Thoughts, Ideas and Questions You Should Wrestle with Before You Consider Adoption
Before you discredit this article, I will start by saying: I am adopted, and I am a person of color in a Caucasian home. My hope is that sharing my story and what I have learned about adoption firsthand may provide insight and understanding.
I ache for the parents who longed for this information but did not have the opportunity to receive it.
Here is what I want you to know about adoption:
1. Adoption is not charity work.
Please do not adopt because you “feel bad” for all the children in orphanages and in the foster care system. There is plenty in this world to feel bad about.
Why adopt? Because you feel a calling to do so.
2. Do not adopt because you want to be a “good” person or look like a “good” person.
I do not think I need to say more here. This is so incredibly selfish. Adoption is not about you or a reflection of your character.
3. You need to understand trauma.
Where there is adoption, there is trauma. This includes any type of adoption (infant/non infant, open/closed). There is significant research that supports this.
Will this manifest itself differently in every case? Yes. But you need to understand the trauma your adoptive infant/child/teenager/adult has experienced.
My suggestion: Do your research on trauma and adoption, and educate yourself. Trauma is something an adoptee will navigate their entire life. Are you prepared to navigate that with them?
4. You need to see the benefit of mentorship and counseling and implement that in your home.
One of the greatest resources that parents have is other families that have navigated adoption. Use them. You are not an expert because you have read a book. Put aside your pride and ask for help.
Everyone in the family should be in counseling. This includes you as a parent and your biological children, if any. Your best asset is your ability to empathize and create an environment where your adoptive child feels the freedom to process and express their story.
Even if you are very well-read on the topic, you will always have much to learn.
If you do not see a benefit in mentorship or counseling, you are doing the biggest disservice to yourself and your family, and I strongly urge you not to adopt.
5. Adoption is not a secret.
You do not get to decide when a child is old enough to learn they are adopted. That is quite possibly the worst thing you could do to your adopted child. Conversations about adoption should happen from the start.
Honesty and affirmation are key. Be honest with your adoptive child about their story. Add more details as they get older as developmentally appropriate, especially if there are traumatic events that surround their story that they may not be able to understand early on. Affirm to your child that they are part of the family, seen and valued, celebrating their differences.
6. You need to understand the role of race and ethnicity.
If you adopt a child that is a different ethnicity than your family, you need to understand this greatly impacts your child in negative ways. Your child will most likely struggle with belonging and connection to some degree, no matter how great you are as a parent.
This circles back to why counseling and understanding trauma is so crucial for your adopted child. Putting them in counseling in elementary school will allow them to start to articulate and process their story. Do not inhibit that process.
I greatly struggled with this growing up. My parents did an amazing job, but being the only person of color in a Caucasian family was so hard. I really cannot begin to describe how lonely and isolating it was for me as child at times. Counseling and EMDR therapy were incredibly beneficial for me as I was able to put words to feelings and learn to navigate the trauma connected with my story.
Please acknowledge this challenge for your child. It is not a reflection on your parenting or who you are. Give your child a safe platform on which to express and wrestle with what it is like being different and have a different story.
My sister who is a Caucasian adoptee did not face the same challenges as me when it came to race.
In my opinion, the best way to adopt a child of color is to adopt two children of color. Having a sibling that is walking a similar story allows for a deeper sense of connection, more secure feelings of belonging and empathy.
7. Be willing to acknowledge the birth parents.
Growing up, I found it so frustrating and offensive when people asked about my “real mom.” Use “biological mom” or “birth mom.” Imagine how it feels for a child to constantly hear this from people?
Talk about a birth mom when your adopted child needs it. Say her name. You discredit her courage and sacrifice when you keep her a secret or purposely avoid talking about her because it’s hard.
Will this be uncomfortable? Yes, it might be — especially when your adoptive child starts asking questions you do not want to answer or are not prepared to answer. Are you willing to walk into that messiness with empathy, grace, vulnerability and love?
Speaking about a birth parent does not diminish your role as an adoptive parent.
8. Understand empathy and its role in your relationship with your adopted child.
If you don’t know what empathy is or what it looks like in healthy relationships, check out Brene Brown’s thoughts on empathy.
Empathy changes everything. Your role is not to “fix” an adoptee; your role is to walk with them in their journey of healing.
A special thanks to:
My mom and dad who saw the benefit of mentorship, counseling and prayer. Thank you for having all the hard conversations. You did an amazing job, and I love you both more than anything in the world.
Christi Brandenstein at CrossRoads Counseling for helping me process all the hard things.
Ramya Gruneisen is an adoptee who lives in St. Louis, Mo. She has an educational background in exercise science and public health and works as an adjunct professor at Lindenwood University in the Health Sciences Department. One of her greatest passions is teaching and sharing her love for health and wellness with others. As a transracial adoptee, she has a profound interest and passion for adoption research and education. She believes some of the best learning is done through story. She loves spending time with friends and family, climbing mountains and watching the St. Louis Cardinals and Blues play.