Did you know that November is Adoption Awareness Month? Adoption awareness means different things to different people but, for me, it means constantly learning and growing in my understanding of all aspects of adoption.
In the five years since I adopted my daughter, I’ve learned these 10 truths:
1. Adoption is not only about the adoptive parents. I’ve had to expand my interpretation of adoption to include the losses that both my daughter and other adoptees—and their birth families—have endured. I have learned to be empathetic to the wider adoption community’s opinions, even when they aren’t the same as my own.
2. Adoption requires a parent to check her ego at the door. Yes, all parenting necessitates that, but adoptive parenting can often mean sharing your child with the memories of a birth family, the physical presence of one, or most difficult, the longing for the presence or memories of a birth family never met. A possessive, insecure parent won’t be able (or willing) to give the love, support and understanding that an adoptee needs for these complex relationships and emotions.
Read more: How to talk to your kids about adoption>
3. Post-adoption depression is real, just like postpartum depression. It’s best to know the signs in advance and have an action plan in place for how to deal with it.
4. As a writer, words are obviously important to me, but positive adoption language is imperative. The words we choose have deeper meaning, not just for adoptees, but for all people in the adoption community.
5. A community of support and education is essential. I belong to numerous social media discussion groups and an adoption network that helps support my daughter’s birth culture while giving her opportunities to spend time with families that look like hers. Just like sharing stories with your friends, sharing experiences with other adoptive parents and giving my daughter the chance to make friends with other adoptees from her birth country prevents isolation and helps us feel understood.
6. Adoption never leaves my mind. We didn’t simply have “the talk” one day with our daughter and then forget about the fact that she was adopted. Adoptive parents often have to include some awful pre-adoption triggers into their parenting techniques, such as abandonment, abuse, malnourishment, dehydration, developmental and physical delays or challenges and fetal drug/alcohol syndromes. These aspects can be debilitating for both the children and the parents if they aren’t continuously taken into consideration.
Read more: Adoption myths and truths>
7. Embracing your child’s birth family—physically (if possible) or emotionally—and their birth culture (if it’s different from your own) is essential to your child’s positive self-identity.
8. Love does not conquer all. No parent, no matter how loving, can “love away” the damage that is done to a child’s brain when there is a permanent separation from his or her birth mother. There are many effective techniques to establish a strong, healthy bond between an adoptee and adoptive parents, but they won’t “heal” the losses.
9. Open, honest and supportive discussions about adoption, from the moment your child joins your family, help develop healthy attachment and provides support to your child as they process their internal emotions about their adoption. We used the word “adoption” regularly from the day we adopted our daughter, so that it became a part of our family’s conversational fabric.
10. Adoptive parents will encounter many questions, comments and unsolicited advice. It’s best to try to be prepared in advance for how you want to deal with these. Not everyone understands the specific parenting techniques employed by adoptive parents, nor do people always respect your privacy when they can see that a child is a part of a different race than the parents, but this is where adoption awareness really comes into play—to develop respect and empathy for anyone affected by adoption.
Read more: Adoption and celebrity families we love>
Jackie Gillard is a Toronto-area freelance writer with plenty to write about as the second wife to her second husband, mother to the daughter they adopted in South Africa and stepmother to a teenaged boy. Check out her other Today’s Parent articles or tweet her at @PapayaJambalaya.