depending on the circumstances surrounding it. It would be foolish to think that an adoptive parent should or will know how to deal with all of the ins and outs without talking to other adoptive parents about their experiences.
When our first daughter was an infant, for the first time in many years—or maybe ever—I found myself cut off from family, friends, and work colleagues; the typical scenario for most new parents who are suddenly immersed in all things baby. I found myself waking up with my baby girl and realizing that my main reason for being was to keep her loved and happy, fed, rested, and appropriately stimulated with all the weird baby gear out there these days (not to mention safe and alive) 24-7. I loved our time together and cherished every moment holding her, staring at her, watching her every move, and learning her behaviors and patterns. Many new moms with infants, or older children alike, will tell you that while those alone times together are precious and go too fast, it can also feel isolating, draining, and overwhelming. Lack of sleep alone, taking care of a tiny one, is taxing.
With adoption, it’s common for adoptive parents to not receive the same amount of attention, doting, and help that parents who start a family from natural birth receive. As if adoptive parents’ needs or adopted infants needs are somehow less real or important. Bonding, however, is real in both scenarios as are the many ups and downs of parenting newborns (or parenting new older children or teens for that matter), and it’s at this time especially that adoptive parents need as much support, understanding, and guidance as possible.
In addition to family, I was fortunate enough to have a good friend and fellow adoptive mom to hang out with every week or so—whenever we could, really—to sit and sip caffeine together while our babies played. That opportunity to connect with another also slightly out of sorts and overtired mom was helpful in reminding me that I wasn’t in this alone and that despite all the happy-go-lucky Pinterest pinning moms all over social media (at that time), not everyone was magically holding down the fort while somehow balancing a high-power job, crafting up a craft, and baking the days away, all while being presented Mom of the Year with hair and makeup done to perfection. In fact, it reminded me that there were other moms just like me trying to figure out how to keep it all together without letting anyone down.
More importantly, having another adoptive mom to talk to and bounce questions off of bound us together in a way that was slightly different from my relationships with moms of biological children. And while neither of us nor our children experienced any major issues, we were comfortable talking about our hopes and fears. We were also able to share and laugh about those outside the adoption circle who seemed to know more about our experience than we did. This comradery made all the difference in my confidence as an adoptive mom and in how I chose to parent, deal with the nonimportant opinions of those who didn’t know the first thing about adoption, and basically, chill out and enjoy being an adoptive mom in the presence of someone else going through the same or similar things.
Adoption Can Be Confusing
Just when you’ve completed your home study and adoption classes and training and think you’ve got it all figured out, you go ahead and finalize an adoption and realize you have nothing figured out. This sense of having nothing figured out continues each and every year as your child grows older and begins to learn more about herself about things both adoption-related and nonadoption related.
No, it’s not dire, and it’s not a black cloud, and being an adoptive parent is not a cross to bear at all, but if you are in tune with your child, really in tune, you’re going to want to keep on top of your ongoing journey together.
It’s easy enough to push the adoption discussion out of your family, especially if there are no visible problems or issues. It’s true. I know some adoptive families who seem not to care or recognize that adoption is the glue that brought them together. And that’s okay if it works for them. I’m not here to judge or preach that not talking to other adoptive parents about adoption is bad or harmful, but rather to share the benefits of doing so. Over the years, I have talked with enough adoptive parents and adoptees to know that whether or not you include adoption as part of your family structure, it’s there just beneath the surface, and it changes and grows as the years come and go.
I’ve sat across coffee house tables and strolled through malls with fellow adoptive parents tackling questions like, “How much should we talk about adoption with our children?” “Should we bring it up or not?” “Is she behaving this way because of adoption or is this normal behavior?” I can’t believe this doctor or that teacher assumed this because so-and-so is adopted. In our case, having adopted internationally, other questions have come up as well including the following: “Has your family ever been the target of racism?” “Has your child been made to feel different by peers?” “What do you say to a family member or friend who says something hurtful to your child about skin color or immigration?”
I tend to be a gusher of information (big surprise, right?) in that as someone who has been open to learning as much as I can, I value the fact that (I feel) it has helped me to be a more informed parent and a better resource for my children, and I love to share what I’ve learned. I enjoy the fact that adoption is not a dirty word in our family and that my children do feel comfortable approaching me with questions or concerns about adoption or related to adoption as a result of the friendships and bonds we have made with other adoptive families. And while we are as busy as every other family between work, school, and activities, and we certainly don’t talk about adoption with our children on a daily basis, we don’t skirt around the fact that we are an adoptive family, and our children embrace the fact that this is who we are rather than who we are not.
In her AdoptionPerspectivesLLC blog post, A Privilege from Tragedy to Treasure, adoptive mom Patricia Jones shares her perspective on being an adoptive mom and what adoption has meant to her and for her family.
Because we have participated in an adoption support network Families of FANA of WNY since before we adopted, we have the luxury and gift of over 400 first-hand resources on adoption. No, we don’t know each and every family, nor have we spoken to each and every parent; however, the community element of being able to watch and learn from adoptive families who have come before us has shaped our own family adoption journey, and I can’t imagine not having this group of people in our lives. I’m sure we don’t all parent the same, and our children have experienced different things, but the connection of adoption is a game changer and works to empower both adoptive parents and adoptees in ways that self-education and late night Googling cannot.
You Can’t Learn in a Vacuum
I am as guilty as the next girl when it comes to late night Googling and endless hours of online research. I appreciate the fact that you can learn just about anything in just a few clicks. Of course, there are valuable and informative websites like Adoption.com, thousands of articles, hundreds of blogs, vlogs, and other digital media platforms chock-full of helpful information and advice. We have movies and television shows depicting adoption like the powerful television series This Is Us that tackles adoption-related issues in a raw and unique way from both the birth parents’, adoptive parents, adoptees’ and siblings’ point of view over the span of a lifetime or the 2018 drama/comedy Instant Family about a couple who adopts three children from foster care. Don’t get me started on books; there are books geared toward every part of the adoption triad and every age group.
Still, until you take the next step of reaching out to other adoptive parents, you are, in fact, a bystander staring in from the outside. Making a connection to other adoptive parents will not only help you but your child as well.
The more you know, the more your child will benefit. Not only that, becoming engaged and active with other adoptive parents can lead to long and lasting friendships for your child as well. My children have come to appreciate our support network probably more so than my husband and me, because in truth, it is really more for them than for us in the long run. Watching them feel comfortable around other adoptive families—parents and children—is comforting all the way around, and knowing that they have this resource if and when they reach a point where they may want to talk about things with their peers rather than parents is just fine with us. The idea that they feel confident and comfortable talking about their feelings with other adoptees for the same reason we sought out support as parents is a win-win.
Where Can I Find Support?
While your family and friends may not have all of the answers you will want and need concerning adoption-related issues, they do know you best. Do not shy away from reaching out to this supportive circle for family and parenting advice. Getting together over coffee or even a quick chat on the phone with someone you know and trust can be a lifesaver for any parent raising a child who is in need of parenting advice or just a calming and reassuring listening ear.
When you’re ready to seek out other adoptive parents, you may first want to start with your adoption facilitator or agency to see what sort of support network they provide to adoptive families in your area. If there’s not one, consider starting one yourself!