What I Want You to Know is a series of reader submissions. It is an attempt to allow people to tell their personal stories, in the hopes of bringing greater compassion to the unique issues each of us face. If you would like to submit a story to this series, click here. Today’s guest posts is by Addison Cooper.
I've been a social worker in foster care and adoption for the last several years. A joyous part of my journey has been helping kids finalize their adoptions out of foster care. Many of these kids are older when their adoptions finalize and are able to express how happy they are with their adoptive families; often they're adopted by people they've known for years. I remember one girl - adopted at age 12 - who had lived unofficially with a family for several years before finally being able to be adopted by them. She was so glad to be able to have the last name of the man she viewed as a father. I've seen adoption be joyous for kids. I've also seen adoptions be joyous for the families who have struggled with infertility, pursued adoption out of a sense of ministry, and in either case - stuck with the kids through hard times and happy times. There are many, many happy stories in adoption.
What I want to share, though, is that the happy stories ring the most true when families are honest. I've struggled through interviews with prospective adoptive parents who were brought to adoption because of infertility, but had not grieved their infertility. I've had families in these situations be firmly opposed to any contact (maybe even any acknowledgement) of the child's birth family. They were scared that birth family involvement (of any members - birth parents, siblings, grand parents) would in some way make their experience of parenting less valid. Some were fearful that birth family members would be a bad influence on their kids. Some were fearful that having birth family contact would confuse their kids, or make their kids love them less.
For some reason, openness in adoption became a strong personal focus of mine in training. If I could say one thing to parents considering adoption, it'd be this: Please make sure that you're considering the needs of the child as paramount. I probably need to explain that a bit. Here's what I mean:
There are lots of people in a child's birth family. Grandparents, siblings, parents, aunts, uncles, and family friends all have some insight into and knowledge of the child's history and early life story. It's true that some members of a child's birth family (especially in foster care adoptions) may have some difficult situations going on in their life that make them unsafe for the child to be around. But even if that's the case, it doesn't mean that all members of the birth family are unsafe for contact. And it doesn't mean that --any-- member of the birth family will be unsafe forever. Adoption is bittersweet. It is redemptive. Joy comes, but it comes in the wake of a sad situation. The children I've worked with have celebrated their gain, of permanency, of family, of parents, of safety; but they also have a sense of loss: of history, of family, of familiarity, and sometimes of identity. Maintaining some contact with the birth family - as far as it depends on you - can help mitigate the sense of loss that a child might feel, while making you even more obviously their ally.
Most of the parents I trained hadn't really thought much about openness before pursuing adoption. "What's best for the child?" that's a great question to ask yourself, and the answer will vary from case to case. The answer will always involve the adoptive parent at least exploring the possibility, pros, and cons of contact with a particular person, at a particular time. Even doing this research is a service to your child. Don't be scared!