I have been asked to consider some of the issues regarding parenting in the context of adoption, either the adoption of a child or issues that might arise if a parent was adopted. To do this, I want to begin by carefully considering what a parent is.
I learned what a parent is from my daughter, my oldest child. One time when she was very little, and very angry at me, she told me in no uncertain terms what she thought of me!
She ended her thoughts by saying, “And another thing, I don’t belong to you. You belong to me!”
I realized then that she was absolutely right: emotionally, a parent belongs to a child more than a child ever belongs to a parent. It is that emotional bond, much more than the physical one, that truly defines parenthood. Whether you are a biological parent, stepparent, or adoptive parent, this is the bond you must work on developing with your child.
Current research suggests that it is important that adoption never be concealed from either from the child or from any other family member. This means that there needs to be a transparency about the difference between birth parents and adoptive parents. One of the greatest mistakes we make in dealing with any difficult situation with children is believing that they cannot understand a concept because of their age, and often this may lead to hesitancy in discussing adoption with a child. However, young children understand more than we think and are very good at picking up when adults are not being direct or honest.
To explain any difficult concept to a child (or anyone really), my advice is always the same:
- Use simple words, making sure the child understands;
- Be direct and honest;
- Explain why your situation is different than the usual situation. In this case, you can explain to your child that they were born to parents who could not look after him/her;
- Explain the reasons for your actions. Tell the child why you decided to adopt and the process you had to go through to become their parent;
- Remind them that you care. Tell the child how much you love them;
- If there are questions, answer these as honestly as you are able with the information you have.
A situation that may help parents explain adoption to a younger child is that many children today have more parents than their two biological parents, because their parents have divorced and remarried. When your children know someone who has stepparents, you can remind them that children can also be loved and cared for by adults who are not their biological parents. It helps anyone to adjust, especially a child, if they don’t feel alone.
Most children can accept situations that are explained to them in a straightforward manner when their questions are addressed simply, directly, and honestly. Accepting a child’s feelings about being adopted can be a challenge, but often it is not as much of a challenge as when the parent is struggling with their own feelings about adopting a child. A parent, especially a mother, can often feel inadequate if they are not physically able to bear a child. It is unfortunate that society and culture may also reinforce that negative point of view, so it is important for adoptive parents to have people to support them through their own conflicts and feelings.
To the point of a parent’s experience of it – if a parent is adopted, having a child of their own can cause them to wonder whether they were ever as much loved as they love their child. These individuals may not realize that all parents, once they have a child in their arms, wonder if they were ever loved that much. Stating this simple fact to a parent who was adopted themselves can be reassuring. If you were adopted and are wondering about this, please try to remember this.
Adoptive parents are accepting an important role, the role of caring for children whose birth parents love their children enough to realize that they are not able to care for them as they deserve. Both birth parents and adoptive parents deserve our support – after all, “The test of the morality of a society is what it does for its children.” – Dietrich Bonnhoeffer.