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Preparation and communication are vital for a successful adoption

Kimberly Powell Professor of Communication Studies, Parent of a Preemie, Author of Living Miracles: Stories of Hope from Parents of Premature Babies Luther College

When considering adoption, many families tend to focus on the fairytale image of meeting a child and instantly bonding--or bringing home a newborn baby. However, this is not always the reality. To ensure a successful adoption, it is extremely important to consider a variety of different ways to adopt, as well as to understand how best to support a child who is adopted.


Do consider a variety of adoption options

When considering adoption, there is a tendency to concentrate on international adoption or adopting an infant through private adoption. These options may be best for some families, yet they tend to be costly. Be open to other options, such as adoption from foster care within the U.S. This option is free to potential parents, and the age range of children in foster care seeking a home is from birth to age 18. Keep in mind that your Department of Human Services can help provide support in the application process.

Do be prepared for possible emotional and behavioral issues

Some adopted children will experience attachment issues that can result in emotional and behavioral issues. Educate yourself on these issues if they arise, so you can best support your child and seek help if needed. Be aware that not all children who are adopted have these issues, and they are more likely to occur in children adopted from foster care or situations where they did not receive much interaction or love in their early years. Working through these issues with your child can be challenging, but also very rewarding.

Do support your children if they choose to find their biological parents

Some children who are adopted experience “ambiguous loss”-- which is grieving when someone lost may still be alive. For children, this means they feel something is missing and experience a longing to connect with their birth parents. Adopted kids sometimes feel as if they have “lost” their birth parents. Although their birth parents may still be alive, they are not connected to them. This feeling of loss can be quite powerful. As an adoptive parent, listen to your children and support them if they choose to find their biological parents to fill this loss. Their loss does not mean they do not love you or need you any less, but they need questions answered about their birth and where they came from. This is natural. In many cases, this desire revolves around the need to see if there are similarities in appearance or mannerisms with birth parents.

Do celebrate “gotcha day” or “adoption day”

Birthdays are key celebrations for children. However, when a child is adopted, the adoption day is just as important because this is the day the child enters into a new family. Celebrate this day--which some call gotcha day--because it is a significant event in the life of a family. Some families take trips, give gifts or go out to eat--any way to signify the importance of the day puts a positive emphasis on the adoption.

Do ensure open communication about adoption

Be open with children about their adoption story from the beginning. In the past, it was believed that children adopted as babies should not be told about their adoption, so they wouldn’t feel different. However, research has shown that many of these children always knew something was different, but it was not discussed. Instead, openly talk about adoption in a positive way. Answering any questions that children have helps them develop belonging, as well as the ability to talk about feelings.


Do not rule out adoption from foster care

While international and private adoptions are very popular, adoption from foster care is free and gives a home to children who desperately need one. There are more than 400,000 children in foster care looking for forever homes. While some of these kids have challenges due to neglect or abuse, working with them to cope with their issues can be quite rewarding.

Do not spoil adopted children

Remember that your adopted children should be treated as birth children and learn responsibilities, just as any other children. Do not shower your children with gifts and attention, or disregard the need to discipline.

Do not expect instant bonding

The “perfect” adoption story that often gets shared is a feeling of instant bonding upon holding or meeting a child for the first time. But this is not always the case--and this is normal. Remember that you were once strangers to one another, until you first met. So give yourselves ample time to get to know each other and to bond.

Do not talk negatively about birth parents

Regardless of whether children want to meet birth parents or not, it is natural that they will have some sort of connection or feelings for them. There are a variety of reasons children are placed for adoption or are living in foster care. Focus on the child and the present, and answer questions about the past in a neutral manner, focusing on the situation versus vilifying the birth parents. Keep in mind that there does not have to be a “bad” guy in the situation.

Do not allow others to label your child as “adopted” or “not real”

Some individuals, including your own children, may label birth children and parents as “real” and adoptive children and parents as “not real.” Educate people against this distinction by reminding them that parents feed, nurture, teach and love their children every day--regardless of whether they are birth or adopted.

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Adoption can be a very rewarding experience and a great way to build a family. It is vital to consider a variety of sources for adoption. Additionally, preparing yourself for raising a child by learning about attachment issues and ambiguous loss can lead to a more successful adoption experience.

More expert advice about Adoption and Foster Care

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Kimberly Powell Professor of Communication Studies, Parent of a Preemie, Author of Living Miracles: Stories of Hope from Parents of Premature Babies

Kim Powell is a Professor of Communication Studies and Women & Gender Studies at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. She received her PhD from the University of Georgia in 1992. Powell teaches courses in public speaking, intercultural communication...

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