Explaining Adoption To Your Family, Friends — And Yourself

The other day I told you about In On It: What Adoptive Parents Would Like You To Know About Adoption, which has been described as the “adoption book for everyone else.”

That’s a lovely way to sum up this warm and thoughtful guide, written especially for adoptive parents’ families and friends. But don’t let the subtitle fool you. Whether you’re taking the first steps on your adoption journey (welcome!) or been around the block, there’s lots of great stuff in it for you, too.

Here’s a bit of a cheat sheet from In On It — selected passages that caught my eye that I thought I’d share with you. But be sure to check out the book on your own. It’s a great read. And let me know which of these sections speaks loudest to you in the Comments section below.

Infertility and the decision to adopt

“If infertility is a reason for adoption, understand that adoption is not conceding defeat. Rather, adoption is committing to another path. At this point, whether or not adoption was your loved ones’ initial choice for achieving parenthood no longer really matters….Your loved ones’ adoption was not the product of a single decision–to adopt or not to adopt. Rather it was the result of many decisions and choices, some fairly simple, some no doubt extremely difficult.” (p. 14)

Adoption and loss

“In adoption, in order to gain–a child, a family, a parent–there must first be loss. It is a fundamental part of any adoption, and it complicates and deepens the experience of becoming a family in a way that may differentiate adoptive families from other families. Just about everyone involved in adoption–the adoptive parents, the child, the birthmother and other birth relatives, and often, even friends and relatives of the adoptive family–may experience loss as part of the adoption.” (p. 32)

The loss of the imagined child

“When you let go of the genetic expectations, you make room for the child’s own important contributions to the family. It can be one of those great, unanticipated gifts of adoption. They just get to be who they are. The child deserves this. Of course, any child deserves this.” (p. 37)

The loss of control

“Becoming a parent is a critical, intensely personal point in one’s life; it’s often a time when a person really wants to be able to move forward on his own terms. That’s not possible with adoption, which entails putting a lot of control into the hands of others. Timelines, the child’s prenatal care, genetics…the tenuous decisions of other people: these kinds of things are out of one’s control. This aspect of adoption is particularly challenging for those who are used to being able to rely on their abilities or hard work to make things happen as they wish.” (p. 39)

Regaining control

“Prospective adoptive parents can try to regain some control by filling out paperwork as quickly as they receive it, badgering their social workers for updates, and painting and repainting spare bedrooms. But ultimately, one of the big, hard lessons of adoption is that the prospective parents are no longer driving major aspects of their own lives.” (p. 40)

The birthmother’s loss

“The birthmother’s loss is central to an adoption. This loss must occur before the adoptive parents can gain a child. Amidst the excitement and anticipation of the child, it can be easy to minimize or ignore this aspect of adoption. But the birthmother’s experience of loss is fundamental. Her loss should be recognized and her experience validated.” (p. 41)

Adoptees and adoption

“To be adopted is to have lost fundamental aspects of one’s identify, a privilege that non-adopted children may take for granted…Children don’t ‘choose’ to be adopted — they are too young. Instead, adoption is chosen for them. Some adult adoptees point out that they are the only person in the adoption triad (the birthparent, the adoptive parents, and the child) who did not have a choice in the adoption.” (p. 45)

Adoptive status

“While it’s correct to use the term ‘adoptive’ or to say someone “was adopted” to describe their status as a person who has had that experience, it’s almost always extraneous information. Maybe it’s like the quality of being left-handed. You wouldn’t refer to someone as ‘her left-handed daughter.’ You’d probably only mention their left-handedness when it was relevant like figuring out seating arrangements. And how often do we talk about seating arrangements? That’s about how often we need to talk about someone’s adoptive status.” (p. 124)

Talking about adoption

“You’ve probably found you had misconceptions about adoption yourself. You will have become much more knowledgeable about adoption just by observing the process and experience of your loved ones. But know that you needn’t worry if you later find yourself thinking, ‘What I should have said is…’ I’ve found that someone else always comes along to provide another opportunity to try out a better answer.” (p. 130)

Explaining adoption to children

“Adoption can be a confusing–even scary–concept to children, whether they were adopted or not. To dispel the fear and confusion, there are two main messages all kids need to hear when it comes to understanding adoption. First is that all families–especially their own–are permanent…Second, kids should understand that there are many ways to create a family, each just as valid and authentic as the other.” (p. 135)

The adoption experience

“Thus, after all of the explanations about adoption and adoptive parenting, after all of the requests for special attention to language and specific suggestions for helping adoptive families, after all of the distinctions have been drawn, I’m going to say this about your loved ones, the adoptive family: They are also just another family. Both ordinary and extraordinary.” (p. 146)

Which passage resonates with you the most? What was the hardest part about explaining adoption to your family and friends (or yourself)? How did you get your loved ones in on your adoption journey? Share your comments in the section below.

Photo: Inonitadoption.com