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My career as an adoption social worker began in 1994. Aside from the knowledge and experience gained over my career, I’ve learned from the advances in brain research on the impact of early loss and trauma. Here are five adoption truths every adoptive parent must know.
1. Adoption Is Not Sunshine and Rainbows
Romanticizing adoption is a disservice to all parties involved. No matter how ideal the adoption or the joy of becoming a family, the existence of loss cannot be denied. Adoption may answer a desire to become parents, but it can’t cure the loss from infertility. With a household of adopted children, triggers of pregnancy loss may emerge. Birth parents also have lifelong grief, as do their extended family.
Most important, though the adoptee may not remember the initial loss of their birth family, it’s a lifelong reality. Adoption is complex and nuanced. It’s a “both, and” of joy and sadness, gain and loss.
2. Love Isn’t Enough
For decades, adoptive families were given a “stork” phone call to come pick up their baby and go on to a wonderful life, perpetuating a philosophy that love is enough. Adoptees absolutely need to be loved well, yet even a perfect parental love cannot be the answer for the complexity of adoption.
What a child can’t remember can still have a lifelong impact. Brain research has revealed that even in utero, a baby’s brain chemistry and development can be changed by high cortisol levels that can come with a stressful pregnancy.
>> LISTEN :: Adoption Myth Busters :: Momfessions Podcast :: Episode 73 <<
3. Hold Space for Grief
Grief is not something to be fixed or shut down, but rather should be honored by holding space for it. Adoptees need parents who model the grace of sitting with them in this sacred space. Grief doesn’t just look like sadness, but also manifests as anger, aggression, and confusion.
Saying to your child, “I see by your clenched fists that you seem angry. It’s okay to feel that way. Let’s talk about what to do with that.” Giving your child the vocabulary to name their emotions with the coaching of what to do with them are lifelong skills. Being a safe space for all the feelings builds a connection that conveys an understanding and belief in your child.
4. Birth Parents Should Never Be Villainized
No matter the situation with the birth family, they should never be villainized or treated as an adversary. Birth families and adoptive families have much more in common than they do differences. Everyone feels a loss of control and a fear of the other party. All parties want what’s best for the child, fueled by a fierce love for them.
Adoptive parents have to help reshape the narrative in our culture about birth parents in general, while remaining mindful that what’s said or believed about the birth family is what the child senses is said or believed about them. Biological history is part of identity and how adoptees think about themselves. Showing honor for the birth family is showing honor for the adoptee.
>> RELATED READ :: Waiting to Adopt :: Practical Ideas on How to Prepare for Adoption <<
5. Seek Available Resources
So much of adoption, and parenting in general, is outside a parent’s control. Seeking help is not a sign of failure, but a sign of health and strength. Loving a child well can’t fix the grief, confusion, loss, or trauma that can be inherent in adoption, but we now live in an era where help is readily and widely available.
Adoptive parents can educate themselves on trauma, attachment, and bonding through reading or listening to books like The Connected Child or The Whole Brain Child. Parenting resources and support such as adoptive parent groups, conferences, and classes can be found online or in person, as well as professional help such as attachment or play therapy.
Adoption is a complex way to build a family, beginning from a primary loss experienced by all parties. Allowing these adoption truths to help guide and lead adoptive parenting can bring footholds along the way.