Advice for adoptive parents

In my previous posting, I discussed advice for adoptees who are seeking or thinking of seeking their birth families. While I might not have covered everything, I did my best. However, I reserve the right to write an addendum.

This posting offers advice for adoptive parents. As an adoptee, I fully understand that I cannot give advice from the standpoint of an adoptive parent. As a matter of fact, I would covet a response from any adoptive parent. I’m sure it is a given that this post is purely from the perspective of an adoptee (me) and is not meant in any way to usurp any opinions of adoptive parents.

Indeed, the intent of these postings is, if anything, an opportunity to provide that very perspective I mentioned above. As each family comes to grips with the issue of a birth family search, approaches, opinions and feelings will differ. My advice comes purely from my own experiences.
So, here I go.

I’m going to start from with the biggest issue—an adoptive family’s fear of the search. As I stated in “Advice for Adoptees”, the adoptive family should not assume that an adoptee’s search is a rejection or repudiation of the adoptive family. Unless someone has walked in the steps of an adoptee, you can never know what it’s like to have no knowledge of your history, your genesis, you biology or your genetics. We are probably the only people in America who are denied the right to know our background. But that’s another posting.

Unless an adoptive family has been abusive to an adoptee, chances are there is no animosity involved in the adoptee’s search. We have all heard about families who have sexually, physically or emotionally abused an adoptee. In such a case, chances are that the adoptee does have some level of rejection in his soul and is searching for something positive in the manner of a family unit. If this is the case, there’s not a lot that can be done.

Some men and women have been adopted into families only to find that they were used as trophies by the adoptive parents in a vainglorious attempt to elevate themselves in social or religious circles. This can also color an adoptee’s attitude against the adoptive family. In my humble opinion, never and I say again, NEVER , should a couple ever adopt a child merely for their own self-aggrandizement. It is a child, a human, a person, not a bauble to be propped up on the mantle to impress your pastor or your society friends. If this is the intent of a couple, you can most likely expect your child to rebel and distance himself from you in the future. And you can probably expect the adoptee to search for a sense of value from his biological family that the adoptive family did not provide.

What I can tell adoptive parents from my own experience is that they truly just need to support the adoptee. Advice is welcome because, as an outsider, yet an insider, the adoptive parents can, at the very least, provide insight and opinions that the adoptee might not consider.

This insight can include the consideration of other children in the bio family. Potential pain and discomfort from the issues surrounding the adoption. Conflicting feelings between the adoptive versus the birth parents. The list can continue ad infinitum.

The adoptive family pretty much needs to watch from the sidelines and offer up support and guidance when it’s requested. I think it is important for the adoptee to be open with the adoptive family about the results of the search and how the reunion (if any) went. I also think it’s important for the adoptee to be open to his family about any problems that arise.

Regarding any problems, the adoptive parents should search their hearts to make certain that their advice or comments are truly in the best interests of the adoptee. If said advice or comments are made to support the interests of the adoptive parents, the adoptee will recognize them as such. This will create a gulf and possibly cause the adoptee to gravitate away from his parents to friends or acquaintances. Along these lines, the adoptive parents must never bad-mouth the birth family for any reason. This shows disrespect to the adoptee’s heritage as well as his desire to search and can lead to severe consequences.

I cannot underscore this issue any more vociferously. I was unable to share with my family the problems and feelings I had regarding the reunion with my family. Even though my parents met my brother several times and even met my cousin and aunt, they were blissfully unaware of what was happening every time I went to B.C. They would ask me how my visits went and I would respond with, “Fine”. That was it. They went to their graves never knowing the abuse I suffered and the identity issues and addictions that came my way.

This was due to my belief that they were unable to deal with my problems. Of course, I will never know how they would have dealt with them since they’re gone. But, in my mind, my parents were not able to handle the enormity of these issues. Their advice tended to be along the lines of, “Just pray about it”. Or, “Everything will be fine”. Never any practical advice. Hearing this all my life taught me that I would have to learn everything on my own.

This is why I tell adoptive parents that their support and understanding is crucial. The parents will be forced to think outside the box because they will be dealing with issues and potential problems that will be unlike any they’ve dealt with previously. I can guarantee that it will be, at the very least, a learning experience.

This next issue is going to piss off a lot of people who read or hear about this blog posting. If you are looking for a child to complete you, improve your marriage or meet some need, quite frankly you are barking up the wrong tree. Adoption is meant for people who want a child to love, to raise into a productive, competent, interdependent member of society. A child should not be adopted because you feel emptiness in your life. If the child develops an illness or rebels against you or turns out to be less than your ideal (and let’s face it, if you NEED a child, then you are going to have a distorted ideal of that child), then where will you be—more importantly, where will the child be? What happens after that child grows up? Another adoption to fill the gaping maw of need?

And if you NEED a child, will that child become an adjunct of you? Will you refuse to let him grow up? Will you refuse to let him (or her) become his own person? I know this sounds harsh, but needing a child isn’t a reason for adopting a child. As I said before, a child should be wanted, not needed.

Any couple that intends to adopt should make sure that both parties truly want a child. Is there doubt? Don’t pursue it. Make certain you both want this child. If one of you truly doesn’t, then you are setting yourselves up for emotional trauma later. And the adoptee will very much be aware that one party (or both) is not engaged. Even as a child, the adoptee will notice this. He might not be able to articulate it in any way through his childlike mind and vocabulary. But the behavior will be unmistakable and will negatively mark the adoptee for life.

It is also crucial for an adoptive family to allow the adoptee to be himself. Remember that the adoptee comes from different stock. His intrinsic nature will manifest itself eventually. However, your outward nurturing of him will impact the nature side of the adoptee.

An adoptee should be allowed to express himself as the person he is. However, this does not mean that an adoptee should be given carte blanche to behave badly. In a situation such as that, it is obviously crucial for the parents to step in to correct bad behavior.

I use myself as an example. I am half Italian, hence I am emotional, loud and can have a bad temper. As a child there were many times when I would get over-emotional and loud and lose my temper. My mom had to keep attempting to “temper my temper” and keep teaching me to deal with things calmly and rationally.

However, as I said, an adoptive family should allow an adoptee’s personality and abilities to come out. If your child has athletic abilities and wants to pursue them, encourage it. Don’t attempt to superimpose what you want on the child. If you prefer you child to have more cerebral interests and he’s not interested, let it go. Of course, this is obvious for biological children, too.

An adoptee should not be pressured into a different temperament. If your family is colorful and expressive but the adoptee is subdued and introspective, encourage that, participate in it; encourage others to do so. Of course, it would be beneficial to also encourage the adoptee to make an attempt at being more outgoing, and vice versa.

As for discussing adoption with the adoptee, I feel it is best to do so as early as possible. You can discuss adoption in a matter-of- fact way so that the adoptee becomes comfortable with the concept and understands it. How soon that should happen is up to the family and depends on the emotional maturity of the adoptee. But doing so early will soften the blow of an adoptee finding out about his background.

It is also important to discuss with others the adoption that is about to occur. In my family, everyone older than I was aware of my adoption, however, no one breathed a word of it to me out of respect for my family. Even after I found out and met my biological family, no one ever broached the subject. I was always very grateful for that.

And therein lies another issue. In my family, I was accepted as a member without reservation. I never felt like I was “adopted”. I felt like these people were my aunts, uncles and cousins. There was never any qualifier as an “adoptee” in my family. And that is the issue I mean. Relatives should NEVER, in my opinion, constantly refer to the adoption issue. It is a private matter for the immediate nuclear family. The adoptee should never be made to feel as though he is an outsider or different from anyone else. This will go far in helping the adoptee with his sense of identity and in creating a strong foundation for his life.

When an adoption occurs, an adoptive family is going to have to be very sensitive to any biological children that they already have. Since adoption is a very lengthy and expensive process, the biological children can often times feel left out of the equation. Because so much effort, emotion and expense is expended on the adoption, birth children can feel neglected. They can also feel like the cost of the adoption is taking away opportunities for them—college, a car, a trip to Disneyland.

My suggestion is to incorporate children into the process so the adoption experience and the adoption becomes something personal and blessed for them, too. They need to know during the whole course that they are valued and not forgotten and that the adoption will enhance their lives.

And, as with the relatives above, the birth children should NEVER bring up adoption, especially in a negative manner along the lines of “you’re not a part of the family, etc.” I cannot overstate the importance of this.

I’m assuming some adoptive parents might read this posting. If so, I hope that they, and others, understand that I’m not minimizing their experiences, neither am I deconstructing their lives and telling them how they “should” have done things.

No, my intention is to give insight into this very sensitive of topics. The issue of adoption is on everyone’s lips nowadays and it seems as though everyone is looking for that magic elixir, that heaven-sent answer that will prevent problems and allow those involved in adoption to breeze through their lives. Not gonna happen.

I can only hope and pray that my humble musings can provide awareness for the future. To adoptive families who might read this: God bless you. God bless you for heeding the call of adoption. God bless you for taking in a child with no place to go. God bless you for choosing to spend the money, take the classes and face any one of a number of issues. Not just the potential issues I raised above, but others that I can’t foresee. God bless you for your diligence.

“suffer the little children to come unto me”


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