Helping Your Friends Who Are Adopting

9:42 AMHeather


I woke up to a message from a college friend.  She asked for some insight on how to support her friend whose adoption just fell through.  My heart sank.  I know this scenario all too well, after twenty years working as an adoption social worker.  I replied back to my friend with some thoughts...and then decided that this is a topic that I wanted to address here.  To all my bloggy friends.  Because so many of us have friends who are adopting or will adopt.  

The process of adopting is a roller coaster of emotions, complicated by the lack of information and the misunderstandings and myths about adoption.  Just yesterday I watched a hilarious tongue-in-cheek video about what NOT to say to adoptive families.  The rule of thumb?  If you wouldn't say it about a boob job than don't say it about adoption.  I know--it's a little crass to frame it that way.  But the video makes excellent points.  Because adoptive families do indeed field questions such as, "Oh, are those your REAL kids?"  Or, "Did you get those because you couldn't have them yourself?"

Not good, people.  Not good.  

So today, I add to this general idea by offering some suggestions on how to help and support your friends who are adopting.

1.  Be there.  Yes.  Simple.  Be there.  From the beginning until the end.  Be there.  Be present.  Let them know of your support throughout the whole long drawn out process.  Feel free to ask them how they are doing or what you can do to help.  Because it is a long process of many "hurry up and wait" moments, they may grow weary of answering what the latest is on their adoption.  They will feel stuck through many steps of the process.  BUT, don't we all want to be reminded that our friends are in our corner?  So, go ahead and continually acknowledge that you are thinking of them and this journey and you got their backs.  Every. Step.  Of.  The. Way.

2. Affirm losses.  The very nature of adoption is building a family born from losses.  The losses felt by the birth parents.  Or of the actual birth parents if the child is orphaned. The losses of the child who is not raised with their biological family.  And the losses of the adoptive family who may be building their family through adoption after a very long journey of infertility.  The losses that happen along the way for adoptive families when countries change policy and the wait time increases.  It can be one loss after another.  There are losses of their dreams.  Losses of control.  And the loss of time that the adoptive family will mourn as they miss day after day, waiting for their child through international adoption.  The sticky and delicate dance of loss shared by birth families and adoptive families through domestic adoption.  Not to mention, the ACTUAL losses that happen in this process.

Such as the family I don't know whose birth mother just changed their mind.  I don't know their story beyond that.  But, I can be sure that this loss is compounded by a thousand other losses along the way.  

SO, DON'T DISMISS THESE LOSSES.  Yes.  All caps.  I am indeed yelling at you.  Let me say it again.  DON'T DISMISS THESE LOSSES.  Sure, the family will continue in their process and eventually have a child through adoption.  But, they are grieving the loss of dreams and plans as real as any death anyone might feel.  Nothing can replace the time lost while families wait for their child to come home.  Or the actual baby or child they were planning to adopt who will ultimately not become their own.  It is a death.  So affirm it and acknowledge it as such. Do not dismiss it as if the child they end up with replace the one they lost.  The losses in adoption can never be replaced.  Just mourned and gradually accepted.

3.  Offer concrete ways to acknowledge these losses.  When your losses are intangible and invisible and hard to understand, something tangible to mark them can be quite therapeutic.  If your friends just lost the child they planned to adopt because the circumstances changed, then consider a tangible gift to validate this loss.  Offer to plant a tree in the child's name.  Or buy the adoptive mother a necklace to wear to remember the child she will always think about.  If it is an international adoption and the child is no longer available, make a donation to the adoption agency or orphanage in honor of your friends.  There are so many creative ways to extend a tangible validation of intangible losses.  So do some research and some thinking and do something.

4. Don't fade away.  The process is long.  Tedious.  Annoying, even.  And you may grow weary of asking or wondering about it for your friends.  Can you even imagine how they feel?  Don't fade away.  Just don't.  Text them regularly.  Tell them regularly that you are praying for them and thinking of them.  And then actually pray for them and take time to think of them.  Stick to them like glue throughout the whole ordeal.  Don't stalk them, per se.  But, be mindful and intentional to regularly remind them that you have not forgotten their journey.  Put it on your calendar or task list if you must.  Bring a meal by or a little treat here and there or drop by flowers that just say, "I'm thinking of you!"  Offer a hug and a listening ear throughout the entire process.

Adoption is a marathon.  Not a sprint.  And parents enduring the process need people cheering all along the path.  So, cheer them on.  Encourage them.  Ask them how you can best show your support in this particular part of the journey.  Get your hands dirty in the mud of their circumstances.  Don't shy away.

5. Educate yourself.   Nothing conveys support of a process that you don't understand quite like seeking to understand it!  Ask your friends to help you understand their process.  Ask them for books or blogs or articles you might read about open adoption or their child's birth country so that you can better understand what they are going through and what their family life will include from here on. Or do some research on your own and let them know what you've learned.  Send them links to encouraging blogs or articles or adoption success stories.  Really.  Show love to your friends by taking a little time and making a little effort to really try to get what they are going through.

6. CELEBRATE.  Celebrate every step forward, from completing their home study to being matched with a birth mother.  Or in international adoption, from completing their dossier to receiving their child referral to their travel clearance.  CELEBRATE each of these tiny victories and milestones along their very long path.  However that looks for you.  Offer a hearty congratulations and heartfelt hug.  Or bring a little gift by.  Or take them out for coffee or dinner.  And by all means, when their child comes home, shower them with meals and parenting necessities.  Put a stork in their yard or pink or blue balloons and a handmade sign to welcome them home. Offer to handle the grunge work like cleaning their kitchen so that they can hold that baby or child every second possible.  Or take their other kids for a meal at McDonald's so that they might sit and stare at this miracle of adoption that has finally happened for them.

Adoption is not for the faint of heart.  It calls for fortitude and understanding and patience and flexibility.  It often drains the family all along the way--emotionally, spiritually and financially.  It is a miracle that happens with a high cost to all members of the adoption triad (that means adoptive family, child and birth family).  

If you have friends who are in this process, then please be willing to be part of it all.  Seek to understand.  Don't be insensitive.  If you aren't sure whether it's the right thing to say, then maybe you shouldn't.  Remember, It's ALWAYS right to say, "Hey, I don't know what the right thing to say is, but I'm here for you." 

Invest in the lives of these parents and families.  I can assure you from the hundreds of cases that I've had a front row seat to witness.  It is worth every bit of your time and energy when you see the amazing and miraculous and indescribable result of adoption.  Forever families.  It's a marvel.  So, enjoy the privilege and honor of helping others through the minefields of the process that brings incredible joy in the end.   

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