Most parents have the same general goal: to do the very best they possibly can for their kids. This can mean different things to different people, and what’s right for one family isn’t going to be right for the next.
But, when your family came together through adoption, there are a few general pieces of advice it doesn’t hurt to have on hand. If you’re looking for some guidance as an adoptive parent, here are five amazing things you can do for your child:
1. Make adoption an open topic of conversation.
It’s one of the golden rules of adoptive parenting: adoption should be a topic of open and ongoing discussion from day one. Adoptive parents can (and should) tweak their adoption conversations based on their child’s age, maturity, understanding and interest level, but there should never be a “big reveal” that your child was adopted. Talking honestly and positively about adoption from the very beginning will help your child feel more confident and secure in his or her identity and adoption story.
2. Speak positively about birth family.
On a similar note, it’s crucial to always talk about your child’s birth family honestly, positively and, above all else, with respect. Your child’s birth parents are a major part of his or her story, and your child will be curious about them. Answer their questions truthfully, give them all the details you have (even the more difficult or sensitive ones, as age-appropriate), and, most importantly, assure your child that their birth parents love them and made a brave and selfless decision for them.
3. Maintain an open adoption.
Experts agree that in most cases, maintaining some level of openness is an overwhelmingly positive thing for adoptees. If you are in the process of adopting a child, get excited about open adoption now, and start laying the foundation for a relationship with your child’s birth parents as soon as you receive an adoption opportunity. Keep that relationship going strong after placement, and always follow through on your open adoption promises.
Of course, there are still situations where a birth parent may choose a closed adoption, and it’s important to set healthy boundaries in any open or semi-open adoption (after all, open adoption is not co-parenting). But, even if your contact is more limited, do what you can to keep the lines of communication open — whether that’s through reunion registries or writing letters and keeping photos on hand in case your child’s birth parents ever do reach out to request contact.
4. Make sure your child is well-represented.
All adopted kids can benefit by seeing themselves and their families reflected in the books they read, toys they play with and movies they watch. This is especially vital for children who are adopted into a family of a different race or culture. Stock your toy box with dolls whose hair and skin match your child’s, and line your bookshelves with stories of protagonists from many different backgrounds.
It’s important to go beyond the playroom and make sure your child’s heritage is well-represented in your community, as well. Seek out community “mirrors” and role models for your child in your neighborhood, school and church. If your child was adopted from another culture, incorporate traditional stories, foods and holidays into your family celebrations.
5. Make space for complicated feelings.
Even though adoption has no doubt been an amazing thing for your family, it’s important to remember that all adoptions first involve loss — and that has the potential to create some challenges for adoptees.
Listen to your child. Make it clear that they can always talk to you about any issues they’re facing or complicated feelings they’re having. Acknowledge the very real possibility that your child may, at some point, feel a sense of grief or loss around their adoption — even if it’s difficult for you to understand. If your child is struggling with things like self-esteem, identity formation or attachment, consider reaching out to an adoption counselor for additional support.
In most ways, parenting an adopted child isn’t much different from parenting any other child. In fact, you’ll probably spend a lot more time searching for general parenting advice than adoption-specific guidance.
But it’s also true that adoption is a lifelong journey, and it is an important part of your child’s story and your family’s identity. Taking some time to learn more about adoptive parenting and the impact of adoption on adoptees may be the most amazing thing you can do for your child.
Want more adoptive parenting tips? Stay tuned for “5 More Amazing Things Adoptive Parents Can Do for Their Kids.”