November is National Adoption Awareness Month in the United States and EnergyCAP, Inc., was recently recognized as a Best Adoption-Friendly Workplace by the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption. Plus, my wife and I adopted two boys from the Philippines—one in 2009 and one this past August.
Adoption is on the rise in the United States, a fact we should celebrate! But as we celebrate, let’s do so with understanding. There were many things I wish I understood about adoption before we received our boys.
Here are ten myths of adoption from our experience:
Myth 1: The hardest part of adoption is waiting.
When we completed our adoption dossier, our social worker said, “If you don’t hear from me in a year, don’t worry—that’s normal.” And she was right. Waiting was so difficult…until we received our boys. Then we realized the waiting was easy and the hardest part of adoption is actually getting your child.
Myth 2: There’s not much to do while you’re waiting for your child.
Wrong. As soon as you get your child, your world will turn upside down. Spend the time preparing to offer the best care possible. For example, what trauma has your child possibly suffered? How will you care for a victim of childhood trauma? Set up your support network ahead of time—including those with experience in adoption-related issues.
Myth 3: Adoption will make you feel really good about yourself.
At first you’ll feel like a hero for giving a child a family. But that’ll wear off quickly as you ride the roller coaster of emotions. You’ll feel guilty for expecting good behavior, crushed when he rejects you, and angry that he affects you so much. Adoption made me feel worse about myself before it made me feel better.
Myth 4: Your child will think adoption is the greatest thing to happen to him.
It depends on the age and situation of the child. But most likely he’ll think of his adoption much differently than you will. It’s your dream to get a child, but it’s his nightmare. He’s being taken from his familiar environment to a strange place among strange people—perhaps never to see his former caregivers again. For a child who has already been traumatized, adoption itself can be a trauma.
Myth 5: The best way to make him feel welcome is with lots of people.
Before our first adoption, I invited my family of origin to an adoption meeting in our company conference room. Suddenly the doors flew open and my coworkers surrounded each family member, hugging them, getting in their face, greeting them happily. It made everyone feel uncomfortable. The point? To demonstrate how awkward we can make a new child feel. Perhaps the best welcome you can give is from a distance.
Myth 6: If the child is smiling, then he’s doing great.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “He’s doing so well—he smiles all the time!” If I got paid for every instance, it could fund another adoption. I get it—everyone wants to think the child is doing well, but smiles can be a cover-up. Only those who are consistently around the child know how he’s really doing.
Myth 7: Adoption will complete you.
We adopted our first child because of infertility. We were hoping to complete our family because we felt insufficient. But this was too much pressure to put on him. How could a broken boy complete us? Instead, adoptive parents need to know who they are so they can be who the child needs them to be—whole, resolute, and overflowing.
Myth 8: Your adopted child owes you love.
This myth seems ridiculous to print, but here’s how it breaks down: the child needs a family, you give the child a family, the child owes you love for doing so. You may say, “No sir, I will never think this.” But one day after he has rejected you, you will think, “How can he do this to me? He’s supposed to love me.” And your heart will break twice, once for what he did to you and twice that you thought such a thing. But the love you must have for your child is the love that expects nothing back.
Myth 9: The best way to integrate your new child is to return to normal life.
When you adopt, you inherit a new normal and everyone will be affected by it. We learned to shrink our world, which meant limiting the people we were around, our activities outside of the home, and even our boys’ exposure to extended family and close friends. Everything changed. This might upset others, but the preference needs to be given to your new child. Form your new normal life around your immediate family and a consistent routine.
Myth 10: Save your money for the adoption process.
Adoptions can cost a lot, so you have to save money for the adoption process. You may also receive money from organizations. We received help from my workplace and my church, which had both established funds for the adoption process. However, just saving money to acquire your child is incomplete. Plan to save money for adoption after-care like family therapy, future adoption conferences, or other educational resources. Financially plan to not just acquire the child, but to care for his needs once you have him.
By understanding the unique issues related to adoption, you can better serve adoptive families—or be a family to an orphan yourself.