For National Adoption Day on November 17, which strives to raise awareness of the 117,000 children in foster care waiting for permanent homes, we asked adoption professionals, adoptive parents, and birth mothers to weigh in on misconceptions about this wonderful family-building option.
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Adoptive parents aren’t the child’s “real” parents
Truth: Biology doesn’t make a family. What bonds children to their parents isn’t their DNA, but rather the love they are given. “Many adoptive parents question this before having a child is placed with them—it is a natural fear to have,” says Jennifer Van Gundy, LMSW, director of social services for the agency American Adoptions, who was adopted herself. “The reality is a ‘real mom’ or a ‘real dad’ is created by nurturing a bond, loving a child, and providing for them everything you can. Just like biological parents, adoptive parents feel love for their child in the middle of the night, after a soccer goal is scored, or there is an A on a project.” Research shows adoptive parents are incredibly nurturing and attentive, possibly because many wished for so long to have a child. When referring to the child’s biological parents, the term “birth parents” should be used instead of “natural” or “real parents.”
Children who are adopted won’t “fit in” to the family
Truth: Parents and children, adopted or not, will always have some struggle. Parenting is hard, and even parents raising biological children wonder where their kids “came from” sometimes. “Both biological and adoptive parents can struggle at times in their relationship with their children,” says Bobbi J. Miller, Ph.D, LMFT, a family therapist who specializes in adoption. “Based on personality factors and their own individual backgrounds, many parents find it easier to connect with some children than others.” But that isn’t due to any inherent “blood is thicker than water” idea. “Someone actually had the audacity to say to me when they found out we were licensed for foster to adopt, ‘It’s not fair to have bio children and adopt—you’ll never love the kids you adopted like you will a bio child,” adoptive mom Lindsey says. Of course, this wasn’t true, she says. You might not know that these famous celebrities were adopted.
Birth mothers “give up” their children because they don’t want them
Truth: Birth mothers deeply love their children and want what’s best for them. For birth mothers, the choice to place their child for adoption is often the hardest they will ever make, says Van Gundy. It’s not that they don’t want their children; it’s that they want more for them than they are able to give. “Birth mothers place their children in adoptive homes out of love while also bearing extreme loss,” says Tasha Blaine, LMSW, manager of special needs adoption at the agency Spence-Chapin. “Birth mothers think about their children, see their children, grieve the loss of their children, are proud of their children and, of course, want their children to feel loved, follow their dreams, and live to their fullest potential.” Instead of saying “give up,” phrase it as “make an adoption plan”—a little wordier, but more correct. “I did not give up my child—I terminated my parental rights so someone else could be her parent,” says birth mother Rebekkah. “While I could have been her parent, they were in a better situation and could give her more opportunities than I could then.”
Birth mothers are unmarried teens or addicts
Truth: Birth mothers come from all walks of life. Although some birth mothers are teens or have problems with drugs or alcohol, many others are not. “In reality, birth mothers are as economically, educationally, and ethnically diverse as the country we live in,” Blaine says. “They range in age from tweens to women in their forties. They are high school dropouts and college educated. They are married, and they are single.” In addition, some birth mothers are already parenting other children. “These women know the reality of what parenting a child entails and they want what is best for their infant and any children they may already have,” Van Gundy says.
Open adoption is confusing for the child
Truth: Open adoption helps children feel secure in their identity. An open adoption is one in which children and birth families are in contact, either through meetings or letters and pictures. “Openness gives birth and adoptive families an opportunity to develop a relationship that can benefit them and the adopted person,” says Antoinette Cockerham, LCSW, executive vice president of External Affairs and Family Services at Spence-Chapin. “It gives children access to their genetic heritage and can help the child develop a stronger sense of self. It is a truthful way of forming family bonds.” A child can never be loved by too many people—but open adoption does not mean co-parenting. “A child knows who his or her parent is, and that is the person who is there for him every day when he wakes up in the morning, and to comfort him if he gets hurt,” says Monica Baker, MSW, associate director of domestic and special needs adoption at Spence-Chapin. Dr. Miller agrees. “Children have the ability to navigate incredible complexities in relationships, as long as they know they are loved,” she says. “The world is increasingly full of diverse family arrangements, and children are generally more open to this diversity than the adults in their lives.”