By: Amy Passmore
Raising children can be a daunting task for any parent, but there are special challenges faced by couples that choose to adopt children who they did not bear themselves. One such challenge is explaining to a child that they are adopted (Jones & Hackett, 2007). Jones and Hackett (2007) found the story of a child’s adoption, or “adoption narrative,” to be quite complex, involving the perspectives of the adoptive parents, the adopted child, the birth parents, and at times a placement agency. These stories are often filled with sensitive topics such as infertility, young pregnancy, and physical or substance abuse. Though these topics can be emotionally charged, the adoptive parents’ openness in relaying the adoption account impacts how well the child will adjust to this new information (Jones & Hackett, 2007).
Brodzinsky (2011) believes it is best for adoptive parents to make the discussion of adoption with their children a process, not a one-time event. It is important to consider the emotional and cognitive development of the child in determining appropriate information to disclose at various ages (Brodzinsky, 2011). This allows the child to process and understand the adoption and to receive continued support from their adoptive parents, rather than being prematurely flooded with information and left to sort through their feelings themselves. Adoptive parents should begin the sharing process early, include their child’s questions in the discussion, and avoid making negative judgments on the child’s biological parents. Emphasizing that children are created biologically and then become part of families creates a smooth transition to introducing adoption, helping to normalize the adoption process for the child (Brodzinsky, 2011). Following Brodzinsky’s guidelines may help ease adoptive parents’ anxieties in anticipating adoption talks with their children.
Wright and Flynn (2006) studied families with adopted children to determine factors that produced a “successful” adoption in the eyes of the parents. Three main markers emerged: being a family, providing the adoptee with a good quality of life, and ensuring for the adoptee’s life to remain of good quality in the future. When the adopted children meshed well with the rest of the family and shared an emotional connectedness with other family members, the adoptive parents experienced a collective sense of “family.” Being a family is also tied to parents’ realistic expectations about bonding with an adopted child and finding joy in being a parental figure (Wright & Flynn, 2006). Being confident that they have provided a better life for the adoptee than they would have otherwise had, believing they have built a solid foundation for the child’s future are also characteristics of parents in successful adoptions (Wright & Flynn, 2006).
For couples that choose to adopt international children, medical, psychological, and development challenges are often experienced (Paulsen & Merighi, 2009). In Paulsen and Merighi’s (2009) study, adoptive parents who prepared for adoption by researching the child’s country and involving their families in corresponding cultural activities experienced fewer challenges overall. Couples who adopted children under the age of two as opposed to older children also experienced fewer mental and physical challenges while raising their children (Paulsen & Merighi, 2009).
Brodzinsky, D. M. (2011). Children’s understanding of adoption: Developmental and clinical
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Jones, C., & Hackett, S. (2007). Communicative openness within adoptive families:
Adoptive parents’ narrative accounts of the challenges of adoption talk and the approaches used to manage these challenges.
Adoption Quarterly, 10(3-4), 157-178. doi:10.1080/10926750802163238
Paulsen, C., & Merighi, J. R. (2009). Adoption preparedness, cultural engagement, and
parental satisfaction in intercountry adoption. Adoption Quarterly, 12(1), 1-18. doi:10.1080/10926750902791540
Wright, L., & Flynn, C. C. (2006). Adolescent adoption: Success despite challenges. Children
and Youth Services Review, 28(5), 487-510.