Or, “the talk I would give at adoption conferences if anyone actually thought to ask an adult adoptee.” SPEAKING OF:
1. Adult adoptees exist; come ask us stuff.
It’s not as though you’re adopting the first generation of adoptees, or even international adoptees. Many of us are your peers, or even your elders. We all have different experiences, we all have different opinions and emotions regarding our own adoptions and adoption in general, and we all have different stories to tell. Come talk to us! We might tell you things that are difficult to hear, but it is in the long run probably a helpful thing for you to do.
2. Your child has a family that is not your family.
One of the best things my mom and dad did for me was that in our house, we always spoke honorably of my birth family, and they were always people I was to be grateful to. The Book, after all, tells us to honor our father and our mother, and it just happens that I have more than one set to do that for.
I know in a lot of cases that this can be hard. Abusive parents or parents who abandoned their children shouldn’t have their sins whitewashed or ignored, nor should you not do everything you can to protect your kid, body and soul. (Do the right thing for abuse victims!)
But where you can, affirm the image of God in their birth family and teach them to honor them in healthy ways. Your kid has a family that is not yours, and acknowledging that is to acknowledge their voice and place in this world.
3. Every adopted child has been experienced trauma.
Even those of us who were adopted at a few days or months old experienced trauma by being separated from our biological parents–not that we consciously remember it, but our brains and bodies do. (Check the research.) Older kids have experienced even more–the deaths of their families, abuse, neglect, hunger, lack of love, etc. The list goes on. Read up about trauma in early childhood and how it affects the brains and development of kids. Read about reactive detachment disorder. Don’t look away from the fact that adopted people suffer from depression and die from suicide at a higher rate than the rest of the population. Be ready. You might get lucky and your kid might be fine. But maybe not.
4. Specifically for people who plan on adopting a person of a different race: Your privilege will not protect your child from racism.
First of all, recognize that you are putting your child in a strange position: They will neither be fully part of your race and culture, nor of the one they came from. (There is a term for this; we are transracial or third-culture, depending on who you ask.)
Secondly, people who talk to your child out in the world will not always know you. People do not, for example, know my white parents; they only see my Asianness and therefore feel free to ask me stupid questions or tell me stupid things that they think are compliments: “Your English is so good!” “No, where are you really from?” Or, to my white parents when I was less than a year old: “Does she speak Korean?” (“She’s a baby; she doesn’t speak anything yet.”) And so on and so forth.
The racism I’ve experienced, though, is pretty mild compared to the racism my friends’ black and brown children have experienced or will experience in their lives in America, and that sucks. Be aware of this. If your child is the first person of color that will eat dinner in your house, fix that immediately. (And also maybe ask yourself why that is.) Get to know people that look like your kid, and let your kid get to know them, too.
5. Remember that adoption exists as a result of the Fall.
Don’t get me wrong: Adoption is a great thing and I’m glad that it exists. But remember that if the world wasn’t broken, we wouldn’t need adoption–no parent would die or abuse or neglect their children, and no one would be in a position when they couldn’t raise their child. My birth parents wouldn’t have had me when they weren’t married, and they also wouldn’t have been in a position where my birth would have upended their whole lives. As you adopt, advocate for things that will make it easier for families to stay together, whatever that looks like.