Adoption is one of the most rewarding—and potentially challenging—decisions a couple will ever make. Here are some tips to help you navigate the complex world of adoption and keep your marriage strong throughout the process.
Before You Adopt …
Get on the same page
One spouse is often more eager to adopt than the other, particularly when infertility is not a factor in the adoption. Process through any fears or concerns your spouse has about adopting. The road to adoption is often a difficult climb; you don’t want to have to shoulder the weight of a reluctant partner. Be sure to discuss how the adoption will factor into other major life decisions including career, education, finances, and family structure.
Do your homework
Read up on the various types of adoptions—public versus private, domestic versus international, open (or semi-open) versus closed, etc. Learn the benefits and risks associated with each kind of adoption and then determine which approach is best for you and your family.
Understand the financial commitment involved. While the average adoption in the United States runs around $10,000, costs can vary considerably (up to $40,000) depending on the type of adoption. Be sure both you and your spouse are comfortable with the amount of money needed. Debt can put strain on any marriage—save as much money as possible prior to the adoption and have a clear plan to promptly pay off any loans needed to finance the rest.
While it is an immensely rewarding opportunity, adoption is rarely a totally seamless experience; expect some bumps along the road. The adoption process can last months, even years. When an adoption falls through, it can be emotionally devastating. Couples who have gotten close to finalizing an adoption only to see the bottom fall out (for example, because one of the birth parents changed their mind) may experience grief or despondency. Be there to offer emotional support to your spouse during this time. To the extent that you are able, try to control your expectations until the adoption is completely finalized.
After You Adopt …
Decide with your spouse how you will communicate with your child about his/her adoption
In the past, a child’s adoption was often kept secret from the child. In the case of cross-racial or older child adoptions, secrecy is not an option. Even when it is possible to conceal a child’s adoption, most experts advise against it. Not telling a child about his or her adoption can create a sense that there is something shameful about the situation. Moreover, as friends and family are generally aware of the adoption, there is always the possibility that someone will slip up and say something.
Be age-appropriate in your communications to your child about his/her adoption—you don’t have to explain everything about the adoption in one sitting. Be prepared to communicate more fully with your child about his/her adoption at various stages of development.
Decide with your spouse how much you will share with your child about his/her birth parents
Depending on the nature of the adoption, you may be aware of details about your child’s birth family. A young child does not need to necessarily need to know all the available details about his or her birth parents, particularly if those details include factors like physical abuse, rape, addiction, etc. However, some children are prone to romanticizing their birth parents, especially during times of conflict with their adoptive parents. For this reason, it may be best to communicate (in an age-appropriate fashion) about some of the realities of your child’s birth parents. While alluding to certain poor life decisions, you can affirm your child’s birth parents’ decision to place their child in an adoptive home as a loving and responsible act.
Help your child adjust
Particularly when adopting older children or children from other countries, try to maintain some cultural and environmental continuity to help your child transition. Familiar foods, clothing and toys can provide reassurance. Let your child become well acquainted with his/her new home and immediate family before introducing him/her to large social gatherings.
Be mindful of—but not paranoid about—the impact of adoption
Some adopted children—particularly those adopted later in life or from abusive or addictive families—may have a higher risk of development issues or emotional disturbances. However, be careful to not interpret ordinary childhood behaviors as abnormal, merely because your child is adopted. All children act out or withdraw at some point. Also remember that “attachment” in older children usually looks different than attachment in younger children. The fact that your recently adopted eight-year-old doesn’t want to snuggle with you may have less to do with attachment issues and more with his/her age.
Foster emotional security
All children, adopted or otherwise, need clear assurances that they are loved—and that their parents’ love is unconditional and unwavering. Be conscious of the fact that, as an adopted child, your son or daughter may need these assurances even more. Just don’t go overboard by constantly affirming your devotion to the point that it begins to sound insincere. Consistency—both in discipline and affection—demonstrates your love to your child and creates an emotionally-safe environment.
Find a support network
A strong support network is crucial for all new parents. Connecting with other adoptive couples can be a great way to process through the unique considerations involved with adoption. Your adoption agency may be able to help you find other adoptive couples in similar situations.
Have your spouse’s back
All children inevitably pit one parent against each other. And it is easy to neglect your marriage amid the chaos of child rearing. But a strong, unified marriage is one of the best gifts you can give your child, so protect it. Have regular date nights and remember that you are a parenting team.