Adopting a child may be both a long train of practical and emotional nightmares and the fulfillment of a dream. As an adoptee myself, I am very grateful for my parents who adopted me.
About 1% of all children in the U.S. were adopted. Thus, though the percentage may be small, the total number is considerable – in the millions. While, fortunately, many of the traditional stigmas have faded, adoption and raising adopted children remains a uniquely challenging process for millions of parents.
Many psychologists who specialize in such issues can report from their files such heartrending statements as:
"We knew this child would be different from us. But sometimes it seems we don't know him at all." or,
"Sometimes we just look at each other and ask what we got ourselves into?"
Many everyday, practical issues are more difficult to handle in adoption scenarios. Lack of knowledge of heredity in relation to medical problems, prior bad parenting or even abuse can seem to make understanding present problems more difficult.
Children who discover unexpectedly that they are adopted – especially from someone other than the adoptive parent – can feel (often without any input from others) that they are somehow less than fully loved and wanted. How and when to inform young children that they have been adopted presents a unique challenge to adoptive parents. I was told at an early age I was adopted. Parents should not be afraid to tell their children but need to approach it carefully and tell and reassure how special and loved they are.
While no 'one size fits all' prescription for dealing with adoption issues can hope to be realistic, some general suggestions may help parents better cope with their special difficulties.
Parents who make the effort to endure the long and painful bureaucracy and expense that too often accompanies adoption should take pride in having persisted. Keeping the end goal in mind is difficult in the midst of so many needless hurdles, and those who do so are entitled to feel good about it.
Dealing with a child's medical problems is trying enough for any parent, but adoptive parents sometimes feel frustrated and fear being unable to cope. Some comfort may be had by realizing that hereditary information is only one small part of diagnosis. Physicians effectively treat unconscious victims, emergency cases and a wide variety of other patients in circumstances where such information is not available nor particularly useful.
Some value may be had also in realizing that psychological issues can and do arise about as frequently with biological children. Except in cases of actual abuse, former experiences are only a small part of the cause of what a child is presently feeling.
As adoptive parents know, the bonds that form between parent and child form very quickly and very deep. Both common experience and formal studies show that such relationships are as strong and lasting as biologically-based parent-child bonds.
That suggests that the relationships and their value to parent and child are as much the consequence of choice as of biology. Indeed, since they are chosen by the parent, both parties can benefit from the advantages such arrangements offer.
Adoptive parents can revel in and express with joy to their child that 'you were chosen'. This is not recommended in families of mixed adopted and biological children. Biological children should not be given the message that they were not chosen, nor should adopted children be encouraged in a view that they are superior to the other children for having been adopted.
Parents and child can each enjoy the many benefits of family life, the overwhelming majority of which have little or nothing to do with biological relations. Whether the specific child was the offspring of that particular parent or not, the pride of guiding and the joy of learning is the same. The special emotional bonds among family members transcends how the parties met. My mom is my adopted mom and I love her as much if not more than if she was my biological mother. The gift of adoption is the most special gift of all.