This November, we will celebrate the 9thanniversary of our first daughters adoption into our family. Because we were among the earliest families to adopt from China when it reopened in 1994, agencies, social workers, the NY FCC, and prospective adoptive families gave our phone number out so that we could be a help and support to those following in our footsteps. We averaged approximately 25-30 phone calls per month the first two years that our daughter was home! Initially, the phone calls were filled with questions about packing, sightseeing, and best agencies. It wasnt long, however, before the questions changed to a much more serious nature. Questions about a childs adjustment, attachment, and particular behaviors began to surface. The phone calls were often tearful, fearful and more than a little disconcerting. It was not long before it became more than evident that neither agencies nor adoptive parents were preparing themselves for the potential issues that are very real with our adopted children. They were not prepared, and nobody was talking about the issues. Consequently, not only were the parents at a loss, they often felt alone and isolated.
I have been involved with adoption, in one way or another, personally for nearly 20 years. I have been involved professionally, for nearly half of those years. I have parented 2 birth sons (one in college and one in high school) and 2 adopted daughters (one home nearly 9 years, one home 6 years). I have been very active in the adoption community, in the local Chinese community and in China and Hong Kong. Perhaps for all of those reasons, the number of emails and phone calls that I get on an almost daily basis have only increased. The questions over the years have become almost exclusively pleas for help and support as parents face the challenges of working through various issues with their children. These pleas led me to devote the last several years to pre-adoption training, as well as to the writing of an adoption parenting manual.
Because of this background and my current position as Parent Education Trainer for an agency that believes strongly in the benefit of pre-adoption preparation, I have followed recent discussions, on various lists, about the pros and cons of mandatory parent preparation classes, with a great deal of interest. I have also felt compelled to share from my heart on this subject.
I realize this is a sensitive topic, and in general, I agree with those who argue that we do not want any further government interference in the process that all of us have to go through to add our children to our families through the miracle of adoption. I agree that this makes sense in the very broadest application. But my experience tells me that pre-adoption preparation is vital, and if it has to be mandatory to insure that parents receive it, then I am for mandating it. The hundreds of families who have called, emailed, and/or sat in my living room asking for help in dealing with issues in attachment, post institutional behaviors, birthmother issues, transracial issues, to name a few, have convinced me of this necessity. These families have already adopted their beloved children, have already been home for months or sometimes even years, and are just now realizing that their children have challenges that they should have/could have/would have been dealing with from the beginning. That it is rare for a person to raise their hand when I ask in my workshops who has read or researched potential issues in adopted children, convinces me of the necessity of pre-adoption preparation. That families still feel it is their fault when their children have issues to work through convinces me. That families still believe the myth that love, nutrition and six months are all it takes to guarantee their childrens emotional well being, convinces me. That the majority of families feel there are no differences in the needs and potential issues of birth children and adopted children, convinces me. That some adoption agencies still pretend that there are no potential issues and risks in adopting a child, convinces me. That orphanages have asked for my input and assistance, convinces me. That parents who initially grumbled about spending all day in a workshop are asking for more at the end of the day, convinces me. That parents who are in process for their 2nd, 3rd, or 4thadoptions sit in my workshop and cry, because they wish they had been taught these things before their first adoption, convinces me.
Hague will require adoption agencies to provide a minimum of 10 hours of pre-adoption education and preparation for all adoptive families. It also regulates what is to be included in this 10 hours of training. It is true that it will be difficult to guarantee how in depth the topics are covered and how well they are presented. However, because agencies will have to be Hague compliant in order to remain in business, I think we can be hopeful that they will be careful that their program will be presented by someone who is experienced and well-versed in all the areas covered.
We have to understand, as adoptive parents, that our gain the gain of our beautiful, wonderful childrenis because of lossnot only the loss of a child by the birthparents, but also the loss of the birthparents by our children. We have to appreciate the reality that we have to begin parenting our newly adopted children in the midst of unknowns about their family medical histories, their prenatal care or lack thereof, their delivery, and even about the care they actually received prior to our adoption of them. We need to see adoption from our childrens perspective that everything in their world has changed and turned upside down, they have been transferred to strangers and all of that can be so very frightening to a young child. We need to accept that abandonment, institutionalization, disrupted attachments, neglect and all the other potential conditions and circumstances will not leave our child unaffected. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we have to become educated about attachment, and prepared to do all we can to facilitate secure and trusting attachments from our children to us, their parents.
The love and joy and belonging that we feel for our adopted children are equal to the love, joy and belonging that we feel for our birth children. They are our real children and we are their real parents. Yet the differences in their beginnings and in the way they come into our family, and consequently the differences in what their potential issues may be, and how we respond to those issues, must be faced and addressed. Most adoptions have happily ever after endings, but sometimes the road from here to there is pretty bumpy and even painful. The families whom Ive had the pleasure of helping to prepare before their adoptions have shared with me that because they were prepared, the bumps did not seem quite so overwhelming. They have also shared that because of their preparation they knew when to seek professional assistance, and they did not feel alone in their challenges. Those that find me after they are home are relieved to have found support, but deeply regret their lack of preparation and education before they adopted their precious child.
If you are reading this, and you are one of those who have taken the initiative to ask questions, research the answers, and take preparation classes, I applaud you. However, it is my experience that for everyone who is such a person, there are many, many more who are not. Additionally, there are agencies that do not prepare their families, and many families who are not even aware that there are questions to be asked, let alone where to find the answers. We have come a long, long way in the last several years in regards to the avenues, openness, and acceptance with which we now discuss the differences in adoption and adoptive parenting. As encouraging as this is to me, I also feel we have further to go. Whether we all can or cannot agree on whether pre-adoption preparation should be mandatory, I do hope we can someday get to the point where we can agree that it is important, valid and necessary. Patty McLaughlin is the Parent Education Trainer for Florida Home Studies and Adoption, Inc. and the author ofDifferent But Equal,an adoption parenting manual. Patty and her husband Mike live with their four children in Largo, FL, where their oldest is in college, and they home school their 3 younger children. Patty can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org@flhomestudies.com.