Tuesday, May 14, 2019

5 Things Hopeful and New Adoptive Parents Need to Know Right Now

I was once there. 

Brand spanking new to adoption.  Completely consumed by new-mommyhood.   Diapers.  Bottles.  Nighttime feedings.  Pacifiers.  Medical appointments. 

I had big ideas and no experience. 

And here we are, twelve years and four kids later.  A lot of time.  A lot of experience. 

I spend a good part of my day, every day, talking to families-by-adoption and fostering.  In messages, in comments on posts, and via e-mail. I've read a lot and heard a lot, and "a lot" makes me cringe. 

Now, I'm not about to slap the blame on newbie parents.  Let me be very clear about that.  There are two struggles newbie parents face:

1-lack of experience.

2-lack of education.

The lack of education part falls largely on the parents' adoption professional.  This person or entity SHOULD prepare the family as much as possible. 

But when I look back on our own experience, we were ONLY prepared (as we could be) because we took the initiative to throw ourselves into the adoption community (via reading, meeting with people, etc.) for the fourteen months we waited for our first child.  And we have yet to let that education journey cease.  We are ALWAYS learning and changing. 

Our agency didn't prepare us.  They didn't. 

Perhaps, if you're a newbie, you're in the same boat we were? 

So here we are, in this place of experience and education, and I want you to know that the following are things I hear often from newbie parents.  And they aren't OK. 

1:  "I don't care what color my baby is."

But you should.  You should.

Your baby's color (their race) is who your child is.  It cannot be changed, erased, minimized, or ignored.   Doing so is detrimental to the child's well-being. 

You need to care and care A LOT about your child's race.  You need to prepare, learn, change, grow.  You need to NEVER stop learning and changing.   EVER. 

Because, just in case you're confused or uncertain, America and race have a nasty, complicated history that isn't going anywhere. 

It's time to get woke and stay woke about race in America.  There's some great books you can read, for starters. 

2:  "DNA doesn't matter, because love is what makes a family."

DNA was your child's start.  DNA is your child's forever imprint.  DNA absolutely matters.

I'm raising four adoptees, all of whom have some level of contact/communication with their biological families.  Some relationships are much closer than others, and in these relationships, especially during visits, there is a CLEAR connection between the biological family and the adoptee.  It's in the ways they speak, look, gesture.  It's in preferences and personalities.   It's in the way a laugh sounds.  It's in EVERYTHING.   And it matters.

Of course, of course love can make a family.   I say ALL the time that "love made my family."  But there's not a competition between adoption and biology.  It's unnecessary.  They can co-exist.  They should co-exist for the well-being of the adoptee. 

There are other phrases I don't use, too.  The ones I don't use and why is shared here.

3:  "I chose to adopt a newborn, because I didn't want to adopt a child who might have issues."

Let me cut-to-the-chase here:  children adopted at birth can have "issues." Medical issues, mental health issues, adoption struggles. 

Arguably, adoption is trauma. Some adoptees swear that yes, all adoption is trauma for the adoptee.  Some argue it's not.  Some argue that "some" adoptions are trauma.

I'm not here to tell you which is right.   But I am here to tell you, you are not adopting a "blank slate" just because your child came to you at a certain young age. Your child was with his or her biological mother, in utero, for a significant and critical time period.   This cannot be dismissed, ignored, or minimized.  Furthermore, adoption is a severing.   Either or both of these things can be traumatic. 

I highly recommend you read and consider the book so many of us in the adoption community swear by and lean on:  The Connected Child.   There are loads of free videos on their website, too, which can be helpful after you read the book. 

I also want you to know that you shouldn't "borrow trouble."  Madeleine Melcher, an adoptee and mom by adoption, explores this in her book (which is written directly to those who adopt).   Please, please read the book.   It's incredibly encouraging and insightful.   Basically, Madeleine doesn't want us to force our kids to have issues ("borrow trouble") because of our own hang-ups and adoption education (sometimes from unreliable sources); but she also wants us to be open to our children's individual needs. 

4:  "Her bio mom and I are best friends.  I mean really, we are like sisters!"

I always hold my breath when I hear something along these lines.

First, I readily admit, each open adoption is unique.  And nothing irks me more than when outsiders dissect or judge the decisions of an adoptive parent, birth parent, and adoptee.  However, it's really important that good, long-lasting relationships take place organically AND intentionally

And ultimately, the relationship between a birth and adoptive parent shouldn't be selfishly motivated (what makes each of them feel good) but what is best for the adoptee.

Always, always, always, what is best for the adoptee is the most important thing. 

Open adoption is complicated.  It just is.  Any relationship based upon a major decision (like placing a child for adoption) is going to be complicated. 

The relationship between the biological and adoptive parent needs to be honest, flexible, organic, sacred, respectful.   It needs to be safe.   And all of these things take constant work. 

5:  "I don't know when the best time is to talk to my child about adoption, so I just haven't yet." 

Let me be perfect clear:  the best time to talk to your child about adoption is from day #1. 

There is no "perfect moment" for the "big reveal." 

There is no single and perfect moment.  Talking about adoption is a life-long conversation.  And adoption is far from perfect. 

There is no big reveal. Adoption, again, is a life-long conversation.  Not a one-and-done. 

I understand that many are uncertain HOW to talk to their kids.  That's OK.   But just because you aren't sure you have the perfect words or timing doesn't give you permission to avoid the conversations. 

Talk to other parents-by-adoption.  Talk to your adoption professional.  Talk to adoptees.   Get educated.  Get ready.   

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