One of the subjects I have been trying to figure out how to address in these blog posts is how to be supportive to prospective adoptive parents. It has been pretty difficult to address without using broad strokes and without a concrete non-example. The reason for this is that most people are well-intentioned and because they are well-intentioned, they believe that their communications are inherently supportive. But, in actuality, this assumption can mean that you may not be aware of your support “blind spots.”
I would like to start this article with a non-example first and then follow it up with some more concrete examples about what is actually supportive.
Just some background: I have been searching for some support to help me manage some of the emotions and stress that comes up when trying to adopt. This includes fundraising, questioning your parenting abilities, managing my own expectations, and finding balance. In my search I have found no concrete support for those who have not formally began the process, i.e. already have the money for adoption and have signed up with an adoption agency. That means that I have been feeling like I am freefalling at times and to be honest, I am really in need of some grounding from time to time. In my search, I found a Face Book group. I will say that I was already hesitant because I have been following a Foster-to-Adopt FB group for over five years for support and all I found is a lot of misinformation and feeling attacked when I offered support. So, I knew that the interaction with the FB group may not be what I was looking for.
To join this group, I needed to answer three questions. The first of which asked if I was a “prospective adoptive mother.” This question is not uncommon, but causes some confusion. Is this solely a women’s group or is the group falling into the trap of heteronormativity? So in my answer, I asked. The fact I had to ask already put a damper on my hopes that this group would provide the support I was looking for. So in the next question, I asked if there were any LGBTQ members a part of the group. I can’t recall anything about the third question, but I believe it may have asked about occupation.
The following is a FB conversation that followed. I want to make sure that it is clearly understood that the intention of sharing the following conversation is not to shame the FB group administrator, which is why I tried to remove any identifying information. The point is to highlight that this person has started a support group for prospective adoptive parents, is clearly well-intended, and still was not as supportive as she may have intended.
I would like to take a moment and dissect the conversation to illustrate what was and was not supportive in this interaction.
The first part of this interaction that felt unsupportive was the assumption that I had no knowledge about adoption, foster-care, and issues that adoptees go through. This assumption occurs in so many well-intentioned conversations. It comes in the form of asking questions like “have you considered surrogacy?” “Have you asked a family member to carry a child for you?” “Have you considered fostering?” “Have you looked at other adopting agencies?”
I want to emphasize that there is no innate issues with the questions themselves, but where it goes awry is what is being asked for by the potential adoptive parent and what you are providing. If the adoptive parent is looking for support, those questions, at best, point out that there is more work for the adoptive parent to engage in, thus adding to the stress level. At its worst, you have inadvertently tasted the already overwhelmed prospective parent with the task of explaining themselves and all the work they have already done. Again, more work.
This can be especially tiresome for LGBTQ prospective parents. Many of them have already had to explain their very existence to family, friends, and strangers very regularly. In my experience, I feel as though they are asked why they want to be parents more often than heterosexual couples. Society seems to assume that all heterosexual couples want and should have children, but that LGBTQ couples should not, or at least it isn’t assumed that they would want children. Having to continue to explain themselves even more is even more of a burden.
Unsolicited advice works that same way. It implies that the person providing the advice has more knowledge than the one receiving it. It assumes that the prospective parent needs that advice, and again, give the prospective parent more work to do. It is very important to remember that prospective parents have already been through a lot of soul searching and emotional work to even have come to the conclusion to start the adoption process, let alone the arduousness of the process itself.
The unsolicited sharing of personal views can also be a lot. Imagine someone is carrying seven bags of groceries and is trying to get out their keys to open the front door to put it all away. When the overburdened person asks for assistance, the person they are asking assistance from starts giving their opinions on the groceries purchased instead of helping unlock the door so that the groceries can be put away. That puts the adoptive parent in an odd predicament. They need the support, but in order to get it, they have to wait, politely and respectfully, for the other person to stop talking to reassert their needs in the hopes of getting it. What may be a really helpful tip to avoid providing unsolicited advice is avoiding the word “should” whenever possible.
To continue the metaphor, getting caught up in your own triggers would be akin to not only not helping by taking some groceries out of the over encumbered and tired arms or helping by taking the keys and unlocking the door, but instead asking that exhausted person if they mind holding your coat as well.
I want to reemphasize that no one is doing these things in person AND that they happen very frequently. To avoid some of these inadvertent pitfalls in your well-intentioned interactions is awareness and intentionality.
It is very important to be aware of what may be going on with adoptive parents emotionally as well the actual logistics of everything. Being aware of what they may be asking from you and being aware of your ability to provide what is being asked. If you are too emotionally overwhelmed yourself, there is no way that you can provide the support the adoptive parent may be asking for. Two people carrying seven bags of groceries means no one is opening that locked door.
Intentionality is tricky. When I say being intentional, I do not mean be well-intentioned. If you are reading anything on this website, you are clearly well-intentioned. I am referring to being intentional with your communication. Know if your goal is to provide support, answer your own separate questions, or get your emotional needs met. When these things are unclear, it makes it very easy to make assumptions, provide unsolicited advice, or share your personal views. It also makes it easy to become overwhelmed.
If you ask, “How is the adoption going?” Are you looking for an answer to that question, which may be long and nuanced or do you really mean to ask “How are you?” The answers to these questions can be vastly different and if you are not in a place to hear the answer to “How is the adoption going” it can be easy to be dismissive or accidently engage unsupportive behavior. Or even make things weird in your attempt to escape feeling overwhelmed yourself. (I also want to point out that although the adoption process feels all-encompassing, that there is more to the prospective parent’s life beyond the adoption. It is ok to acknowledge it ask about other facets of their lives. It may even serve as a much needed distraction to the stress from the adoption process.)
What would be helpful is open-ended questions, active listening, and validating that this is a hard process and that there will be times that you want to take a break or quit. It’s important to be willing to be willing to hear these things without judgement or trying to convince the adoptive parent that it is a wonderful time. It is. It is also exhausting and can be disheartening too.
I did some research to find more articles as to how one can support friends and family who are going through the adoption process. Here are some of the ones I found to be most salient. The list I have provided are excerpts from the full articles themselves. At the bottom of this post, I am including links to the sites that I took these recommendations from so that you can see a more complete list of suggestions on how to be more supportive.
Be an Educational Force in Your Community
Ways to better educate yourself:
- Review FAQs
- Learn about adoption myths& why they’re incorrect
- Read about birth mother experiences
- Speak with people who’ve been through the process
- Learn proper terminology
- Listen to podcasts
- Review statistics (see image below)
Change Language to Adoption-Positive
Additionally. This may mean not offering other options for having children. This means accepting the choice of the family or offering other options, unless asked.
Listen more than you talk.
It is better to hear what your friend is going through as opposed to offering your opinion all of the time. Sometimes, people listen only with the intent of being able to give their opinions. Although most conversations are led with concern and love, it is best to just be still and listen to your friend as he or she is processing the idea of adoption.
Encourage your friend
Instead of giving directives such as “You should check out this agency,” or “I’m not sure if you should consider that country or foster care,” you can offer encouragement by letting your friend know that you trust his or her opinion about what is best for their lives. Give hopeful and positive thoughts and let your friend know that you are thankful they are sharing a bit of their journey with you.
Be comfortable with your friend’s fears—and tears.
Adoption is an emotional journey filled with many ups and downs. During my own experience, the best way a good friend of mine supported me was by just allowing me to cry to her and “get out” the overwhelming feelings of fear and sadness I was dealing with. She did not offer suggestions about how I could get over the feelings; instead, she listened, and at times, cried with me. Her presence was worth more than any words she could have spoken.
Offer tangible assistance
Some examples of this includes:
Run a fundraiser: Set up a fundraiser where the proceeds go to an agency, charity, birth parent scholarship funds, birth mothers, or to an adopting family in need.
Volunteer: Volunteer to educate others about adoption, become a Big Sister or Brother to kids in foster care, or work at related charity events.
Host a Baby Shower: Often families that adopt don’t get the opportunity to have a baby shower. Consider taking the time to throw a party in celebration of their adopted child.
Use Your Gifts: Whether that’s your professional photography skills, knitting or crocheting abilities, or even writing, there are endless ways you can utilize your personal gifts to support adoption.
Advocate: Use your social media following to speak positively about adoption, share important statistics and stories, or relay the needs of both birth parents and adopting families.
Celebrate significant milestones
Depending on the type of adoption involved, landmark moments might include making the decision to adopt, completing the home study process, matching with an expectant mother or receiving the referral of a child. There are many ways to acknowledge these milestones. To celebrate the start of our process, one thoughtful friend gave us a picture frame intended to hold a photo of our future child. Others simply told us how excited they were when they learned about progress we had made. A handwritten note or card would also be a nice gesture.
Acknowledge setbacks and disappointments.
The “lows” of the adoption process can include anything from a paperwork snafu to a failed match with an expectant mother. If you aren’t sure what to say in such a circumstance, try a simple, “I’m thinking about you.”
After placement of a child: Celebrate the end of the adoption process
In some cases, an adoption is not finalized until after a child has been home for weeks or months. It’s a big deal to be legally recognized as parents, so offer a hearty “Congratulations!” when this milestone is reached. If you are particularly close with the family, you may even consider offering to attend the final court hearing. We were touched and honored to have family members willing to travel by plane to celebrate the finalization of our adoption. I look forward to sharing photos and memories from this trip with our daughter as she grows.
Accept and embrace the child
If your friend has already been selected for a child, or has a child in his or her home that is placed for adoption, then accept and embrace that child just like you would for a new baby that is born into the family. Offer to bring over meals, help with laundry, or sit with the child while the new parents are getting some rest or a much-needed break. Prospective adoptive parents sometimes worry about whether or not a child will be accepted into their family or circle of friends. Ease their fears by loving on and being present in the life of their child.
As promised, here are the completed articles so that if you can read these articles in their entirety: