Preparation is always an important factor with any new adventure in life, and it is especially critical in the process of adoption. It does not matter whether you are adopting domestically, internationally, or through foster care; preparation, or having as much knowledge and information as possible, will ease the adoption process.
My husband and I adopted our daughter domestically and our son internationally from China. While only a couple years apart, each adoption was very different. No two adoptions will ever be exactly the same, but there are some basic ideas and concepts in the preparation process that will be beneficial to any prospective adoptive parent.
One way to prepare is to become knowledgeable about your child’s heritage and culture. While the amount or type of biological information you receive about your child will vary in every adoption, information about his or her culture is readily available. Culture is very important and becomes more important as the child gets older. It is important to recognize holidays, customs, recipes, and traditions that reflect your child’s birth culture. If English is not his native language, it would be helpful, if possible, to learn some phrases or words in his native birth language. This will show your child that you recognize the value of his culture and will help him transition.
Another major area for which you should prepare is the possibility and process of an open adoption. This is a topic that most people do not really understand or value. Open adoption is an adoption in which there is some contact or communication between the biological family/parents and the child. The amount of communication can vary dramatically in an open adoption. It can involve anything from only sending pictures through the adoption agency without sharing any personal information to having face-to-face visits. It will depend on what everyone is comfortable with, but the emphasis should always be on what is most beneficial for the child. I strongly support open adoption; we have an open adoption with our daughter’s biological parents and have visits with them. While I understand there are instances in which open adoptions are not beneficial or safe, they usually have positive outcomes. An open adoption can help your child answer questions regarding his or her biological family, history, and background.
While most adoption agencies have some educational requirements for adoptive parents, I believe one of the best educational tools is found in other adoptive parents. Other parents who have already adopted and who have “been there” are an important and helpful resource. They can offer advice, tips, and tricks they learned from their own experiences. They can provide tips on travel, attachment issues with a child, or just be there when you need to vent.
It is also important to realize that you may have to answer questions that are uncomfortable or biased. It is important to respond positively. There are going to be people that ask questions about adoption, and some may say inappropriate or ignorant remarks. It is helpful to think about how you are going to respond before this happens so that you can express yourself well when it does.
Knowing how to respond to others’ remarks can also help adoptive parents prepare to help, teach, and educate other prospective adoptive parents. There are areas where adoptive parents can be prepared which will help teach others who have questions about adoption.
It is important to remember that only appropriate adoptive questions should be asked in front of the children. Knowledge of each individual’s adoption story will vary depending on the child’s age and the family’s comfort level and is a very personal topic. Adoptive families appreciate the same support and celebrations as biological families. The child should simply be referred to as their child, not their adoptive child.
Finally, learn about and prepare for “cocooning.” Cocooning refers to the time when basic needs, such as feeding and comforting, should be provided solely by the parents immediately following them becoming a family. Practicing this allows the child to realize that she can trust, bond with, and attach to her parents, and this is when she learns who to turn to when she needs something.
Being prepared for any new adventure in your life is always very important, and adoption is no different. Learning the “ins and outs” of adoption will make the process go as smooth as possible for you and also for your child.
Meghan Rivard is an adoptive mother and a big advocate of adoption and foster care. She resides in Indiana with her husband, their one-year-old daughter who is the center of their lives, and their dog Max. She has a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in Social Work. Meghan stays at home with her daughter but is so happy she found this outlet to share her personal adoption story and educate about adoption!