November is national adoption month in the USA. Let's take a deeper look at what we know, or think we know, about adoption and it's impact.
Myth: Only babies are adopted or desirable for adoption.
Reality: Adoption is a legal process where one or two people are given all the natural rights of parenthood which include the right to make decisions regarding education, health care, and religion among other things. When it applies to children, it also involves physical and financial responsibilities to make sure needs are met.
When we think of how adoption happens, many people visualize the young pregnant mother either unable or unwilling to raise her baby being whisked away by loving adoptive parents who are unable to have a baby of their own. While this does happen, it is not the average story.
On average 100,000 children are adopted in the United States every year
Only 5% are under the age of 2 years old. 23% of adoptions are of children between the ages of 15 and 17 years old.
What this means is that more and more children are actually aware of a life before and after their adoption.
This has brought increased awareness to adoption itself, increasing circumstances where now we often are sharing the element of adoption with children even if they do not cognitively remember it.
Myth: Adoption only impacts the child and the parents.
Reality: Adoption impacts the entire family and extended family of both adoptive and birth families. It also impacts our communities, our classrooms, our religious gatherings, and our workplaces.
Just as a new child joins a family, this child becomes an opportunity for connection with every family member. It also ripples similar waves of loss in birth families anticipating they will not be able to build the same relationship with this child. This sometimes offsets in arrangements of open adoption, but there is a distict difference for most of them at this time in our culture.
Our classrooms change when we teach biology lessons about dominant and recessive genes and not every student has the family knowledge to share. Some children are teased by other kids for another area to be "different".
Parents often experience a similar feeling of isolation. For the birth parents, the loss may be minimized because the child is still alive. For adoptive parents there can be a loss of support for challenging behaviors because the parents "chose" to adopt this child. Either way, it feels like everyone in the adoption arrangement is blamed when things aren't easy.
Myth: All children adopted from foster care will have "behavior issues" throughout life related to adoption.
Reality: Childhood, like life, is complicated and there is not a single answer or cause for all behaviors. At any given point, every person is vulnerable to stress, biological illness and predisposition, and developmental changes. This is not a minimization of challenges and stressors that come with adoption. However, we all have needs and when those needs are not met sometimes some less than desirable behaviors may come out.
When we are looking to understand the behavior, it helps to consider what the underlying need might be. Are we hungry? The crying baby and yelling adult alike will have trouble being calm with a grumbling tummy or dropping blood sugar. How about tired? The cranky toddler and mother up all night are likely low on patience and logic. Ever feel lonely? Being picked last never feel good whether it is on the tee-ball team or the office secret santa.
At the end of the day, adoption is a beautiful, messy, complicated situation. It is not a magic solution that solves all of life's problems, and it also isn't the cause of all behaviors we don't understand.
So let's help each other out. If you don't know, ask. There are two adoptive mamas right here and we are happy to share the love.