The adoptions of my two children are, quite literally, the two best things that have happened to me.
Ever. In my whole life. Nothing has altered the course of my life or meant more to me than becoming a mom to my kids.
Before them, I didn’t really understand what unconditional love was, nor did I have a clue how it felt. Now I know — twice over.
Adoption is amazing. And it’s complicated. It can bring great joy. And it can bring great pain.
Adoption is nuanced. And like anything else, it can be hard to see those nuances when it's not part of your life. That's particularly true when the media is so good at circulating adoption narratives that are a little problematic — like the baby left under the Christmas tree for his siblings to discover.
I get why people thought it was sweet: A precious new life was placed into an obviously loving family. But I still cringed. Partly because it felt uncomfortably similar to buying the kids a puppy for Christmas. And partly because it made me think of the commodification and trafficking of humans, which unfortunately happens sometimes in the world of adoption.
Thankfully, there are some really great adoption stories that circulate, too — like the one where a grandma lost her mind with excitement when she met her granddaughter for the first time. Beautiful! Most loving grandmas tend to experience unadulterated joy when they first lay eyes on their grandkids.
As with most of the important things in life, talking about adoption is complicated.
But at the heart of it is something really simple: More than anything, we want our kids to grow into adults who are respected as the complex and unique individuals they are. Not just representatives of the "adopted kid" stories we see all the time.
There are many, many things I’d love for everyone to know about adoption. Here are nine of them, from an adoptive parent's perspective.
1. My kids are "my own."
"But are you going to, you know, have any kids of your own?”
Most people who ask this question have good intentions. They want to know if my husband and I are planning on having any biological kids. It’s a wording issue for most adults, but for kids who are struggling with attachment or working to feel secure in their families, those words matter.
When you ask this in front of kids who were adopted, you might be shaking an already unstable foundation the family has worked hard to build.
Adopting our kids was our "Plan A." We didn't want to have biological kids.
For other families, adoption may have followed a long struggle with infertility and it can be a painful question for them, especially coming from a stranger or casual acquaintance.
That said, know that...
2. Adoptive parents are approachable!
It's true that we don't appreciate being asked super-personal questions about adoption, especially in front of our kids. But that’s pretty much like most personal topics in life, right? Asking random questions — especially of a stranger — to satisfy your curiosity probably isn’t cool.
For instance, please don’t ask how much our kids "cost" or where we "got" them. A two-second google search for "how much does adoption cost," for example,will provide the info you need. I promise.
Asking respectfully because you really want to learn or have an interest in adopting yourself? That’s a different story.
I’m not an unapproachable lady (I'm even fun at parties!). I’ve been a resource for many people wanting to learn about adoption. I've given my phone number to complete strangers who want to adopt and would like to learn more. The best questions begin with, "Would you mind if I asked you a few questions about adoption?"
That gives me a chance to say "no" if my kids are there or if it doesn’t feel like a good time for me. That also lets me know that if you ask something I don’t feel comfortable sharing, I can say, "I’d rather not talk about that" — and you’ll understand.
3. Yep, we’re all real.
“Do you know who your kids’ real parents are?”
I know what you mean — you’re asking if I know who my kids’ birth parents are. It’s not that I’m offended by the question, thinking that you’re implying I’m not real. My kids’ birth parents most certainly are real.
But the last time someone asked that in front of my sweet then-7-year-old son, he looked at me, the usually bright smile fading from his face, and asked in a quiet voice, "What does she mean? You’re my real mom too. Nobody can take me from you…" — long pause — "... right, Mommy?"
Of course, he knows the answer to that. We’ve been talking about adoption since, well, since the day he came home at 10 and a half months old. Back then, it was me talking about adoption to a baby that didn’t understand. I figured I’d start then to ensure we never stopped talking. And we haven’t.
But a child’s feelings about adoption change over time. So can their sense of security. And having their place in their family questioned at the wrong time can feel pretty unsettling to child who’s in the process of making sense of some of those feelings.
4. My kids' histories belong to them.
Sometimes the details of a child's history are simple. Sometimes they're pretty complicated. And, quite frankly, they're private.
Some birth parents place their children for adoption because they’re not ready for a baby. Some place because they’ve been coerced or pressured into it. Some place because of medical issues — either theirs or the child's. Some place because they don't know how they can afford a baby and there aren't enough services in place to assist them. Some place against their will because they're incarcerated. Occasionally, some truly don't want their kids.
Sometimes we have no idea who our kids' birth parents are or why they placed them for adoption. Sometimes our kids were abandoned. Sometimes our kids came from the foster care system and their family histories are very complicated.
Whatever the reason, it's not something we want to go around chitchatting about with anyone who's curious.
5. We might parent quite differently than you do.
It doesn't mean we're weird. Or coddling. Or over-parenting. Or trying to prove anything.
We’re just trying to give our kids what they need and deserve.
Adoptive parents have to learn about a bunch of things their children could face, and we have to learn how to best parent our kids. Attachment parenting, healing from trauma, sensory processing disorder, and many other phrases become more than just words for a lot of us. When we decide to adopt our kids, most of us put our hearts and souls into doing what's best for them. Sometimes what's best isn't necessarily what most other parents do. That’s OK.
I got up every half-hour all night long with both of my kids for at least six months after we adopted each one. I didn’t do it because I loved being a sleep-deprived zombie that would have traded a kidney for a solid week of sleep. I did it because in my son’s 10 months of life before us, nobody ever got up for him at night. He had learned, rightfully so, never to believe someone would. And when we were finally there to do it, he didn’t trust us. We had to work hard to earn that trust.
I went to my daughter all night long because she desperately wanted me to, but was terrified that I wouldn’t. The people who looked at me, exhausted beyond words, and told me I should just let my kids cry it out had no idea how hard we were working to build a foundation of trust. Ultimately, we were doing it so our kids could grow into adults capable of having healthy friendships and relationships with others.
Plus, isn’t that kind of a cardinal rule of parenting: Don’t offer advice unless it’s solicited?!
6. Those of us who have adopted transracially aren’t suddenly "super sensitive about race."
For 26 years, I lived in a blissfully comfortable color-blind bubble of ignorance. When I decided to adopt children transracially, I began educating myself and came to understand the world doesn’t work for people of color the way it works for me. Now that I’m a mom to two kids of color, I’m committed to being their advocate. I’m committed to being the person they know will always stand up for them when someone at school hurls a racial slur. I’m committed to calling out friends and family members for jokes they might think are harmless.
It’s not about being politically correct or raining on people’s fun parades. It’s about making sure that the world around our kids is as supportive as it possibly can be.
7. It's complicated.
There are three people (or groups of people) who are part of adoption: those who are adopted, those who place their children for adoption, and those who do the adopting. All of those people have feelings and experiences, and they might conflict. That’s OK!
My kids missing their birth parents and wishing they hadn’t lost their cultures, for example, doesn’t mean they love my husband and me any less. My wishing that my kids didn’t have to deal with the pain of loss doesn’t diminish the feelings of pure gratitude and joy I experience over getting to be their mom.
8. One of us doesn’t speak for all of us.
While some things in adoption are pretty universal, one adoptive parent doesn’t speak for them all. Which means that I’m well aware that not every adoptive parent will agree with everything I’ve written here.
And not a single one of us can speak for birth parents or adoptees. We can do our best to lend our voices to our kids as we’re raising them, but when it comes to sharing life from birth parents’ or our kids’ perspectives, that’s not our place.
9. We’re like any other parent in most ways.
I’m pretty normal (whatever that means). I have good days and bad days — days where I think, "Oh my gawd, if my child talks back one more time, I’m going to lose my mind!" And days where I think, "I couldn’t possibly be happier. This is everything."
Like every good parent out there, at the end of the day, we just want the best for our kids. And we’re doing everything we can to make it happen.