In a previous blog post we talked about the many ways that a person or family can pursue adoption. As decisions are being made about which pathway to pursue, there are several commonly held beliefs that need to be addressed to help make a well-informed decision. These misconceptions can perpetuate stigma and discourage potential adoptive parents from choosing adoption at all, or they may result in families developing inappropriate expectations for themselves or their child. In this article, we will discuss some common myths about adoption, aiming to provide a more accurate and compassionate understanding of the adoption process.
Myth #1: Adopted Children Are Troubled or Have Behavioral Issues
One prevalent myth is that children who are adopted, especially those who are older, may inherently have behavioral problems or emotional issues. In reality, the behavior of any child, whether adopted or biological, is influenced by various factors such as their biology, environment, upbringing, and individual personality. While children who are available for adoption may face unique challenges because of their past experiences, the vast majority of them lead happy, healthy, and well-adjusted lives when placed in loving and supportive families. In addition, trauma-specific therapy can help provide the child and the parents with tools to help the family be successful.
Myth #2: A Newborn Infant Who Is Available For Adoption Is a “Blank Slate.”
Because of Myth #1, many times people may seek to adopt an infant so they can raise a child who has not had any negative experiences and therefore avoid some of the pitfalls inherent in adopting an older child. While it is true that a newborn has not experienced maltreatment, the reality is that the experiences and actions of the birth mother have a huge impact on the development of the child. The use of substances, including tobacco, while pregnant can result in a wide range of symptoms for the child, including hyperactivity and developmental delays. Similarly, the stress of a difficult pregnancy can result in a child having difficulty with emotional regulation or a compromised immune system. As listed above, there are supports and effective ways to deal with these challenges, but it is important to know that the first nine months of a child’s life is in the womb, and what happens during this time has an impact on the infant’s development.
Myth #3: Birth Parents Are Uninvolved or Don't Care
There may be a temptation to judge the motives of a young woman or couple whose child is available for adoption. However, contrary to popular belief, birth parents are not necessarily uninvolved or indifferent to their child's well-being after adoption. Birth parents who voluntarily choose a family for their newborn often do so out of great love, choosing a life that is best for their child despite the searing pain they experience. Many whose children are placed via the foster care system have made their best effort to parent but were unable to because of their own history or particular set of challenges. The things we think about the parents of our child will impact how and what we communicate to them, which in turn impacts what the child will come to believe about themselves.
Myth #4: Talking To My Child About Their Adoption Will Confuse Them
Sometimes adoptive parents of younger children avoid discussing adoption with their child, whether because they don’t want to confuse them or because they are uncomfortable themselves. Parents of older children may not want to retraumatize their child or bring up bad memories. It is important to know that our children take their cues from us. If we are comfortable discussing their adoption story then they will come to understand it as normally as a traditional birth story. If, however, we treat the adoption as something not to be discussed, then they learn it is not a safe topic and avoid asking us questions. They will then make their own assumptions and possibly come to believe things about themselves that are not true. Children are capable of handling the truth, even when it is painful. If we are able to communicate with them in an age appropriate way, they will be able to develop a healthy understanding of their circumstances.
Myth #5: Adoptive Parents Can't Love an Adopted Child as Much as a Biological Child
It is easy to assume that the formation of a strong attachment with a child who is not your own is impossible, but the reality is that adoptive parents can form deep, meaningful bonds with their children just like biological parents do. While it is true that an older child adopted through foster care, for example, may have some challenges that a newborn does not, it does not negate a person’s ability to develop deep feelings for the child. The love developed by parents of newborns are solidified through midnight feedings and diaper blowouts. Similarly, parents of older children have many opportunities in which they sacrifice their time and energy, thereby strengthening the depth of their commitment.
Myth #6: All a Child Needs is a Loving Home
One of the mistakes parents make when seeking to adopt a child is to believe that by providing a safe, clean home and many of the physical things that they may not have had, a child will quickly become adjusted to their new life and will thrive. These expectations can lead to frustrations if the child has behavior problems or struggles to connect with their parents. Families may complain that the child doesn’t seem grateful or appreciative of what they have done. This approach fails to take into account the complex emotions that a child experiences when they are removed from their home as well as the long-lasting impact of early childhood trauma. The most important thing an adoptive family can provide is an emotionally safe environment in which the child is accepted despite their behaviors and fears. Children need a home where they can express pain and hurt and fear and vulnerability without being rejected. They need relationships where they are not made to be responsible for the feelings of the adults. Parents want so badly to be a family, and their fear may drive them to place unrealistic expectations on the child.
Myth #7: We Can’t Afford To Adopt a Child
It is true that some adoptions can cost up to $40,000 or even more, but adoption through foster care is very affordable and has many financial supports. While some pathways to adoption are more costly than others, there are many creative ideas for families to raise the funds for an adoption. Many families raise money for their fees by creating and selling jewelry or crafts, and some offer friends and family an opportunity to “adopt” puzzle pieces. In addition, there are several organizations that provide grants to families who are pursuing an adoption if they meet certain criteria.
Dispelling myths about adoption is essential for creating a more supportive and understanding community for adoptive families. Adoption is a positive choice that brings joy, love, and fulfillment to many people's lives, but it is not always an easy road to travel. By challenging these misconceptions and going into the process with realistic expectations we can reduce frustrations that are sometimes associated with adoption. Finally, as we encourage a more inclusive and empathetic view of adoption, we come to recognize it as a beautiful way to build families and provide children with the love and stability they deserve.