Wednesday, March 9, 2011
Some General Guidelines for Friends and Family of Those Who Are Adopting
Our local chapter of Families Supporting Adoption has some great material for reading and I wanted to share a few of the stories that apply to us over the next few weeks.
Some General Guidelines for Friends and Family of
Those Who Are Adopting
Your interest in learning about and sustaining a family’s adoption efforts will be appreciated by the adoptive family. Every adoption is different because each child in each adoptive family is different. The following thoughts suggest ways that you can offer support to both the family and the adoptive child.
After prospective parents contact an agency about applying for a child, they are required to complete several interviews which prepare them for the realities of adoption. Many of the children placed are infants while a few may be pre-schoolers or of school age. Prospective parents are helped to prepare for the challenges they may encounter when a child joins their family.
Supporting the Prospective Parent’s Decision
Friends and family may be tempted to ask the childless couple whose ‘fault’ is it that you can not conceive? Couples working to understand and resolve infertility problems need understanding and support, not blame and guilt. They are motivated out of a desire to parent and share their lives with a child. How a child comes into the family isn’t as important as having the opportunity to parent. Appropriate questions might be “How far along are you in the adoption process?” The couple can then share what they choose to about the study process, waiting time and type of child they are hoping to receive. Realize that there are lots of unknowns and accept sometimes general answers.
Some prospective parents may become agitated if asked why they decided to adopt just as they might be asked why they made a decision to conceive. Prospective adoptive parents look forward to the addition of a child to their family just as much as prospective biological parents. Sustaining the parents by accepting their decisions without question will provide them the support they need.
There is, of course, a waiting period before a child can be assigned to a prospective family. During this waiting time, it can be discouraging to prospective parents to make preparation too soon, not knowing the age and sex of the child. It is also advisable, if the mother is employed, that she continue her employment until placement of a child. The prospective parents need your support during this waiting time. It is important that you do not repeatedly call or visit making inquiries about news of the child to be placed. They do not know when placement will occur. It is advisable to continue in normal contact with the family. Take care that your enthusiasm for the prospective addition to their family does not become a stress to them.
If there are younger children in your family, they should be aware of the expected adoption and be allowed to share feelings about birth and adoption. An explanation of adoptive terms may be needed to clarify what is taking place. Children should feel comfortable in the knowledge that adoption is a special way of increasing a family. Families are occasionally asked whether they want to be considered for a specific child with a unique background. They seldom mention to others that they are being considered because they may not be selected as “the” family for “this” child. When the agency does propose a placement with a family, it is the family that has to make the final decision. “Is this child right for us?” If the answer is “no”, it is easier to say “no” when you don’t have to justify a very personal decision. If the answer is “yes”, hopefully the explaining is over.
Just as some people read the bad news in the newspaper before reading the good news, there will probably be someone who will question why this child is available for adoption. For reasons of confidentiality, adoptive parents are advised to give out as little information as possible on the child’s background. Adoptive parents, at the time of placement, receive privileged information with reference to the child’s past which belongs to the child and is not usually shared with others outside the home. Privileged information includes what is known
regarding the birth parent’s health and genetic history including any known drug usage where applicable. The baby’s doctor is the only one really needing to know this information. That the adoptive parents are comfortable with the information given is implied by their accepting the child into their family. Accepting is much more supportive than asking a lot of questions.
There are many questions that you can ask that will be welcomed by the family such as: age, name, sex, do they have a picture, and the most important, “Is there anything I can do to help?” Before giving gifts to the newly adopted child, consult the parents as to what would be an appropriate gift. When the time comes for the child to be picked up, do not feel hurt if you are not asked to accompany the family. After all, how many people are invited by a couple to the delivery room to see a birth? However, adoptive parents enjoy being recognized as “new parents” in the same manner other new births are announced and celebrated. Express your excitement for their new child.
The period when the child is actually living with the family until he is legally adopted is called the post-placement period. This is a time of many adjustments for all members of the family. The legal probationary period, generally six months for infants and about a year for older children, allows time for both the child and the parents to determine if this adoption should be finalized.
Added demands upon the adoptive family should be curtailed during this adjustment period. While the adoptive couple appreciate the support of friends and family, they need an opportunity to adjust to their new family and establish a normal routine. Two areas of adjustment you can help with are how to talk about and introduce this new child. A major complaint of families who have adopted is that many well-meaning people
unknowingly single their child out by introducing them as “adopted”. To the parents this is our child. To add an “adopted” adjective may place a subtle stigma on the child or family. A second complaint comes from awkward comments about how surprised people are at how much the child resembles the adoptive parents. While this may be true, it might be well to keep such overt observations to oneself. Special sensitivity is required when a family adopts a bi-racial child. Out of an awkward curiosity many questions can be asked and statements made. The following statements from one mother summarizes her feelings. “If we were to sing “I am a child of God”, I think we would find out that in a way we are all adopted. I am a child of God and he has sent me here, has given me an earthly home with parents kind and dear... “When you look at your son or daughter you don’t look to see if he’s too tall or too short or if he’s English, German, or Irish. I’m no different. I might not have given birth to my children; but, just as with you, Heavenly Father sent me my children. I look at my son through eyes of love. There is no color or race, just my son. And, yes, I am special–not because I adopt children but because as with all of us I am a child of God.”
Bonding is the process where an adopted child or baby begins to identify himself as a permanent member of the family and the parents come to feel they are truly the parents. Bonding can take time and requires sustained effort on the part of all members of the family.
If this is an infant and he has already bonded to his mom and dad, then your hugs and kisses would be very much appreciated. But if he is older and overwhelmed by his new surroundings and confused about his past, please ask his mom and dad before showering him with your attention. Be patient with him. Genuine feelings of affection take time to develop. Children don’t need sympathy; they need time to get to know and love their new family and friends.
Adoptive parents need to be firm and consistent in their discipline to give the child a sense of security in his new environment. Understanding this will help you recognize that although you have good intentions with your advice, it may not be warranted. The same kind of support is needed for adoptive parents as any other parent. Family and friends should give them credit for recognizing the needs of their children. Words of
encouragement and unconditional love and acceptance will help boost their morale during difficult times.
School adjustment problems have occurred in some instances with older children. The family needs to work through these problems individually. Be available to provide a listening ear and sympathy, but it is a problem that they alone should work through.
ADOPTION IS ANOTHER BEAUTIFUL WAY TO BUILD AN ETERNAL FAMILY.
Excellent reference books you might wish to read include:
Infertility: A guide for the childless couple. Barbara Manning, Prentice Hall, Inc. 1977.
Successful adoption: A guide to finding a child and raising a family, Plumez, Harmony, 1982.
Adopting the Older Child, Claudia Jewett, Common Press, 1978.