1. Adoption is different in person
I worked as an editor of an adoption magazine where I listened to and wrote hundreds of adoption stories: profiles of families with over ten children adopted from around the world, a story of an adoptee who bumped into her birth sibling at a mall for the first time. I attended transracial adoptee panels, attachment workshops and worked closely with adoptive parents and adoptees. I knew everything a person needed to know about adoption before we adopted. But nothing can fully prepare you for the emotional complexity of adoption, the public nature of my family, and the amazing joy and sorrow of being a parent.
2. Adopting cross racially means you are never invisible
When I go out with Theo, we are on display. I can’t walk down the street, go to a party, cruise the mall or hangout at the playground without being stared at or asked questions. I have a few safe zones: friends and family events but for the most part, we are a source of curiosity. The plus is that we meet a lot of people including adoptive and prospective adoptive parents.
3. You can never fully prepare for comments and questions
Just when you think you have a stock answer at the ready, someone will throw you a curve ball. I’m used to people asking where my son is from but when a woman stopped me the other day and asked if Theo was adopted, and I said yes, she told me I was very pretty and should have children of my own because I’d really enjoy it. I was taken aback by the implicit racism/adoptism wrapped in a back-handed compliment.
4. Talking to children about adoption is harder than talking to adults
I’m still not clear on how to talk about adoption with young children. First of all, they are much blunter than adults so I need to be prepared emotionally. When I am asked a question, such as “Why did you adopt him?” or “Where do his real parents live? “I try to keep things as simple as possible and wait for a second question.
5. Biology does not make a family
A family is headed by one or more caring adults who offer love, support and guidance to their children. I hurts me to see people struggle with infertility and go to extreme lengths to give birth to a child. I get it. Pregnancy and passing on one’s genetic lineage is a natural, biological imperative, and if it works, it’s a lot easier than adopting! The desire to create life exists on a cellular level and the inability to fulfill this biological destiny is exceptionally painful. But I am telling you right here, right now: You do not need to give birth to your own DNA in order to be parents, or be a sibling, or be a family.
6. Biology is important
I am biologically related to my family, and I’m fascinated by our physical, emotional, and temperamental similarities and differences. Occasionally, my father will muse that my niece is a lot like our eccentric great auntie Tissie, and we kids and cousins take great delight in watching my Dad, Robin, and his two brothers discuss at length why my car might not be running smoothly (Well it’s the fan belt of course … No, no Robin, it can’t be the fan belt and I’ll tell you why …). I’m glad that Theo has a relationship with his biological family on both sides. There will be moments of connection and understanding that can only be realized through biology.
7. Openness is a process
Openness is difficult emotionally, especially at the beginning. It’s hard to claim the mantel of parent when there is an entire family “over there,” who care about my child as much as I do. Logically, this is ridiculous. How can more caring people be bad for a person? How can expanding our family to absorb another be a bad thing? It’s not bad. It just takes time for everyone to come to terms with what it all means, how it’s going to work and what the future looks like.
8. The Internet is transforming adoption
More adoption stories that ever before are being shared, expressed and heard thanks to blogging technology. Newsflash! Birthmothers care about the children they place for adoption. Many adoptees in closed adoption want adoption laws reformed (in the US in particular). Adoptive families come in all shapes, colours and sizes and are sharing their experiences.
9. Adoptive parenting is different than biological parenting
When you’re an adoptive parent, there’s always a lingering thought that if your child misbehaves or is socially inappropriate people will think it’s a result of adoption. I need to constantly educate people about adoption so that my child and my family are treated fairly. This will be doubly true when he hits school and educational units on family arise.
10. Adoptive parenting is no different from biological parenting
We are parents like any other. My husband and I have a wonderful, high-energy toddler who’s hitting all his milestones like any other healthy kid. He also sleeps erratically, has little patience for waiting, likes to climb on the dining room table, loves to hug, clap and blow kisses, and bites other kids when he’s over-stimulated or tired. He’ll eat anything once and spit out food he does not like. He’s a toddler, and we love him.