After deciding that adoption is the right choice for building your family, you naturally want everyone to be as excited as you. Unfortunately, this may not happen. While you are at the screaming it from the roof top stage, your extended family may be at the Slow down and consider your options stage or the Are you nuts stage. Remember that your decision to adopt evolved over time after much researching, soul searching, discussing, and praying. Your family has not had the benefit of this process, so it is unfair to expect them to be at the same place as you.
So what do you do if your family doesn't share your excitement about your adoption plans. First, if you think you may get a less than enthusiastic response, consider writing your family a letter telling them of your decision before you talk with them in person. We chose this approach with my husband's parents. They like to think about things and discuss it between themselves before talking with others, so a letter gave them this opportunity. Also, a letter allowed us to explain our reasons, and set the stage for their response by telling them how excited we were.
If you tell them in person, think about what you want to say and choose your words carefully. One friend reported that she started the conversation with "I've got great news!" Her parents assumed she was going to tell them she was pregnant, and their initial response at learning of the adoption was less than she had hoped. They recouped quickly, however, and are now doting grandparents to her two children.
There is no one right way to handle negative responses to your adoption plans, but the first step is to really listen to your family's concerns. So often in conversations, we are plotting our response instead of hearing what the other person is saying. Any of the following may be concerns that are getting in the way of their wholehearted support.
Are they struggling with the basic concept of adoption and think that you'll be a glorified babysitter?
Are they worried about the loss of their bloodline continuing into the future?
Are they grieving the loss of their biological grandchild that would have reminded them of you when you were a baby?
Are they concerned about the race or ethnicity of your child, and how that will affect you --and them?
Do they think adopted children have lots of physical, emotional, and behavioral problems?
Are they worried about the cost and the subsequent financial burden you will carry?
Are they concerned that you are too old to become a parent.
Do they think that this adoption will hurt your biological children?
Don't assume you know what they are thinking; ask them to tell you.
After you understand their concerns, present them with information on adoption. Share the books you've read and highlight the sections you want them to read. Stress to them that this was not a decision you made lightly. It may help to tell them some of your journey to adoption and the research you have done. This is especially helpful if you have not shared all the steps along the way with them. Let them know that you too have some concerns and fears about adopting. Sometimes, just knowing that you are a little bit afraid, frees them up to be supportive. And most important, specifically ask for your family's support. Explain how important it is to you and your childtheir grandchild. I think we underestimate this last step, just assuming that it is a given.
For example, if your father is concerned that your child to-be is of a different race, it may help to explain some of the research on how transracially adopted children and families fare. Let him know that many families are adopting transracially so your family will not be so rare. Explain the education you are getting to help prepare you for the issues that may arise. Let him know your worries about being able to help your child as she grows. Ask for his support. Tell him how much he means to you, and that you are looking forward to seeing his relationship with his granddaughter develop. Remind him of how much your connection (or lack thereof) with your grandparents meant to you in your life.
To help normalize the experience, invite your family to join you at an adoption support group meeting or invite them to a picnic with another family who adopted kids from the same country. Just realizing that kids are kids regardless where they come from or how they join the family may help.
Throughout this time, if necessary, gently let them know that while you are open to questions, you are not open to them trying to change your mind. If they are not receptive to this, give them time and yourself space.
Once your child arrives, most extended families fall in love and their original concerns fade away. However, you need to be prepared that this may not happen. Be very clear in your mind and with them that once the child arrives, your allegiance is to your child. As a parent, you need to protect your child even if it means limiting his exposure to your family.
Dawn Davenport is the author of The Complete Book of International Adoption (Random House) and the host of a weekly internet radio show, Creating a Family: Talk about Adoption and Infertility.
A Creating a Family show on The Reluctant Spouse and Family is scheduled for September 24.
Creating a Family is live every Wednesday, from 12-1 Eastern Time, and all shows are available after they air either by listening to the archived show at www.creatingafamily.com or downloading them as a free podcast from iTunes. To receive notice of upcoming show topics sign in for updates at www.creatingafamily.com.