Adoption Support 101
Chances are, you know someone who has already grown their family through adoption, or who is in the process of adopting. The choice to adopt takes commitment and support from others, and when adoptive parents gather together, they sometimes talk about how their family and friends supported them well, or the things that were said or done (often unintentionally) that were hurtful during the adoption process.
If you are new to the world of adoption, it can be easy to mean well, but do something hurtful. And none of us want to worry that we are hurting a loved one at such a pivitol time in their life! Here are some thoughts on how you can be purposeful in supporting those in your life who are on the adoption roller coaster....
~Please don't treat the adoption journey like it is second best. There are many reasons that people choose adoption. Some families adopt because they've struggled with infertility. Others choose to not get pregnant for medical reasons. Some are passionate about providing a home for a child who needs one. Adoption is a meaningful way to grow a family, regardless of the reasons. It may be different than how some families imagined having a child, but it is not second best.
~Please don't share all the adoption horror stories you've heard. Families in high risk adoptions usually know exactly what they are committing to before the child comes into their home, and it's a risk they chose. Those stories are not respresentative of adoption as a whole, and they are much rarer than the media would have you think.
~Don't tell the new parents how wonderful they are for adopting, or that you 'don't know how they do it'. Adoption is just one way to grow a family. Adoptive families don't like to think they have 'rescued' their child, and wouldn't ever want their child to feel that way, either. Some may initially approach adoption as a ministry, but once their child is home, they are just a family raising their children. (Someday I might actually reply, "Oh, I think it's wonderful the way you're raising YOUR children, too!" ;)
~Don't assume that a child's birth parents chose adoption because they have horrible issues. Assume that this child is cared for by many people in her life -- including her birthparents -- and it was a huge sacrifice for them to give up the parenting role. Poverty and other difficult life circumstances are often primary reasons that someone cannot parent their child. And even birth parents who DO have serious personal issues still grieve the loss of their child and care about them in their own way.
~Don't share details of their child's adoption story with others. Those are private details that he or she should have the right to keep private. Rather, speak in generalities about the reasons a birth parent may choose adoption.
~Don't introduce the parents as 'adoptive parents' or the child as 'their adopted baby'. This is unnecessary and hurtful. They are a family, period. :) (For instance, you'll never hear us say, 'This is Destany, our adopted daughter.' We introduce her as our daughter. We happened to adopt her -- past tense -- that's just how God brought her to our family.)
~Get excited with them about their adoption journey. They know the risks, and need to feel free to get excited anyway.
~If the adoption falls through, allow them time to grieve. Let them feel the pain over losing the chance to parent that particular child. When they are ready to try again, support them and remind them you are there for them and the journey will be worth it.
~Ask them occasionally how they are doing, and how they are feeling about the adoption process. Acknowledge what they are going through, but don't ask a lot of questions if they don't seem eager to talk about it.
~Support the type of adoption journey they have chosen: international or domestic, agency or attorney, open or semi-open (closed is rare these days), private or through foster care, etc. Trust that they have considered their options and done their research before making this life-changing decision.
~Take the time to learn proper adoption terminology. Refer to the biological parents as 'birth parents', 'biological parents', or 'expectant Mother'.
~Support the family after their baby/child arrives home. Throw a baby shower or 'welcome home' party. Provide meals. Offer to run errands for them. Adding a new family member is always a big transition -- no matter how the baby or child joins the family. This is your chance to celebrate with them! :)
~Above all, talk openly. Ask your friend or relative how you can support them. If you sense you've unintentionally hurt them, talk with them about it. Most adoptive families are sensitive to the fact that they are learning a lot along the way and that their family and friends will have a lot to learn also. They will appreciate your honesty and desire to learn.