Adoption: Dealing With Reluctant Family Members
A step-by-step guide to helping loved ones feel more comfortable with your adoption decision.
You're ready to shout your news from the rooftops: You're adopting! Although you might expect that people who love you will be just as thrilled as you are, you could get a whole lot of weird responses -- anger, grief, and even some pretty negative comments. So what gives? "I think a lot of people truly believe those well-documented stigmas of adoption -- the bad-seed adoptee mythology, the theory that you can't love a child who is not blood related," says Amanda Baden, Ph.D., a psychologist who specializes in adoption, and co-editor of The Handbook of Adoption: Implications for Researchers, Practitioners, and Families. "Our history as human beings and our lineage are often based on biological connections -- and upending that can be hard for some people to understand."
And thanks to the multitude of weird (and inaccurate) ways adoption has been portrayed in movies and on TV shows, your loved ones may have a skewed sense of what adoption's all about. "Reluctance is extremely common because people do not know a lot about either the adoption process or adoptive families," says Joni Mantell, L.C.S.W., director of the Infertility and Adoption Counseling Center in Pennington, New Jersey. The good news is that there's plenty you can do to get a reluctant friend or family member on board with your plans.
Understand that they're probably not trying to hurt you. A loved one's concerns about your adoption can read like an attack. But odds are their negativity is either an expression of worry and love for you or the result of a hang-up that needs addressing. "Some of the reluctance may be because they have not been as close to the family-building journey as the couple and they are taken by surprise," Mantell says. "They may have stereotypes about adoption or feel an acute reaction to their loss of a biological grandchild, or they may have cultural biases about adoption that make it hard for them to understand the way the couple is thinking about it." Try asking them questions to try to get to the bottom of what's bugging them about your adoption, so you can try to help them get over it before your baby arrives.
Educate them. You can't simply ignore the issue and hope it goes away. While you're waiting for your child to arrive, help your loved ones become more comfortable with adoption. You could work with your adoption agency to find workshops geared toward supporting reluctant family members, or look for articles and books that address their concerns. "Education is an important part of it," Dr. Baden says. "Sometimes it helps for them to meet other adoptive families. A lot of the ignorance is based on not knowing other people who have these relationships."
Give them some time to come around. It may not happen overnight, but most people do warm up to the idea of your adoption eventually. "If getting used to adoption is the issue, time may be all that is needed," Mantell says. "If you think more is involved, let them know how you feel and what your expectations are for their interactions with your child." That may mean letting your loved ones know that if they aren't on board, they may miss out on life with your family.
Remember that your family comes first. In many cases, reluctant grandparents-to-be melt when they finally meet (and get to hug) that new little one. But that isn't always the case, so if you have a family member who is truly having difficulty dealing with the adoption, realize that protecting your child may mean cutting that person out of your life. "You have to be protective of your family, and set boundaries with friends and family," Dr. Baden says. "If they can't work out their feelings, you have to have very limited contact. It's not an ultimatum as much as protection. Eventually, your child can tell those who don't see him as a true family member, and that can be really painful for him."
Copyright © 2014 Meredith Corporation.