Healthy Habits To Strengthen An Adoptive Family
Something we do not realize is how much of our time revolves around habits. Whether we are trying to break them or make them, habits are a big part of our lives. Every New Year’s Eve, we can find ourselves jotting down ideas of what we feel we are capable of doing. It would not be a surprise that most of the list bears a strong resemblance to the prior year. We are creatures of habits. Most of us have a morning routine that—if broken—will likely set our day on the wrong foot. We do not like change which is a reason why our resolution list is often a copy-and-paste action from the previous year. The European Journal of Social Psychology states that it takes anywhere between 18 to 254 days to form a habit; but, on average, 66 days is to be expected. If you are committed to developing a habit, then persistence and determination would be key factors.
Nothing motivates commitment more than our children. The daily routine that we have grown accustomed to is happily adjusted to respect the needs of our new plus one. I know of people who have made drastic changes in their routines. A perfect example would be smoking, although not as common as it used to be, smoking is a hard habit to quit and many people made that change because of their children. Children have a way of changing even the nature of our character.
With adoption, there are healthy habits that you can incorporate into your life to ensure positive and healthy development.
Positive Adoption Language
Positive adoption language is something that is necessary in and outside the home. While you can not control what other people say to or about your family, you can control what you say. It would be beneficial to educate yourself on positive adoption language. Positive adoption language is choosing words that show respect for birth parents, adoptive parents, and adoptees and is something that is still a new concept to some. In general, the language of society is changing. We are more aware of verbal offenses and we are becoming more considerate of people’s feelings. Positive adoption language falls right into that category. I must admit that I was unfamiliar with the term even as a mom of an adoptee. I knew that certain words, phrases, or jokes did not sit well with me. Even as a young child, I understood that the adoption jokes I heard were cruel and unwarranted. It was not until a few years ago did I read about positive adoption language, and realized that I was already advocating for it on a personal level. Online resources can be easily found and can help explain what positive adoption language is, and how to make slight changes in your vocabulary to contribute. Several online resources give comparisons of dos and don’ts of positive adoption language to establish an understanding. Implementing small adjustments in your vocabulary can make a big difference in your child’s life. We know words matter, and what we say about our children’s biological parents matters too.
Positive conversations about biological parents definitely fit into the tier of positive adoption language. If we speak negatively about biological parents we are speaking negatively about a part of our child. It is very easy for me to acknowledge positive adoption language pertaining to the usage toward children, but it was very eye-opening when I learned that negative adoption language could affect biological parents too. We can never stop striving to enlighten our perspectives and keep an open mind.
My son’s biological mother has had a history of drug addiction. To be honest, I have not always thought the best of the things she has done. I do feel I have strong opinions because she is a family member of mine, and I may have set unrealistic expectations for her in my mind. However, I have mentally rehearsed a million times how, one day, I will have to explain this to my son, and I want to be as compassionate, understanding, and sincere as possible. I have to remember how grateful I am that she chose us to be his parents and whether I agree with her life choices or not, it is not my place to verbally express it. I have made it a personal responsibility of mine to learn and practice positive adoption language. It would be incredibly hypocritical for me to expect others to incorporate this into their vocabulary while never changing mine.
Negative adoption language can also contribute to adoption trauma or the feeling of abandonment and rejection. Adoption trauma or relinquishment trauma is a form of developmental trauma that occurs when a psychological wound happens to a newborn or child that has been separated from their mother due to adoption or foster care.
Responding to negative adoption language is also a habit that is worth developing. While I do not think most people maliciously practice negative adoption language, it still happens. Making a habit to use it as a teachable moment could benefit many not only in the present conversation, but the future as well. In general, the conversation of adoption is changing, and the more awareness you have and positivity you can contribute could be impactful. It is important to know too, that you are not obligated to educate anyone. It comes down to your perspective and personal choice.
There are many documented benefits of open dialogue both inside and outside the family. Having open dialogue creates a line of communication and can lead to positive solving solutions and productively correct missteps. It also can create an atmosphere that welcomes diversity; you can see several backgrounds and encourage open discussions that enhance talents, views, and experiences. The transparency displayed can build trust as well. These same concepts apply to the family—especially families of adoption! One of the things I am most thankful for is the evolution of the adoption topic. This is not a big family secret anymore. There are over 100 million people with adoption in their immediate family. Adoptions are often announced and celebrated.
A question I have asked many adoptees is how they found out they were adopted. From all the responses I have gathered, an average answer seems to be that it was never hidden. Having an open dialogue with your child about their adoptions will lead to fewer questions and less for them to wander about. An open dialogue atmosphere is especially important in transracial adoptive families. It is inevitable that children of a different race or culture will have questions and providing emotional security within your household can be truly monumental. Providing the space for them to explore and find their cultural identity without the pressure of possible offense is the most rewarding accomplishment.
In our house, we talk about adoption often. Our son is not old enough to fully understand what adoption means, and we have not explained to him that I did not give birth to him, but he hears us mention it. It is part of his story and there is nothing to hide. We love telling people how our family came together because we believe that it was truly a plan bigger than ourselves. My husband and I were never planning on having children so the fact that everything happened the way it did was truly a miracle. It is a story that deserves to be told and our hope is that one day he will proudly tell it for himself. We do not want him to be shocked or feel betrayed and lied to.
It is no secret that honesty builds trust. This is the most valuable habit that should be developed within any family: adoptive or biological. It can create a connection that provides the security to interact with emotional authenticity. Showing someone that you love them enough to be completely candid with them shows that you trust them with your vulnerability and emotions. It is so liberating to know that you do not have to hide anything from someone. Some people only save this candidness of honesty for romantic relationships, or what we expect from our children to make sure they are not doing what they are not supposed to. However, when it is reciprocated from a parent to a child, it creates a bond that can not be granted by DNA alone.
For example, if you have not had the adoption talk with your child and they start putting pieces together and flat out ask, do not lie! That breaks the trust that you have spent a lifetime building. It can make them feel like there is something shameful about their adoption. I have a friend who was adopted at birth, and when she became a teenager she knew she was not getting the truth from her family. Then, she confronted her parents and they denied everything. It was not until her early 30s that she found out the truth and it was only because her biological siblings were looking for her. When I asked her how she felt, she said she just wished they would have told her when she asked because it made her feel like she was going crazy and she did not like being lied to. You know your child best and will ultimately know when is the right time to unveil their story in its entirety.
As adoptive parents, I can understand the feeling of wanting to protect your own feelings. We do not want to put ourselves in a vulnerable position and feel like our children are rejecting us. However, like all things parents do, we have to do what is in the best interest of our children first. As hard as honesty can be sometimes, it is necessary and for the best in the long run. I can not imagine the hurt someone can feel if they found out they were lied to their whole life. Not to mention, it is hard to live with the truth inside.
Personally, I would always rather be known to my son as a speaker of truth. I never want him to feel like an omittance of information or blatant lie came from a place of shame. The only way to ensure that possibility can be eliminated is to never give it an opportunity. Build trust from day one.
What works for my family might not work for yours. It is impossible to say there is a set guide to navigating through the life of adoption, but the healthy habits you make can help flourish the relationship between you and your child or children.
Whatever habit you decide to develop within your family, like with every habit, consistency is key. The only way to be confident that our children are fully embracing the healthy habits in their lives is to make sure that they are exposed to those healthy habits regularly. As adults, we recognize that habit-forming can be one of life’s greatest challenges, but knowing the benefits that directly affect our children can be our biggest motivation.
Jessica Chapa is a mother by way of adoption, photographer, and minister. She is a proud native Texan and currently lives in the Bay Area. Her hobbies include drinking coffee, Happy Planning, and trying to keep plants alive. She loves sharing her family’s journey of adoption and how it has taught her so much about purpose, patience, faith and trusting the preordained plan for her life. Jessica hopes her story will enlighten others about the many benefits of adoption. Choosing to be a parent is one of the biggest and most rewarding adventures she has ever been on.