In-family adoption is incredibly common, but unfortunately not a topic many adoption books or classes choose to delve into as no two families are the same. In the case of in-family adoption, experience is not often the greatest teacher. Family dynamics vary so widely between one case to another that no two experiences will be all that comparable. It is important to heed the advice of others who have been where you are in most cases, but it is important to remember that you cannot control people. You cannot control the family dynamics that will come into play and you cannot dictate the kinds of relationship each person has with one another. There are no rules for in-family adoption, no guidelines, no instruction manual, just an opportunity to remain open and aware of the needs of the child. It is also key to remember a few overarching principles that are fundamental in regards to in-family adoption:
1. Honesty is the Best Policy.
We have all see this Lifetime movie; the one where the raven-haired college student finds her birth certificate in the attic and the truth tears her world apart. If there is a universal guideline for all types of adoptions, it would hold true that honesty is always the best policy; at least as much honesty as a child can handle for his or her age.
My daughter and son will always know that they are adopted. Aside from knowing simply by looking in the mirror, we will always speak of their adoption positively and often. Those were some of the greatest moments of our lives! It only punishes the child to hide from them the truth of who they are, regardless of your feeling or relationship with their birth family. Set pride aside and be as truthful as the situation allows. Taking into account that there are some situations where only partial truths can be shared to protect a child, the core of this principle holds that lying about the identity of a child’s origin is rarely the answer. A child’s story will be important to their very sense of identity and self worth. Finding out later that they did not truly know who they were can be devastating to a child’s development and sense of self.
2. Silence the Drama.
Too many cooks in the kitchen. It takes a village. In-family adoption can give the false impression that the whole family has a say and a right to their opinion when it comes to the care and the story of a child. While it is important to involve family, it is important that one step into the role of parent and protector as they would with any parent/child relationship. This being in the best interest of the child, but also the best interest of the birth parents. Whether you were chosen or stepped into adoption of this child, both the child and the child’s birth parents should feel at ease that the needs of the child are placed first.
As with any family, there may be those who harbor ill feelings towards the birth parents and/or even the child due to various dynamics and events that have occurred. One of the most important and greatest gifts you can give your child is to do your best to not let this drama reach them. This may be as simple as having a heart-to-heart with your family to let them know that you do not want negativity spoken about the birth parents or the child at any time. In some cases, this means cutting some people out of your lives altogether. If you have a family member that cannot ever come to terms with the family you have chosen, unfortunately there is no other option than to leave that relationship behind for the sake of your child until that person chooses the right path. This does not mean that no one can feel negatively. It is a person’s right to feel what they feel. It, however, is not their right to express those opinions through avenues that might hurt your child now or in the future.
3. Put Your Feelings Aside.
As family dynamics can vary from one in-family adoption to another, so can the reasoning for the adoption itself. The relationships between adoptive and birth parents can be admirably healthy, incredibly strained, or somewhere in between, especially in regards to in-family adoption as these relationships have history with which to contend. Regardless of where these relationships stand, you now have a part of a set of birth parents in your heart and home forever. They are always going to be a part of the identity of the child. It is important that you are able to put your past aside to build up the child and the birth parents in the child’s eyes. There is story upon story of children who have been adopted feeling something may be “wrong” with them because of how negatively others viewed their birth parents. They worry, “Will I inherit all these negative attributes? Does everyone feel the same way about me as they do my birth parents? Will they feel that negativity about me one day? Could anyone even fully love me coming from a place of such disdain?” Put aside your pride. It is not about you or the birth parents. This is about making sure your child feels incredibly loved and worthy.
4. Embrace the Dynamics.
One thing that all children cannot get enough of is people to love them. Why then shall we draw the line on who is or is not allowed to do so? Pride can be a dirty thief, robbing a child of love not only needed, but deserved. While it is important for a child to know that they are equal and loved, it is further important to allow the child to cultivate their relationships with family how choosen. Again, it is hard to not let pride take over. Children of adoption do not have only one mom, dad, sibling, aunt, uncle, grandma etc.. They are blessed with an immense family tree with innumerable branches.
When adopting a child within your own family, dealing with the idea of the role of the birth parents’ family is many times unavoidable and can be a source of tension if not treated with care. Many times, this extended family did not “choose” adoption. They were usually not given the choice. They only have to live with the consequences of an adoption decision and throw themselves at your mercy. Hindering these relationships due solely to pride not only hurts that family, but diminishes the role of an incredibly valuable support system for your child. If it is safe and healthy to do so, allowing your child to cultivate relationships with their extended family on the birth parents’ side is not only kind but life-giving and healthy for all parties involved.
There are no hard and fast rules to guide you through the adoption of a family member. The dynamics of one family will be ever changing. Just as you feel like you have it all figured out, the dynamics again change. Keeping these principles and your child’s best interest above all else can be the starting point for a greater understanding of what family can and should mean for anyone touched by adoption. If we allow our pride to take a back seat our idea of family will broaden exponentially.