The summer of 2007 will always mark a monumental time in our family: that's when we welcomed our youngest son, Jack. Jack was adopted as an 11-month-old baby, after almost two and a half years of waiting. Our four other children could not wait to meet this chubby, curly haired, blue eyed sweetheart.
Along our adoption journey, we have learned a lot about ourselves, our families, and the blessing of adoption. When we took Jack to meet my husband's family, my father-in-law said to my husband, "You know, adopting you (my husband was adopted as a toddler) was the best thing we ever did." My husband replied, "I know it was the best thing for me." His father's response was, "No, I mean it was the best thing for us."
From our experiences and those of others who have been part of the adoption process, we have learned several things that can help an adoption experience be full of love and joy.
Here are five of the most important things to keep in mind in an adoption
1. The birth parents
It is important to speak of the birth parents with love and respect. They made a huge decision to place this child in your care. Honor them for that strength of character.
Support meeting birth parents someday. When my husband was 18, his birth mother contacted his parents to see if he would meet her. They graciously let him decide, which he did. It is natural for adopted children to be curious about their birth families.
Keep information on birth parents accessible. Some adoptive parents keep letters from birth parents in binders, available for children to view at any time.
2. The adoption story
Have an ongoing, age-appropriate discussion about adoption. Adoption is not some secret that needs to be kept under wraps - it is something to celebrate. It's a beautiful story of love. Jack knows he is adopted and loves to ask everyone in a room to raise their hand if they are adopted. He loves knowing his unique story.
3. Quick integration (especially with older adoptees)
Help adopted children - especially those who join the family after their infancy - feel part of the family right away. One adoptive mom had a new family portrait taken immediately after her two adopted daughters, ages 9 and 11, were placed in her home. By displaying this in their home it showed these two girls that they were part of the family.
Don't draw out the adoption process. By seeking to finalize quickly it shows how desperately these children are wanted and needed as members of a family.
4. Your existing children
Involve your other children in the decision to adopt. When our family set out to adopt, we discussed it and prayed about it with our other children. We knew it would change all of our lives. They even weighed in on the name we chose. This helped them feel part of the process. Helping children already in your home to feel secure and vital to the family helps everyone recognize they are loved.
Many adoptive parents and their extended families are so concerned about welcoming adoptive children that they overcorrect, inadvertently pushing aside their biological children. Children who were in the family before the adoption sometimes feel they have lost their mom or dad to the new sibling, and end up resenting the adoption. Be careful to give each child what he or she needs.
5. Your extended family
Educate your extended family. It is important for them to understand there are appropriate terms for adoption. Children are "placed," lovingly, in a home. They are not "given up" or abandoned. Teach them not to refer to a child as an "adopted grandchild" or "adopted niece or nephew." Remind them not to show preference in giving presents, or time, or in differentiating in any way between your adopted and biological children. This may seem obvious to you, but you'd be surprised how difficult it can be at first for extended family members. These children are now part of the family in every sense of the word. How they joined it doesn't matter. Period.
Welcoming an adopted child into the home can bring great joy. There will also be hardships and trials - just as with any other child. When they come, don't blame the hardships on adoption, or let others around you do that. Accept the hardships as part of parenthood with your adopted child, just as you would with a biological child. One adoptive mom said of her choice to adopt, "I am so glad. That we did it has been a joy as well as a hardship. But that is parenthood overall."