It’s that time of year when many people start thinking about adoption. The holidays, families coming together, often are the impetus for serious discussions about adoption. Frankly, sometimes I wonder why everybody doesn’t adopt children. Other times, I wonder why anyone would. I’m not ambivalent, just multi-faceted.
To help couples who might be starting their consideration of this option, I decided to make a list of the top ten things to think about before you adopt a child. These will not have been things that I, myself, thought about before adopting three children many years ago but that shouldn’t stop the reader from finding them really helpful. Here we go.
#1: Wanting to rescue a child from being an orphan or being in foster care is not a good reason to adopt. The rescue buzz wears off quickly and then the day to day sets in. Rescue is glamorous. Packing lunches isn’t.
#2: Wanting to have children by any means necessary is the best reason to adopt. I believe adoption works best when it was in the parents’ deep self-interest. If having a child is the only thing that will make you truly happy, line up over at the adoption tent.
#3: They’re all cute when they’re puppies. They grow up. They chew your shoes. They won’t sit on your lap to be cooed over by the relatives for very long. They are determined to be fully-formed grown-up people. Realizing that can be a jolt.
#4: You will never know enough about them. Open adoption in the U.S. makes knowing a child’s history much easier. International adoption is, however, still a black box of mystery. Sometimes, in the black box, there are things you don’t want to know, but you should. What happened to your adopted child before you met matters a lot.
#5: The extraordinary joy you will sometimes feel with your gathered-up family, the people you have stitched together as sons and daughters and siblings, will be unmatched by anything else in your life.
#6: That your child is adopted probably won’t matter to you but it will matter to your child. Because your child loves you, he or she won’t talk about it very much but it will always be right there, a static electricity on their skin, any spark can set it off.
#7: If your child is of another race or ethnic origin, it won’t matter to you but it will matter to your child. Your child will get teased and maybe bullied because he or she doesn’t look like you. They’ll be asked where their ‘real’ parents are. Your child will survive this.
#8: Having an adopted child is different than having a biological child. It is a myth that you will love them the same. You can love them both a lot but you love them very differently. Sorry, folks, but that’s the way it is. Not better or worse, just different.
#9: Feeling sorry for an adopted child is a losing strategy. When you feel sorry for a child, you cannot do what you need to do as a parent. If the child is to be truly yours, you have to ditch the pity. That’s when an adopted child stops being an orphan.
#10: An adopted child will always have other parents. Those other parents will show themselves in your child’s laugh or temper, talent or disease. You will never know what you brought to the table and what was already there. You just have to be prepared to embrace it all.
It’s not possible to think through every contingency in adoption. Wise adoptive parents get as much information as they can about their prospective adoptees but still there are many things that are unknown and unknowable. Much like having a birth child, adopting a child is a process without guarantee or warranty. Life will unfold in ways that are painful and ways that are lovely. There is no way of knowing in advance.