In the new year, we all strive to make resolutions in hopes to transform our outlooks on life. We may want to exercise more to become stronger or reach out more frequently to friends and loved ones. Awareness is one of the most popular resolutions with which we want to utilize to our advantage, whether it be cultural, political, or social. With 1 in 25 American households with children have at least one adopted child, adoption is a topic of which so many want to become more aware. What many of us do not know is that the common language and phrasing associated with adoption is not only insensitive to all involved parties, but it also conveys the long-rooted ignorance towards the subject.
- “Real” or “biological” vs. “birth” parent
Individuals who have not yet experienced adoption often misconceive that birth parents are lazy and do not want to raise their children. This cannot be further from the truth. Everyone’s familial situation is unique, and we cannot judge books by their covers. Just became a child does not share the same genetics as his or her parents does not make him or her any less of that parents’ child.
- “Give up” vs. “place”
The phrase “give up” is one of the most commonly misused phrases when discussing adoption. A birth parent does not simply give up his or her child out of convenience; the adoption process takes up to several months of careful thought and planning. The birth parents also have much more of a say when selecting the family with whom they want to place their children.
- “Adoptive” parent vs. “parent”
Each family’s dynamic is different and special in its own way, whether built through adoption or biologically. The phrase “adoptive parent” not only invalidates the parent’s status; it additionally isolates that person in terms of his or her ability to raise a child. A parent is a parent, regardless of how he or she built a family.
One of the biggest fears faced by birth parents in adoption is that adoptive parents will not keep their promises about future contact. Many birth parents have heard horror stories about adoptive parents who promised the world, only to cut off all contact after the placement. In adoption, we are asking birth parents to place their trust in an agency and social worker, perhaps based on reputation or recommendation. From there, we are asking them to place their trust in adoptive parents the agency has approved, who they may have only met once or twice. It is not a surprise that birth parents fear a lack of follow through. The only way to ease that fear is to build trust, and trust takes time and relationship to build.
So what can an adoptive family do to ease that fear and begin building trust?
–Discuss your commitment to open adoption in your profile. Don’t make adoption or openness the “elephant in the room” of your profile.
–Reiterate your commitment to openness in person when meeting the expectant parents. Don’t be afraid to bring up openness first in this meeting! You can ask the expectant parents what they are hoping for, and share your excitement and commitment again.
–Solidify your commitment to openness with a symbol or gift. Prospective adoptive parents often want to give a gift to expectant parents when they meet before the birth or at the hospital, and this is a perfect time to continue showing your commitment to openness. A gift like a memory box, photo album, or scrapbook, with an explanation that you plan to send photos or scrapbook pages to fill it up, is a great start to this conversation.
–Offer to sign a legally enforceable future contact agreement. If your state allows for legally enforceable future contact agreements, bring this up with the birth parents. Letting them know that you are willing to put your name to a legal agreement for openness may ease some of their fears.
–Don’t make promises you may not be able to keep. It often happens that families get overwhelmed at the hospital and begin offering more openness than they are comfortable with. If you’re asked for something you’re not sure about, let the birth parents know that you want to think about it or talk about it with your partner or social worker before making a commitment. It is always better to say, “I’m not sure” than to say “yes” and then not follow through.
–Don’t offer more contact during pregnancy if you don’t intend to continue that level of contact after placement. We understand the appeal – if the expectant mom has your cell phone number, she can just text you updates about doctor appointments instead of having to go through two social workers to get this information. We support you in having this level of openness, but only if you are comfortable continuing to text directly after the baby is born. If you would rather have some separation after the placement, you should keep the agency involved in your contact during pregnancy as well.
–Set appropriate expectations. Along the same lines as above, if you intend to have direct contact with the birth parents, set expectations to ensure that everyone is on the same page and no one is disappointed. For example, if you share an email address, you may want to mention how often you’ll check it and how quickly you’ll be able to respond.
–Send pictures and letters on time, and whenever possible, share more than the minimum. Think of your yearly updates as a chance to review your year for your child as well as the birth parents. Share all of those tiny moments that no one else will think are quite as exciting as you do – your child’s birth parents will likely revel in them right along with you.
–Be creative in sending updates. Keep a running list of fun “firsts” and milestones to include in your yearly letter. Consider including your child’s artwork or schoolwork as well.
–Involve your child in sending the update. Ask them to write a note or draw a picture for their birth parents to include.
–Offer visits. Often birth parents are ready for a visit, but may be hesitant to ask to set one up. Include an offer of a visit, whenever the birth parents are ready, in each of your yearly letters. This lets birth parents know that the door remains open, but also that you haven’t forgotten.
–Accept letters and gifts from the birth parents. Some birth parents love to respond to letters, or to send their own letters to the adoptive parents or the child. Others rarely send letters, but never miss a birthday. Always accept these letters and gifts, and either share them with your child now, or save them for a time when it will be more appropriate to share.
–If you make a mistake, admit it and commit to do better. Open adoption is a different type of relationship and it will take time to adjust and get comfortable. It is likely that you and the birth parents will make mistakes and step on each other’s toes as you figure out how to do this delicate dance. Be okay with making mistakes, and quick to apologize and commit to doing better.
The adoption process is often compared to riding a roller coaster with many ups and downs along the way. As you work through the adoption process, you and your partner might uncover some areas of disagreement. Do not panic. Just as disagreements are common in many aspects of relationships, the adoption process is not immune. It’s important to work through these differences while you go through each step along your adoption journey.
Talk with Others
“At first when I brought up the idea of adoption my husband was unsure that he would be able to love a child that came into our family through adoption the same way he would a biological child. Over time, by speaking to other men who became fathers through adoption his fears and worries subsided.” Karen S. an adoptive mother.
By speaking to others who have gone through or are going through the adoption process, it can help bridge the gap in some of the more common differences you and your partner might initially start out with in regards to the adoption process.
Talk with Your Social Worker
Anytime you have questions or concerns, it’s important to be open with your social worker. Talking to your social worker about the differences you and your partner are feeling is important and your social worker may be able to help bridge the gap.
Times to Compromise and Times NOT To
Compromising is a key ingredient to any strong relationship and it will be important when you undergo the adoption journey together. However, there are times to compromise and times it’s best not to.
When disagreeing on which photos to include or what to write in the profile, working together and making comprises can go a long way. If adopting as a couple, it’s important that the profile reflects BOTH parents so that expecting parents can get to know each of you.
There are time when it’s best NOT to split the difference and meet in the middle. For example, while completing your profile key detailing the placement situations you are open to, you may uncover some differences. Maybe it’s about the level or type of prenatal drug or alcohol exposure, it could be about the level of openness, or possible the racial background of the child. Whatever you disagree about, it’s important to first make sure you are open to truly listening to the other person’s concerns. Now is not a time to dig in and shut down. Figuring out where your partner is coming from is important. This is a huge lifelong decision that should not be taken lightly. Doing research about the things you disagree about can be helpful and will give you factual information to then base your decisions from.
A general rule of thumb for couples when completing their profile key is to select the option in each section that matches the highest common denominator which both people agree on. For example, you may be open to 3 visits with birth parents a year and your partner is only comfortable promising 2 or your partner is open to alcohol use throughout the entire pregnancy, but you are only open up to the first trimester. The recommended selections for your profile key would be 2 visits and alcohol use in the first trimester that way it falls in each of your comfort zones.
You may miss out on some placement opportunities but the focus of the agency is to place a child in the home best suited for them and so being really honest with yourselves about the situation you are ready for is vital. Social workers would not want to place a child in a home where a family quickly says yes to the situation presented without truly thinking it through thoroughly and later find they are both not fully comfortable with the placement.
Different Responses to the Wait Time
The waiting can be one of the hardest part of the adoption process and each prospective adoptive parent handles it differently. Some people want to nest and get ready for baby by buying a few items each month during the wait while others do not want to have that buildup for something there is no set time frame for. Some waiting families want to know about every situation they did and didn’t match for each month while others find having that information makes the wait harder.
Keep in mind, you and your partner may experience the wait differently. You may find that you need to soak up as much time as possible with other waiting families so attending the support groups, education classes, and online communities are a great way to do that. Your partner, on the other hand, may prefer to let the waiting just be while they throw themselves into work until the time comes when you are matched. Your partner may be triggered by things like family celebrations or birth announcements while you become excited thinking that one day that will be you too. Whatever way you manage the wait, keep your lines of communication open with your partner as well as your social worker. Empathy and understanding go a long way.
Just the Beginning….
The adoption journey is just the beginning of a whole new type of disagreements and compromises that come with being a parent. You will find what works best for you as a couple and for your child and how you navigate those differences as a parent.
One of parents’ biggest fears involved in adopting a child is the unknown relationship your other children will share with the newest member of the family. Through that concern, it’s important to remember that new relationships always have an adjustment period and it’s no different with children. Adoptive siblings are no different than biological siblings in the sense that they won’t always get along. Ultimately, they are siblings and that bond will be formed no matter how it happened. Here are a few ways that you can help siblings bond with their new adoptive sibling.
Be Open And Honest
Before the change begins, have a discussion with your children about changes in their life. Just like you would if you were pregnant, let them know that there is a sibling joining the crew that is eager to meet them. It’s important to be transparent about all forms of adoption, especially bi-racial adoption. Children are very inquisitive individuals and they’re going to notice changes. Have the talk, be open to any and all questions your children may already have. Preparing them for a sibling through adoption will profit the outcome.
Play Your Role As The Mediator
Every person involved in the growing family is going to have their own complex set of emotions through the process, especially the children. As adults, it’s crucial to be all ears for your children on any questions or concerns they have. All feelings need to be taken into consideration for a smooth transition to take place in your home. Children may surprise you with how vocal and honest they can be about their concerns . Conflict is easily avoided with an appropriate amount of listening and learning.
Enforce One On One Sibling Time Together
I know what you’re probably thinking… this is a given. All children need to spend time together in order to get to know each other, but the key is knowing what they both enjoy and can do together. Finding common ground and interests with others at any age is the first step to forming a connection and will certainly assist in the bonding process of new siblings. Whether the bonding is presented with direct contact or within the same vicinity, the experience of the time together will help. Your children being happy and comfortable together will always end in acceptance and relationships.
Sibling bonding will happen in all sorts of ways, all very different. With that being said, every experience will be unique to the child and their needs will be too. Don’t overthink the situation, every child loves siblings and a forever friend to play with. Keep the process light, loving, fun and embrace every minute of adoption!
Adoption laws vary greatly from state to state. It’s best to learn your state’s specific adoption laws. If you end up getting matched with a child outside of your state, you should familiarize yourself with the adoption laws of that state as well. One aspect of adoption law that varies the most is the revocation period. This is how much time a state gives a birth mother or birth father to change their mind after signing consents for adoption. For the purposes of this blog, we are only going to discuss Pennsylvania’s Revocation Period. Down below you’ll find out who can sign consents, when consents can be signed, and what happens after the revocation period.
Who Can Sign Consents?
The birth mother and birth father of the child are required to sign consents. It is also possible for the birth father’s right to be involuntarily terminated without his consent. This depends on if he does not live with the child and is not married to the child’s mother. His rights can also be involuntarily terminated if the birth father has not made any effort to contact or provide financial support for 4 months. This is also called the Abandonment Period.
When does this happen?
A birth father can sign his consents before or immediately after birth. However, the birth mother is required to wait 72 hours after birth before signing.
The Revocation Period
Pennsylvania is among the few states that give birth parents 30 days to revoke their consent. Birth parents are given additional time if they have a claim of fraud or duress. The revocation period also cannot be waived in Pennsylvania. Birth parents’ consent is revocable if the court finds any fraud or duress. A petition must be filed within 60 days of the birth or the execution of consents (whichever is later). Or a petition must be filed 30 days after entering an adoption decree (whichever is earlier).
The Court Hearing
A court hearing will be held for the termination of parental rights. Birth parents are not required to attend, but they are required to receive notice of this hearing. The notice is typically sent via mail 10 days prior to the hearing and can also be signed in person.
When movies and TV shows discuss the topic of adoption, phrases such as “she gave up her baby” or “his/her real parents” are commonly used. What people don’t realize is how hurtful those statements can be. The truth is how you say something is completely different then how those words are interpreted. Being educated on adoption language will help you navigate through some potentially sensitive conversations.
Positive adoption language means choosing words and phrases that show respect to everyone involved in the adoption process. Here is a quick guide to positive and negative adoption language.
Birthmother, birthfather, birth family, birth parent – are all words used to describe people who conceived and gave birth to a child and their families. It is important to remember that all of us have birth parents, but not all of us live with them.
Parent, mother, father, mommy, daddy, and child – these words the members of the adoptive family. It’s not necessary to say adopted child or adoptive parent unless the conversation or situation specifically centers around adoption.
Make an Adoption plan, choose adoption, arrange an adoption, place a child in an adoptive home – these terms acknowledge that the birth parents were responsible and active in making this decision.
Parent her child – this phrase is used when a birth parent decides not to choose adoption.
Abandoned, surrendered, released, relinquished, gave up for adoption, gave away, adopted out, or put up for adoption – these terms are not a good description of the ways in which most adoption plans are created. These terms give adoption a negative connotation.
Real parent, real mother, real father, real family – these terms suggest that the adoptive family relationships are artificial and temporary.
Natural parents, natural child, one of your own – these terms imply that the relationships in an adoptive family are not as strong or lasting as the relationship by birth.
Keep her child – this suggests that the child is a possession and ignores the parenting responsibilities
|Child by birth or biological child||Real child or natural child|
|Our child by adoption||Our adopted child (it’s not necessary to use “adopted”)|
|Person who was adopted||Adoptee or adopted child|
|Deciding to parent the child or parenting||Keeping her child|
|Meeting or making contact with||Reunion|
|Locate or contact birthparents||Search or track down birthparents|
|Child from another country||Foreign adoptee or foreign child|
|Was adopted||Is adopted|
|Genetic relative||Blood relative|
Using positive language when talking about adoption will be helpful in any future conversation you may have. It will show whoever you are talking to that you have respect and understanding for all aspects of adoption.