As adopters, there are many things we would want non-adopters to know to help them understand us and our children or prospective children. As an adoptive mother and an adoption advocate, here are four misconceptions about adopting a child you need to know about:
1) ‘All they need is love’
The internet is full of inspirational quotes about how all adopted children need is love, how love isn’t biological and how love heals all.
Let me tell you, it doesn’t.
The ‘all they need is love’ adage is just totally wrong.
You say these words to adopters and prospective adopters to make them feel like they can climb this precipice of paperwork and emotional turmoil. We understand you want to support, really we do, we do appreciate it but under our smiles and thank yous is a wry frustration because the superficial nature of that statement (and ones similar along the lines of: you will give them a loving home/ they will be loved by you etc) is painful to us as we hide the truth from you of how difficult parenting an adopted child really is — love alone is just not enough. It is a good start, however, and we know you appreciate this but we cannot heal them with love alone.
These words gloss over their trauma, loss and the varied issues they will carry with them for life.
2) ‘They are young, they will forget it all’
No. No, they don’t. In fact even the very young, even newborns carry a sense of something missing all their lives. There is a sense of trauma. Imagine trying to understand your past when you can’t remember it, you cannot understand why you are being moved around, who these fuzzy people from the past were, you might feel loss, emptiness, a sense of anger and fear and an idea you were not wanted or you did something wrong. A sense of it not being fair, because it isn’t. There is a wealth of research on this and research tells us that if the mother of a growing foetus is experiencing trauma, the stress hormones that she releases will flood the baby too. All of this means difficulty in forming attachments — yes, even that tiny baby who is too young to understand.
3) ’So are you getting a baby? Have you chosen a boy or a girl?′
In the UK adoption system there are very few babies compared to toddlers and older children. This is a good thing. This means we can be proud that our society has changed enough to not shun single mothers. We also have a positive and forward-thinking approach to abortion. All this means that babies are rare in the care system. They are there, they are taken at birth or within the first year due to varying issues in the parental or family home but the likelihood of having a baby placed with you is low. So, no, your friend or family member who is adopting is unlikely to have a baby. This in itself may be a sensitive issue for them, as they are missing that early stage that they may have had to come to terms with before being approved, reminding them again they could not be pregnant and could not form that early bond. Some adopters do not want a baby and this may force them into having to defend their decision to not want a child in the nappy and pushchair stage.
A boy or girl? Well, yes, you can choose but if you stipulate you are going to find your chances of adopting are smaller and come across as a bit, well, design-a-child for your lifestyle. Prospective adopters are encouraged to be more open about gender, though they can state a preference. It is more about the right family for the child, not the right child for your desires.
4) ‘All kids do that’
Maybe they do, in fact I am sure they do. However, does your child scream every half hour for lunch because they have experienced neglect and lack of regular meal times? Does your child seek comfort in the night due to fear of enforced dark rooms and a volatile environment? Does your child throw a tantrum when playing with a sibling due to them being denied toys and comfort when their sibling got it all? Adoptive parents want you to know that our children do behave like your children, but we are aware of issues that are triggers meaning how we deal with it may be very different and our worry about a behaviour is founded in a dark past. We appreciate our chats with you but don’t be offended if we don’t follow your advice.