I’m a mom by adoption, and am very involved in the adoption community. Many individuals who contact me struggled over the holidays, answering relatives’ inquiries (“When are you going to start a family?”) and coping with another disheartening medical report. As a result, a lot of hopeful parents are motivated to choose adoption at the beginning of a new calendar year.
Adoption is ever-evolving as new research emerges, policies change, society’s perceptions progress, and as more adoptees (people who were adopted) speak out about their experiences. If you are considering adopting a child in 2016, here are 10 things you should be aware of:
1. There’s an adoption tax credit.
Adoption is expensive in many situations; however, the federal adoption tax credit can help make adoption more affordable. I always recommend consulting a knowledgeable and experienced tax expert with your questions before you start your adoption process. Keep track of all your paperwork, as some people who adopt are audited by the IRS. In addition to the tax credit, some hopeful parents qualify for adoption grants, some choose to fundraise, and some take out loans.
2. There are over 100,000 children waiting for a forever family here in the United States.
There are many children right now who are waiting to be adopted. Many are part of a sibling group, some have special needs, some are considered older, and some are children of color. Foster care adoption is typically free or low in cost. However, foster care adoption isn’t for everyone. Children are in care due to neglect, abuse, or a traumatic circumstance such as parental death or incarceration. It’s critical that hopeful parents get educated on the subjects of trauma, attachment, and advocacy, as well as have a strong support system.
3. Love isn’t enough, but it is the necessary foundation.
“All you need is love” hardly applies to any situation in life, adoption included. Children who come to their families by adoption often need a lot of additional support, patience, and resources. These require the parents to be patient, steadfast, diligent, proactive, and willing. Love (and time) doesn’t heal all wounds. Parents need to meet their child where he or she is and commit to seeing the child through, no matter how long, how much money, or how much energy it takes.
4. Transracial adoption requires ongoing education.
As a mom of three transracial adoptees, my family garners more attention than a same-race family by adoption. Thus, my kids are constantly reminded that they were adopted and that our family is, to the public, different and interesting. Parents who adopt transracially have to do whatever they can to foster a healthy racial identity in their children. This might mean moving to a more diverse neighborhood or city, changing schools, driving further to extracurricular activities where the population is more diverse, finding a mentor for their child, and more. Adopting transracially also means filling one’s home with books, toys, art, music, and films that racially match the child. Additionally, the parents might need to learn how to care for their black child’s hair, educate themselves on their child’s cultural traditions and implement those, and more.
5. Open adoption is becoming increasingly common.
In the past 10 years, open adoptions, defined as the child having an ongoing relationship with his or her biological family, has become more and more of a norm. Some believe that openness means the child will have fewer questions and insecurities surrounding their adoption. Additionally, open adoption can be healing for the child’s biological parents. Though it’s not required that prospective parents who choose to adopt agree to an open adoption, it’s certainly important that parents-to-be are educated on the possibilities and do what’s best for their child.
6. Families-by-adoption are REAL families.
Adoption isn’t second-best to having biological children, though it certainly is different. Strangers do ask a lot of “real” questions, such as: Where are your child’s real parents? Are your kids real siblings? Why couldn’t you have your own kids? These othering questions can be offensive and intrusive, and parents who choose to adopt need to be prepared to answer questions with assertiveness and grace, always keeping in mind what is best for their child.
7. Adoption requires financial responsibility.
Yes, the adoption itself can be costly; however, the ongoing responsibility of parenting children is also costly. Raising children, whether biological or adopted, is expensive, but sometimes adoptees require extra assistance in order for them to flourish. Some parents intentionally adopt children with special needs, while others learn of their children’s special needs after the children are placed with them. It’s important that hopeful parents are prepared financially for the surprises (or predictables) that may arise over the course of the child’s life.
8. Finding a good adoption professional is key.
No matter the route you take to adopt, your adoption professional (such as your social worker) is going to be a key person in your life for a long time. It’s important that the person is dedicated, educated, passionate, empathetic, and reliable. Some parents are afraid to speak up or move on when they feel their adoption professional isn’t doing his or her job well, but for the sake of the family unit and especially the adoptee (or future adoptee), it’s important that the family be comfortable with the professional they choose.
9. There are always unforeseen surprises.
In the adoption community, we call it red tape, speed bumps, and setbacks. Every family by adoption I know has experienced them, and they are distressing. When your family-building dreams are on the line, the surprises often elicit strong emotions. I had a friend go to Europe to adopt her son only to find out she actually had a daughter waiting for her! I’ve known families who have been delayed three or six months in adopting the children they were matched with. It’s helpful for hopeful parents to lean on their adoption-experienced friends during times of trial, because surprises will happen!
10. Adoptive nursing is possible.
Whether a mother provides a full milk supply, a partial milk supply, or no milk supply at all, adoptive nursing is one way a mother can bond and nurture her new child. Other options that help foster attachment between parents and their new children include safe co-sleeping, baby or toddler wearing, and initiating a cocooning period in which the parents intensely provide for the child to help establish connection (feeding, bathing, cuddling, limited visitors, etc.).