Adoption is one of the greatest choices a person can make! The choice to bring a child who is legally homeless into your home is one of the most self-sacrificial choices a person can make. The option to give a child who has no family a family of their own is transformational! But what if family members have reservations? What if they are not on board with the decision to adopt? What should you do? Should your dreams be dashed simply because one person does not agree with your decision to adopt? These are tough questions, but they are questions that deserve an answer.
- What if my husband does not want to adopt?
A healthy marriage is the foundation of any healthy adoptive family. Every adopted child deserves to have a safe, stable, consistent home. Both spouses must be on the same page. If not, it will be a recipe for disaster. It is admirable that you want to adopt; however, your husband should be on board. He may have reservations that are valid like time and a change in the dynamics of the family. Perhaps he is concerned about safety, has not come to terms with infertility, or feels he will be left out. Here is the bottom line. If you act before he is ready, the whole plan may fall through. Everyone needs to be on the same page, down to the youngest child. Let’s talk about adoption from a man’s point of view.
My wife an I have been married since 1989. At the beginning of our marriage, I envisioned us having three kids, total. Perhaps two biological and one adopted. 30 years later, we have nine children: two biological, six adopted, and one foster child! Who would have thought? Even more extraordinary is that I had some reservations about adoption at the beginning. But now, I am the one who now takes the lead, even to the point where I am now an adoption worker, leading other young men to fulfill their dreams!
I can identify with men who are reluctant to adopt, as I was one of them. And as an adoption social worker for over ten years, I have spoken to many a young man who was not quite ready to take the plunge. Here are some reasons a husband may not want to adopt.
Passing on a biological legacy: One of the things a man wants is to feel that when they look into the face of their son, is that he is not only looking at someone who looks like him, but who will also act like him, take on his best traits, and carry on the family name. One fear he may have is that he will not be able to do that with an adopted child.
Bad genes: Let’s face it: adoptive dads are literally caring for another man’s child. But to be honest, we may not know the full family history of an adopted child. Adopting an infant is the dream of most people who want to adopt. But there is always a chance that schizophrenia, depression, bipolar disorder, or other hard conditions may rear their ugly heads somewhere along the way.
Infertility issues: This can be a deeply embarrassing or even shameful reality for some men. They may not have the deep need to have children like women do. However, the reality of being unable to reproduce if they wanted to is like a blow to the gut! Some men believe that pursuing adoption is just further admission that something is wrong with them.
Yearning for that empty nest: Adoptive families are BIG families! Rarely have I seen an adoptive family stop at adopting just one child. If you’re that family who is known for saying yes to taking in kids, you will be asked to do the same again and again and again. But some men just want to “retire,” not only from work, but also from raising kids. They feel they have made their mark on the world, now its time to sit back and enjoy the fruits of their labor. That is very difficult to do when you’re 60 years old and your youngest is 10 years old.
Whatever the reason, women should not proceed if their husband is not on board. Raising adopted kids is a team effort, and if only one person is fully invested, resentment can build. I have solutions below but let’s first turn our attention to the woman who does not want to adopt.
- What if my wife does not want to adopt?
Generally speaking, it is women who have more compassion for children and more of a desire to raise children than men. And, generally speaking, if a woman does not want to adopt, her husband will not want to either. As an adoption social worker, I’ve done recruiting all over the State of Arizona. Here are some of the concerns that I have heard from women when approached about the possibility of adopting.
“I have too many kids already!”: Large families cannot imagine adding another child to the family dynamic. Adding “another mouth to feed” seems insurmountable. Aside from the financial concerns, some moms cannot see how they can carve out a bit more time out of an already hectic schedule.
Safety issues: One of the main concerns I hear is that of the safety of their own kids. Most moms are momma bears who feel their primary job is to protect their children. Those who do want to adopt usually want a young child so they can fit into a natural birth order. Most moms do not consider adopting a teen for the fear for their own children’s safety.
Infertility/miscarriage issues: An unspoken concern is that of being unable to have a child or having multiple miscarriages. This is a pain that is unimaginable. Trying different fertility drugs or in vitro fertilization is the preferred option for many couples in this circumstance, and that is perfectly fine.
On the one hand, adoption is an act of faith, yes. Raising any child is an act of faith, biological or not. There are no guarantees in life, even when raising your own child. Take a chance, see what happens. I’ve never met a person who did what is right and regretted it in the end. Perhaps they did not get the desired results, but the kind act was a blessing in and of itself.
On the other hand, it is not worth risking your marriage if both spouses do not agree on adoption. You have to ask yourself, “How stable is my marriage?” I’ve seen many a marriage end up in divorce court after they started the process of foster licensing because one person felt left out of the process. It is a dangerous thing to choose adoption over your marriage. Don’t be that person who went ahead with the process regardless of the other person’s feelings. There needs to be a compromise, not a winners-versus-losers mindset.
An alternative is to consider the “continuum of agreement.” In other words, each spouse ought to ask themselves, on a scale of 1–10, how committed they are to adoption. Honestly speaking, the woman usually rates herself higher than the man. The next questions to ask are, “What are some of my concerns?” and “Are they realistic concerns?” Another question that ought to be asked is, “How much will an adopted child change the dynamic of our family?” Having open, honest communication is vital, whether you decide to move forward with the adoption process or not. This decision may affect every other decision in your marriage ever afterward. Make sure it’s the right decision for your family.
There must be a balance between fear of the unknown and guilt for not doing the right thing. Fear can warn us if something life-threatening is right around the corner, but sometimes fear is unjustified. A healthy dose of information and a little experience goes a long way. On the other hand, a spouse should never be guilted or manipulated into adopting. That will only lead to regret and resentment. Every family wonders how adoption will affect their family. But really, at the heart of every adoption is the question, “What is in the best interest of the child?” It’s all about finding the best family for the child, not the other way round. Consider carefully whether adoption is good, not only for you, but for the child as well.
- What if my biological children do not want to adopt?
Family meetings are awesome. They are opportunities for the entire family to get together to discuss things that are important and some things that are not so important. Adoption is one of the biggest events that could occur in the life of a family, so it should be discussed beforehand. I always think it’s a bit funny to have a family meeting before adding an adopted child because we never did that before adding a biological child! But consider this: adding an adopted child is significantly different than adding another biological one. The child may be older, may not look like other children in the family, may be of a different culture, or may have developmental or behavioral concerns that are different from your other children.
Look at it from your biological child’s point of view. Adding an adopted child is all about sharing. Your child may have to share a room, a toy, a place at the dinner table, a seat in the van, and most importantly, he will have to share his mom or dad. Is your child willing to do that? It is important that your child, no matter what age, has an investment in the adoption process. If he buys into the idea of adoption, things will go much more smoothly in your home.
- What if my extended family does not want me to adopt?
Grandma is great! She gives lots of encouragement to our kids, she makes great dinners, and she sends our children $10 every birthday. That’s a lot, considering we have nine children! She’s awesome! But Grandma doesn’t know everything about adoption. Neither does Grandpa, Uncle Joe, Aunt Bessie, or Cousin Jimmy. Their opinions on adoption may amount to one episode of a TV crime drama where the main suspect is portrayed as being adopted as a child. Unless your relative has adopted, their negative opinions shouldn’t sway your decision to adopt. If they make an ignorant comment, use that awkward moment to properly educate your relative. Be an example. Develop a tough skin. Prepare yourself for that first Thanksgiving. Odds are, things will calm down after that.
You love your family. You also love children, and you want to change the world! You feel torn between two worlds. So, what should you do if your family doesn’t agree with your decision to adopt?
Speak with another experienced family: Adoptive families are no longer the exception. There are many other experienced families out there that can mentor you, who have been in trenches, and who have experienced the good, the bad, and the ugly. Glean from them what worked, what didn’t work. They can prepare you for what to expect in the Child Welfare system. If your spouse is not sure, allow him/her to pair up with another person they feel safe with so they can address their fears, concerns and answer any questions they may have.
Get the facts: In today’s information age, there is no excuse for not being properly educated on any subject. There is a plethora of information on adoption. Get educated! Get involved with a support group in person or online that will guide your decision. Go to an adoption party. Appear at an adoption finalization in court, which should be open to the public. Read books on adoption. Download podcasts on adoption. Make an educated decision and share it with your family member.
Start out with respite: If you are afraid to jump in feet first into the adoption journey, perhaps you should start off with respite first. Respite is a way to give another family a break. This serves two purposes: 1) it gives the regular family an opportunity to recharge their batteries and 2) it gives you the opportunity to experience an adopted child. You’ll see that these children are not that different from other children.
Put your plans on pause: Lastly, if the chasm between you and your family member is too great, perhaps you just need to take a break. If this is not the right time, come back to it at another time. Life happens. Moves, changes in jobs, and health issues, etc. are all a part of the natural cycle of life. Remember, an adopted child needs safety, love, and consistency. Trading one chaotic situation for another will not help that child. Re-visit the adoption issue when everyone in your immediate family is in a better place physically, socially, and emotionally. That way it will be a win-win-win situation.
Derek Williams is an adoption social worker and has been in the field of child welfare and behavioral health since 2006, where he has assisted families in their adoption journey. He and his wife started their adoption journey in 1993 and have 8 children: 6 of which are adopted. His adoption children are all different ethnicities including East Indian, Jamaican, and Native American. He loves traveling with his family, especially to the East Coast and to the West Coast and is an avid NY Mets fan! Foster care and adoption is a passion and calling for Derek, and he is pleased to share his experiences with others who are like-minded.