What Does Adoption Mean?

For those unfamiliar with the process of adoption, it can be a confusing topic. Why would people choose to adopt or place their children for adoption? What does the process entail? How does adoption change the lives of those affected by it?

And, maybe the biggest question of all: What does adoption mean?

While this is an important question for understanding adoption as a whole, there’s really no singular answer. Because adoption means different things for different people, even for those who aren’t directly affected by it, discovering one adoption meaning is difficult — and perhaps not even useful. To really understand the meaning of adoption, it’s helpful to explore the topic from many different perspectives.

What Adoption Means to Adoptive Parents

For adoptive parents, adoption is the priceless, love-filled path they took to become parents. While many adoptive parents choose adoption because it’s their only chance of becoming a family, others choose adoption as a way to provide a loving home to a child whose birth parents cannot provide one themselves. 

Many adoptive parents describe their adoption as a gift — the selfless choice a birth parent made to place their child into the arms of people who so desperately wanted to be parents. Adoption can give new parents a meaning for their life that may have otherwise been missing. Because they were not parents before, their personal adoption meaning may make them feel “complete” for the first time since they started their parenthood journey. Adoption changes their lives for the better — and their adopted child is a daily reminder of the loving choice one birth mother made to give her child the best possible life.

Becoming a parent through adoption also has a meaning similar to parenthood in general, including:

  • Understanding that certain times will be tough, especially when an adopted child starts asking questions about their adoption story

  • Learning to appreciate every moment, good and bad

  • Accepting the chance to shape a child’s life and teach them about the world

  • Putting your child’s needs and interests before yours every time

  • And more

Adoption certainly comes with its challenges, but it’s safe to say that no parent who chooses adoption to grow their family regrets their decision. Instead, they cherish what adoption means to them for the rest of their lives.

For personal recollections on what adoption means for adoptive parents, check out this compilation of interviews from Adoptive Families Circle. You can also read personal stories from American Adoptions' adoptive parents here.

What Adoption Means to Birth Parents

For many birth parents, their personal meaning of adoption is bittersweet: choosing to place a child they love with a waiting family that can provide all the opportunities that they, as birth parents, cannot. The feelings of pain and loss associated with adoption never truly go away as a birth parent, but they do gradually lessen over the years as birth parents see their child grow up happy and healthy.

When a birth mother chooses adoption for her child, it’s a selfless sacrifice she makes to give her baby the best opportunity at life. Open adoption allows birth parents to watch their children grow up through letters and pictures, but it cannot not replace the “what ifs” they may feel about giving up their chance to parent. However, no matter the difficult feelings that accompany choosing adoption, many birth parents eventually view it as a blessing in disguise: not only as a opportunity to give their baby their best chance but to change the lives of a prospective adoptive parent forever.

Choosing adoption also gives prospective birth parents benefits in their own life. Because adoption is free for birth parents and they’re provided 24-hour counseling through American Adoptions, choosing to place their child for adoption relieves some of the emotional and financial burdens of pregnancy and parenting before they’re ready. Adoption also gives birth parents a chance to continue working toward their own goals, whether that’s educational, career-oriented or even getting married before having children.

It’s important to know that adoption is a very personal and self-determined process for prospective birth parents; they are in charge of every part of their adoption, including who they will choose to adopt their child. For birth parents, adoption means more than simply deciding to place a child for adoption; it’s determining what kind of life they want for their child and being reminded of their choice with bittersweet updates as the years go by.

What Adoption Means to Adoptees

The adoption meaning for adoptees is perhaps the most difficult to state in general terms; after all, what adoption means to adopted children will be determined largely by the kind of adoption, the openness of the adoption and their relationship with their adoption. How adoptees view adoption as a whole will be shaped by their own experience.

For many adoptees, their personal meaning of adoption is a loving family and a chance to live their best life possible. While children will view their adoption differently at certain stages of their life, eventually, they usually develop a respect for the difficult choice their birth parents went through in placing them for adoption — and a genuine appreciation for making that decision in their best interest.

Understandably, an adoptee’s personal meaning of adoption will be determined by their own experience living through their adoption. Children whose adoption stories are celebrated and discussed openly will usually view their adoption more favorably than children from whom the truth has been hidden or is not an open topic of discussion. This is why open adoption is so important to adoptees, as it allows them to understand their adoption history in an honest way. All adopted children know that their adoption means they’re different — but how their parents explain their adoption will determine whether they view that as a good or bad thing.

Overall, most adoptees know they were desperately wanted by their adoptive parents and overwhelmingly loved by both their birth and adoptive parents at the time of their adoption and long into the future.

What Adoption Means for the Larger Community

Adoption doesn’t just hold a meaning for those directly involved in the adoption triad. Even for those not directly affected, adoption changes lives and viewpoints.

The growing awareness of adoption promotes education and understanding of the process. While individuals may have their own idea of what adoption means from pop culture, truly understanding the process and what it puts parents through on both sides can change that. Openness about adoption also promotes the knowledge that families can be created a variety of ways — through infant adoption, foster care adoption, in vitro fertilization and surrogacy.

In addition, adoption promotes acceptance and tolerance of those who are different. Blended families are becoming more common in the U.S., and adoption is just one way to create more diverse family types. After all, 40 percent of adopted children are of a different race, culture or ethnicity than both of their adoptive parents. If a community sees a loving family made of different races and ethnicities, it normalizes adoption and transracial families.

What else does adoption mean for the community? When unprepared mothers place their children for adoption, it helps to create a society based on love and support rather than judgement. It also reduces the amount of money spent supporting parents who are unprepared for the challenges of raising a child.

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Even if you’re not personally affected by adoption, you likely have your own personal adoption meaning shaped by the interactions you’ve had with this process — either directly or indirectly. Adoption means something different to different people, so there’s really no correct answer to the question, “What does adoption mean?”

However, if you have this question, one of the best ways to answer it is by educating yourself. Talking with an adoption specialist is a great place to start; we can help you understand what adoption is like for birth parents, adoptive parents and adoptees. Because adoption can take a number of forms and meanings, knowing more about each of them will be critical in helping you understand the true meaning of adoption.




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