Mum, dad – we’re adopting
“When my son and daughter-in-law told me they were going ahead with adopting a baby from China, I wasn’t surprised, because I knew they had been thinking about it. But I wondered if that child would love me the same way as I loved my nana,” says Dawn.* “And I also wondered what it would be like to push a stroller when the baby didn’t look like me – I’m not proud that I thought that, but it was one of my concerns. I also worried about whether the baby would be sick.”
It’s natural for parents whose grown children are adopting to feel a wide variety of emotions. Sadness is common: it can feel like a real loss of “blood kin.” Those grandchildren won’t have your mother’s nose or spouse’s chin. It’s important, as a grandparent, to allow yourself to feel whatever emotions come up when you hear that your grandchild will be an adopted one. None of your concerns or grief makes you any less able to become a grandparent once that chosen grandchild is in your life.
Fears and worries are common and understandable: that the adoption won’t go through, that the child will have health or emotional issues, or that it simply won’t be the same as a biological grandchild might be. In the case of international or cross-cultural adoptions prejudices can seem like a barrier – your own, inside the family, and in your broader community. You may wonder what you could possibly have in common with a child from Russia or China. And in an open adoption, where the child is expected to continue some kind of relationship with his or her biological family, you may be concerned about who will be the “real” grandparents.
Each of these situations is complex – but every child and family has challenges to meet. Adoption is simply another way to enter the family. You may find yourself at a Lunar New Year celebration or helping to make Christmas cards for your grandchild’s birth family, but that won’t make you any less of a grandparent.
And the experience of adoptive families suggests strongly that whether a child is born or adopted into a family, there’s always enough love to go around. As Dana says, “Our [adopted] daughter is 2 years old and ga-ga for grandma. She loves all her grandparents but she truly believes my mom is her best buddy. It’s adorable to watch and the bond they share is not about biology or adoption it’s about love.”
Families share much more than blood – they share history and habits, favourite vacation spots and favourite dishes. As a grandparent you are in one of the best positions to help that sense of family grow, by treating adopted grandchildren as you would any other grandchildren, and make those moments and memories with them.
Here are some tips for creating a positive attitude, from adoptees, adoptive parents, and adoptive grandparents:
• dismiss the idea out of hand – give your child the benefit of the doubt that he or she has thought their reasons for adopting through and that this is truly the best choice for them as a couple
• allow your prejudices to get the better of you and make a comment like “I hope you won’t adopt from a third-world country.” If your child does adopt cross-racially, your grandchild will need your wisdom and support in dealing with other people’s prejudices. The best weapon against prejudice is education – learn about your grandchild’s birth culture, and ask others how they have handled any differences.
• say that you need time to adjust to the idea if you do
• reassure your child and his or her spouse that they have your love and support
• ask your child to share information with you about the baby or child and his or her background.
• ask specific questions about concerns in a positive, problem-solving way – for example, if you are concerned about how to answer a question about why your grandchild doesn’t look like you, ask your child how he or she would handle it, or like you to handle it. Working through those concerns as a family is much more helpful than assuming that they will become insurmountable problems.
• look for local support groups and information for adoptive families, or consult a counsellor or pastor if you feel the need for additional support. The Canada’s Waiting Kids website has an extensive list of adoption groups at: www.canadaswaitingkids.ca/support.html
• decide what kind of language to use together with your child and his or her spouse – referring to a child’s “real” parents can be hurtful, as can “natural” – usually “birth” or “biological” is preferred
• prepare for personal questions – adoption can be a fascinating topic, and often leads friends and acquaintances to pry
• refer concerns from other family members to your child and his or her spouse directly – you don’t have to explain to their aunt why they are adopting; let them decide what to share
• make the adoption process a celebration – plan a welcome party for when the child arrives in the home, and another one for when all the legal paperwork is completed. Ask your daughter or daughter-in-law if she would like a shower.
•enjoy the baby or child for who they are – remember, they grow up awfully fast!
* Names have been changed