There are many reasons why a person or couple may choose adoption to grow their family. When trying to make the decision if this is the right journey it is helpful to make a pro and cons list. When making a major decision such as adoption we must educate ourselves and be realistic regarding how a child will impact our life. The pull to become a parent can feel overwhelming. It is important to have hard conversations around the expectations and realities of taking a little one into your home.
When I first made the decision to grow my family through adoption I often found myself minimizing my needs and not looking at the full picture. I had chosen to foster/adopt and would attend adoption parties. I hadn’t realized how many children were in need of a permanent placement. I would talk to the adoption workers and ask about so many children but never felt the pull I was told I would feel. After about three of these parties, it occurred to me that I needed to slow down and become more self-aware. I made an adoptive family pros and cons list.
Consider Your Reason for Adopting
The first area I reflected on was the reason I felt the need to grow my family through adoption. Since I was working as a social worker and saw the need for adoptive families, it made sense to me as a born helper to consider this as a path. You may also experience the need to help. This is very normal and adoption truly helps the child find permanency, stability, structure, and love. It also helps their parents fulfill their need to be a parent. It can also allow the biological family comfort knowing that the child will be a part of a family.
Having a child come into your family is an exciting time full of hope and might feel like accomplishing a dream. This is true and it is more than okay to feel these emotions. So now for the cons regarding this subject. One can not help worry about how your child will enter your family or how they will adapt to your lifestyle. This can stress your partner as well as yourself, or other family members. There will be more questions regarding this subject and unfortunately, there are no solid answers. Each child’s experience entering a family will be unique to the child’s strengths and needs. There is no doubt, regardless if you adopt a newborn or older child, that there will need to be work done around attachment. I recommend checking out Adoption.com as many articles on there can help you through this new process.
Do Some Research
This leads me to my next point concerning an adoptive family pros and cons list. When I was first considering adoption, I struggled to make sense of all the adoption research I did. Some of the articles made it sound so magical, others so cynical. It created even more questions for me. Was I selfish for wanting a family? Could a child of trauma be able to love me and my family as I knew I would love them? Would there be this magical pull to find my child? Could my yearning to feel complete as a mother be filled this way? These questions kept me up at night. The more I searched for the answers, the more questions popped up. What I came to realize, is that everyone’s perspective is different. Just as this article, other articles are there to help one learn but they cannot replace your own need or perspective for yourself. I acknowledged my fear and decided to embrace it. It took a leap of faith. There was no doubt that the things I read helped in many ways to feel and be prepared for my children. It gave me a base to then create my own journey. My children have filled the pages of my own experience and continue to be my inspiration.
How Will You Choose to Grow Your Family
Once I felt more grounded in my decision around adoption my list continued. The next area of my adoptive family pros and cons list was more practical. How would I choose to grow my family? There were many ways to adopt such as private adoption, international adoption, and foster to adopt. Each of these journeys had its own pros and cons. It was challenging making the decision and I relied heavily on my own list. I reviewed private adoption and found the pros to be that one generally has more opportunities to know the birth parents. The child is often a newborn and many agencies allow the birth parents to be present or at least available during the birth. You would be able to have your child come home soon and the adoption will be finished in family courts. I cannot find too many cons but if I had to identify challenges I would say this process can be expensive. There is also the risk that the biological parents may decide to keep the child. That said, there are many conversations with the agency and all parties to lessen these concerns. The cost of a private adoption can feel overwhelming to some and it is something to remember when making your adoptive family pros and cons list. There are many options such as adoption loans and grants. Some people will even get creative and do some fundraising.
The second area I looked at was international adoption. My research discovered that there were many countries open to adopting with America. Of course, this was years ago and more recently due to the pandemic many countries and agencies have put this process on hold. However, it is worth mentioning because there is an expectation that there will be more opportunities to adopt internationally in the near future. Each country has specific guidelines and it is important to independently research what will fit with your family. Some countries have restrictions on allowing single parents to adopt, so keep that in mind. The cost is around the same for a private adoption as for international. Though, it is generally more expected that the country of origin will provide supplies and needs to the organization or orphanage taking care of the child. This should be included in your adoptive family pros and cons list.
The next area I looked into was foster to adopt. I had seen the vast amount of children in the foster care system and felt a pull to this option. I was planning to adopting as a single person and my state allowed this without extra steps. I knew I wanted to adopt older children or a sibling group and I was open to children who needed assistance with special needs. Also, in my state, there was no cost for this form of adoption. I was able to apply for a post-adoption subsidy that would follow them until age twenty-two. Keep in mind that these options can vary from state to state. One of the Cons to adopting through the foster care system is that there is more involvement with the biological family. This can happen through visits, ongoing social work involvement, and court expectations. Though these feel like they would be a con to some, I often found them to be a pro. The social workers were able to provide us additional mental health support that assisted us in the transition. The biological family’s continued involvement allowed my children to better understand where they came from and why there was a need for adoption. I know many shy away from this type of adoption due to fears around attachment and birth family involvement. There is no denying that children from the foster care system experience trauma and need more support. There are many services available to this population that can assist your family. I remember with my first adoption the social worker said, “Oh, once you adopt from the foster care and see the child grow, you will want to do it again and again.” I laughed because I had just adopted a sibling group and thought my family was complete but he was right. I saw the progress and the love that my children and I forged and did adopt again. It was hard at times but it continues to be the most rewarding thing I have ever done.
The Impact of Trauma
Earlier, I briefly mentioned trauma related to adoption. There is a lot of research related to this and it is unavoidable in all forms of adoption. When I first began to adopt, there were many questions that came to my mind around the impact of trauma on the child or myself. How would I handle a child who has experienced trauma? I wanted to be this all-encompassing mother who had all the answers for my children. I read and educated myself. Once my children were placed with me reality hit fast. Their trauma came out in little and big ways. Throughout the years I have found a lot of support through networking in the adoption community and outside therapeutic providers. There have been many times when it was difficult, but I can assure you that watching your children triumph is beyond words. Also, the feeling as a parent to help your child figure out their needs and help them is worth all the struggles. There will be so many more moments of joy than hardship.
One con to living with and parenting a child of trauma can be how isolating it can feel. It is so important to make sure you are communicating your needs, fears, and struggles to your partner and support system. There is no need to go through all of it on your own. Many will reference adoptive parents as heroes or saints. You may feel the pressure to have all the answers. In reality, we are just adults who recognize the needs of the children and have the resources and love to help. Keep in mind that there is always help out there. There are attachment therapists, clinicians, adoption services, and online support. Please never forget to reach out for help. There is hope for this child.
How Will You Nurture Your Child’s Identity
One of the areas that hit my list had to do with identity. How would I nurture my child’s identity? Who will I become as I raise my child? Is there a way to nurture my child but not force my beliefs on them? I felt I had so much to offer to a child, but I had no idea how to help them become their true, whole self. This thought was daunting at times but also exhilarating. The helper in me sprang to life thinking of all the ways that I would show them their true self. Once my children came to live with me this question grew even larger. How could I nurture my child’s born identity but also have them acclimate to my culture and expectations? Each child had their own journey and I would often have to realign my thinking. Being open is the biggest asset you will have in the adoption journey. I have found so many joyous memories with my children celebrating their identity. At the beginning of my journey, I believed this would be more of a con than a pro but as life moves forward it definitely fills more of the pro column. Helping one define themself is at the heart of parenting.
How Will We Make a Family of our Own?
Last but not least in the adoptive family pros and cons list was the question asking how we would actually make our family our own. There was a fear I felt when I would talk about adoption. Will we feel like a regular family? The answer is yes and no. You will have the struggles that every family has when you are raising children. You may have additional challenges related to attachment and adoption but these will not stop you from being a family. You only get a short amount of years to make your child into a functional adult. No pressure! But in reality, as parents, we are only there to guide. I often think of myself as the bumpers in bowling. They will guide their bowling ball down but the only way to get the strike in is how they contributed to the roll. With practice, one can become better no matter what they do. This also applies to parenting. No one has all the answers and parenting will be hard at times. Others will share the opinions and you will have to establish what and who you will allow to impact your family. Family is such a broad and interpretive expression for what a child will experience through adoption. How that is defined will be up to you.
Heather Pietras-Gladu has over 20 years in the human services and social worker community. The need for education around adoption and trauma was evident when she worked as a social worker for the Department of Children and Families in Massachusetts. She would use this passion in a most intimate way when she adopted her 3 children from foster care. As long as there is a continued need for education with humor and truth she will continue to be one of the biggest advocates within the adoption community.