Before Adoption: Six Ways to Support Families
Whether it is a family member, close friend, or member of your church, you likely know someone who is considering adoption, waiting for a placement, or has already adopted. The adoption process is an emotional and often long journey. Prospective adoptive parents go through hours of training and interviews in order to prepare for parenting an adopted child. Then, after a busy season of education and preparation, they enter one of the more difficult parts of the process, the wait. There are many things friends and family members of waiting adoptive families can do to offer support and encouragement during this time.
Educate Yourself on the Adoption Process:
Adoption is much more complex than it appears to be from the surface. Many people see adoption in a simple light- a child in need of a family is placed with a family desiring a child. In reality, a great deal accompanies the first life experiences of each adopted child. As well as the hard experiences that occurred before the child was born, that led to their first parents choosing adoption. Part of the preparation for an adoptive family includes understanding the trauma and grief that accompanies the joy and provision of adoption. As a support person, when you know the hard things your friend is learning, you can ask better questions. Questions like, “Tell me what you’re learning and how has it impacted you?” Make yourself available to listen to the things they are being exposed to and growing in.
Educate Yourself on Adoption Appropriate Language:
One way to support someone going through the adoption process is to learn how to talk about it in sensitive ways. For example, when inquiring about the cost of adoption, avoid asking how much their child cost. Instead ask them how much the adoption process cost, or inquire about how the fees they have paid are utilized by their agency. Children placed through adoption are not purchased. Even though the process is often expensive, adoption fees do not go towards purchasing a child.
Work to use language that is sensitive to the nature of adoption and the people involved. Mothers who are considering adoption for their child are often in extremely difficult circumstances which have led to adoption feeling like the only viable option for their child. When talking about a child being placed for adoption, avoid saying, “given up for adoption,” and instead say things like, “made an adoption plan,” “placed for adoption,” or “chose adoption.” In addition, when referring to a child’s biological mother or father, it is more accurate to use the terms, “first mother, first father, or first family.” These titles offer more respect to the child’s biological parents, who are more than just “birth” parents.
When differentiating between an adopted child and a biological child, avoid terms like “natural child” or “real child.” Adopted children are both natural and real, just like adoptive parents are both real parents and natural parents. They were just joined as a family through adoption. Using this language will be a relief to your friend in the adoption process, or your friend already parenting an adopted child.
Be Sensitive to their Wait Time:
Just like families that are adding children biologically cannot predict how quickly they will become pregnant, an adoptive family cannot predict how quickly a child will be placed with them. Adoptive families sometimes get matched very quickly, while some wait for a few years. It can be an emotionally draining process for adoptive families to be asked frequently about their wait time and when their child will be placed with them. Even though friends and family members are anticipating the addition of a child, the best thing to do instead is to ask how you can be praying for your friend, or ask them out to dinner, and provide them the space to share or not share about where they are in the process.
Waiting families understand that their gain of a child through adoption means someone else’s loss in parenting that child. Oftentimes there are simultaneous feelings of excitement and grief while a family is waiting. Allowing some space for them to share their thoughts, allows them room to discuss both the happy and sad feelings they may be carrying around.
Offer to Organize a Fundraiser:
As mentioned above, the adoption process can be costly. One way that many families cover adoption fees is through fundraising. Offering to host a fundraiser for your friend or family member in process can be a great way to offer support. When organizing a fundraiser, it is important to keep a couple of things in mind. Adoption fundraisers should focus on the adoptive parents, not the adopted child. One day, that child will grow up and gain a greater understanding of their adoption story and process and may not feel comfortable with how their story was used for gaining donations.
Many adoption fundraisers tend to focus on the idea of providing a home for an orphan. Many children placed for adoption are not true orphans, they usually have at least one living biological parent. This is particularly true for many domestic adoptions, in which the child goes from one loving parent, their first mother, to their second loving parent, their adoptive family. Labeling a child as an orphan, when they are not actually an orphan, can be a damaging and hurtful label to give a child that has a living biological parent or parents.
Read a Book on Attachment:
One of the most challenging experiences for adoptive parents begins once their child is home. Adoptive parents have the hard work of parenting their adopted child in a way that creates safety, connection, and security for their child. Attachment parenting looks much different from more traditional parenting styles. It limits direct caregiving to parents only, causes families to temporarily reduce their amount of contact with the public to establish a sense of home and belonging, and changes the types of discipline methods that can be used.
The best thing a support person can do for an adoptive parent is to read a book on attachment parenting in adoption. It will help provide context for some of the parenting choices their friend is making and also give them someone who gets it, instead of someone who questions their methods. Attachment parenting is hard, but powerful and effective when parenting a child who has experienced trauma. The loss of a parent, even at birth, is a traumatic event that requires attachment focused parenting.
An excellent book that Agape has all waiting families read is The Connected Child by Dr. Karyn Purvis, Dr. David Cross, and Wendy Sunshine. Another book to consider is The Connected Parent by Dr. Karyn Purvis and Lisa Qualls.
This one is simple. Your friends in the adoption process need prayer. They need prayer for their hearts to be ready for the child that will one day join their family. They need prayer for sustaining the wait time. They need prayer for processing the hard parts of adoption. Their future child’s first family needs prayer, prayer for comfort as they consider the heart-wrenching choice of adoption. Their future child needs prayer as they process the loss of their first family and transition to the loving home of their adoptive parents. There are not enough prayers that can be said for those personally touched by adoption.
About the Author:
Caitlin Inman, LICSW, PIP, is Agape’s Adoption Supervisor. She has worked in the adoption field since 2012. Her passion and dedication for domestic adoption comes from her own experiences as an adoptee.