YES!!! It’s finally going to be official! After years of uncertainty and waiting, we will finally be able to call our precious little girl daughter. As we plan for this day with eager anticipation, I have also been pondering what I want our friends and family to know before celebrating our child’s adoption.
Celebrating Adoption, Celebrating Love!
“I can’t wait to see how many people will come to celebrate love!” These were our child’s next words (after asking for balloons) when we first began talking about her upcoming adoption.
What did she mean by “celebrate love”? We had recently attended our friends’ adoption of their son, so she had a picture in her mind how these things worked. Imagining a gigantic party, she couldn’t wait to see how many people will come to celebrate our love for each other at her adoption!
Adoption is exciting. Especially when both parent and child have been waiting a long time for this finality. And when family and friends have been praying and cheering you on for years.
To be sure, our daughter’s upcoming adoption is certainly an event to celebrate, both for us and her. (She wants a huge party for everyone who loves her to come, and cake and balloons and music and fireworks!)
Outsiders (by whom I mean friends and even family who don’t see the daily realities of our home) cheer the positive aspects of adoption. They see us, who have lost so much, and rejoice at our finally getting a child to keep. They see a happy child thriving in our care, and rejoice that she gets to stay forever.
Yet it’s not all sunshine and flowers.
Celebrating Adoption, Ignoring Grief?
When I was young, parents who adopted children were hailed as heroes. They saved children from abortion or foster care or life in an orphanage. Children who were adopted were lucky to have a loving home.
However, as I have been learning, that’s not the whole picture. Through thoughts shared by other adoptive parents, our own experiences with foster care, and books about adoption, my perspective has broadened to see the complexity of adoption, including the joy and the pain.
Here’s what I mean:
While our little girl is as excited as we are for her adoption day, her realization of its finality has dredged up another wave of emotional processing. (I touched on this in an earlier article, Why Foster Care and Adoption Don’t Provide Perfect, Happy Endings.) Periods of extreme behaviors have arisen from places of deep sadness.
We are learning to be sensitive to this, creating a safe space to ask questions and express feelings about her biological family without taking the negative emotions personally.
We hope others will also take the time to understand these things before praising us as heroes or exclaiming how lucky our little girl is.
Things to Know Before Celebrating Adoption
All children are different, and children who remember their birth families may respond differently than children adopted from birth. Nevertheless, there is a loss that needs to be understood.
For friends and family of anyone about to adopt, please consider these realities of adoption so you can celebrate with sensitivity:
- While finalizing the adoption does give the child a forever home, in her perception, it may also sever the final thread connecting the child to her birth family.
- The adoptive parents ARE the parents, but they’re not the ONLY parents.
- The very act—the very institution—of adoption exists because of loss, whether through choice or inability to parent well. In adoption, the child and parent lose each other.
- Adopted children need others to understand that there is more to their life story than their time with the family they have joined.
- Adopted children may have mixed feelings about being adopted; they need others to allow them to express negative emotions about their family situation.
- Being adopted does not fix or erase the trauma or loss the child may have experienced beforehand.
- Adoptive parents do not replace birth parents, just like an adopted child does not replace a biological child who has died.
- When the judge pounds the gavel, parental rights are legally transferred to the adoptive parents, but the child’s heart may continue to have divided loyalties.
- Parenting an adopted child is not the same as parenting a biological child. Both parent and child may have challenging griefs and insecurities to work through.
- Adoption is not a happy ending; it is the beginning of a complex journey.
For Further Reading
If you are close to a family touched by adoption, I encourage you to learn as much as you can to better understand the needs of the family.
Much of my growing understanding of the complexity of adoption comes from author Sherrie Eldridge, who was herself adopted and has worked extensively with other adoptees. I highly recommend her two books, Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew and 20 Things Adoptive Parents Need to Succeed. There may be newer books about adoption available, but these have resonated with me and our experiences so far.
Another excellent resource for adoptive parents and those considering adopting is Adoption Learning Partners. They offer webinars, by professionals, on many topics surrounding the needs of adopted children and their families, as well as some free downloadable materials.
There are many helpful articles available online, as well.
To Sum It Up
Adoption is a huge reason to celebrate!
Rejoice with families you know who are adopting children! However, while offering your congratulations, remember the complexities described here and be sensitive in what you say. Doing so will help the child (and adoptive parent) feel validated and understood.
And that’s what adoption is about, right? It’s about love!
So go celebrate love, the kind of love that embraces others as they are, even when it’s messy!