Winning Over Reluctant Extended Family in Adoption

Dawn Davenport


When you family is not excited about your adoption plans

You’ve decided to adopt. You’ve thought about it, researched it, discussed it, and if you’re the praying sort, you’ve prayed about it. The decision has been made. Whether you approach adoption after years of battling infertility or simply as an alternative way to add to your family, you are at this point beyond excited, and naturally you want your family to be as excited as you.

Unfortunately, this may not happen.

While you are at the screaming it from the roof top stage, your parents, siblings and extended family may be at the “Slow down and consider your options” stage or the “Are you nuts” stage.

Remember that your decision to adopt evolved over time after much researching, soul searching, discussing, and praying.  Unless you’ve shared every step of this journey with them, your family has not had the benefit of this process.  So while it might be nice if they were totally psyched about your adoption, it’s probably unfair to expect them to be at the same place as you.

So what do you do if your family doesn’t share your excitement about your adoption plans?

Reluctant Extended Family in Adoption-How to Tell

Sometimes we get caught up with our dream of how we would have announced a pregnancy. We imagine being the center of attention surrounded by hugging and crying relatives sharing our excitement as a united family. While I firmly believe that adoption is an equally exciting way to create a family, not everyone agrees. Adoption is the the “usual” way and misconceptions are common. Anticipate this when sharing your plans to adopt.

If you think you may get a less than enthusiastic response, consider writing your family a letter telling them of your decision before you talk with them in person.  We chose this approach with my husband’s parents.  They like to think about things and discuss it between themselves before talking with others, so a letter gave them this opportunity.  Also, a letter allowed us to explain our reasons, and set the stage for their response by telling them how excited we were and that we hoped they would share our excitement. And for the record, sending a letter by regular mail is far more impactful than by email or text.

If you tell them in person, think about what you want to say and choose your words carefully.  One friend who had been trying to get pregnant for 3 years reported that she started the adoption conversation with “I’ve got great news!”  Her parents assumed she was going to tell them she was pregnant, and their initial response at learning of the adoption was less than she had hoped. They recouped quickly, however, and are now doting grandparents to her two children.

Should you tell your parents and siblings together or apart? If you think your father may be the most resistant, perhaps tell your mom in private and ask her ideas on how to talk with your father. Together you may decide it is best for her to talk with your father first so that she receives (and remembers) the initial response rather than you. Or maybe you want to tell your sister first to have an ally if you are expecting reluctance from your parents.

Reluctant Extended Family in Adoption-Where to Tell

Be especially thoughtful about where you tell your family. For example, if you expect the news of your adoption to be a shock or to be less than enthusiastically received by anyone, the holiday dinner table is almost never the best place to drop the news. You know your family so think carefully about how the most important members (parents, siblings, etc.) would prefer to receive unexpected news: together or individually; in person or by phone or by letter; by you alone or with your spouse.

Handling a Negative Response

There is no one right way to handle negative or less than enthusiastic responses to your adoption plans, but the first step is to really listen to your family’s concerns.  So often in conversations, we are plotting our response instead of hearing what the other person is saying.  Any of the following may be concerns that are getting in the way of their wholehearted support.

  • Are they struggling with the basic concept of adoption and think that you’ll be a glorified babysitter?
  • Are they worried about the loss of their bloodline continuing into the future?
  • Are they grieving the loss of their biological grandchild that would have reminded them of you when you were a baby?
  • Are they concerned about the race or ethnicity of your child, and how that will affect you –and them?
  • Do they think adopted children have lots of physical, emotional, and behavioral problems?
  • Are they worried about the cost and the subsequent financial burden you will carry?
  • Are they concerned that you are too old to become a parent?
  • Do they think that this adoption will hurt your biological children?

Don’t assume you know what they are thinking; ask them to tell you.

After you understand their concerns, present them with information on adoption. Share the books you’ve read and highlight the sections you want them to read. Stress to them that this was not a decision you made lightly. It may help to tell them some of your journey to adoption and the research you have done. This is especially helpful if you have not shared all the steps along the way with them.

Let them know that you too have some concerns and fears about adopting.  Sometimes, just knowing that you are a little bit afraid, frees them up to be supportive.

And most important, specifically ask for your family’s support. Explain how important it is to you and your child—their grandchild.  I think we underestimate this last step, just assuming that it is a given.

For example, if your father is concerned that your child to be is of a different race, it may help to explain some of the research on how transracially adopted children and families fare. Let him know that many families are adopting transracially so your family will not be so rare. Explain the education you are getting to help prepare you for the issues that may arise. Let him know your worries about being able to help your child as she grows. Ask for his support.  Tell him how much he means to you, and that you are looking forward to seeing his relationship with his granddaughter develop. Remind him of how much your connection (or lack thereof) with your grandparents meant to you in your life.

To help normalize the experience, invite your family to join you at an adoption support group meeting or invite them to a picnic with another family who adopted kids from the same country.  Just realizing that kids are kids regardless where they come from or how they join the family may help.

Reluctant Extended Family in Adoption-Tell, Don’t Ask

Our attitude is one of the most important parts of telling our family our adoption plans. We are growing our family, we have decided that this is the best way for us, we are not asking their permission. It is almost never necessary to make this statement, but it should be inherent in our approach.

If your family seems to be confused on whose decision this is, gently let them know that while you are open to questions, you are not open to them trying to change your mind.  If they are not receptive to this, give them time and yourself space.

Once Your Child Arrives

Once your child arrives, even the most reluctant families fall in love and their original concerns fade away. You need to be prepared, however, that this may not happen. Be very clear in your mind and with them that once the child arrives, your allegiance is to your child.  As a parent, you need to protect your child even if it means limiting his exposure to your family.

If your family was less than thrilled about your adoption, please share your story in the comments to help others who are going through this feel less alone.  It is so disappointing, discouraging, and sad to not have your parents, brothers or sisters support something that means so much to you.

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First published in 2009; Updated 2017.

01/02/2017 | by Dawn Davenport | Categories: Adoption, Adoption Blog, Blog | 12 Comments

12 Responses to Winning Over Reluctant Extended Family in Adoption

  1. Avatar Sherrie says:

    We adopted from foster care , we had 27 foster children and adopted 4. My one brother and his wife asked if they had to buy our children presents because they weren’t blood related, my other brother said we got our kids from the street.Very hurtful and there was so much I could write books of the hurt they did. My mother in law wasn’t thrilled wanted my sister in law to carry a baby so my husband could have a biological kid.. talk about a low blow…but my parents we very accepting and my kids became the closest to them of all the grandkids and know more about my Dad then the others. My mother in law,finally came around and accepted them as hers. My oldest brother adores them. We are blessed 4 xs over.

    • Tracy Whitney Tracy Whitney says:

      I’m so glad that your family has come around. I’ve noticed in my own life that when folks don’t understand much about adoption and all the layers and complexities, they often resist it. Finding that fine-line balance of gently educating those around you and protecting your child is hard and varies with each relationship so much. If you are looking for support and connection of other adoptive families who “get it” might I suggest our online community. You can find us here:

  2. Avatar Yolande says:

    I was asked if I really wanted the child of “drug addicts and prostitutes”, my mother was told “to stop” me, we were told adopted children were “the bottom of the pile”. I was also frequently asked if my husband was on board (he comes across as less adventurous than me). I had my fair share of negativity. 🙂

    I didn’t care very much. I have always done what I wanted and that has worked just fine. I told those family members that kids can’t be held responsible for their parents choices and what they suggest we do with these children – burn them? That shut them up.

    After my gorgeous daughters joined our family, the some of the very same people started considering adopting, said “of course they would have adopted, had they not been able to conceive” and regularly send my kids presents.

    I think it is important to remember those reactions are fear based and that adoption is not for the faint hearted. They were worried for us, but also for what it would do to our family/them. Their worries for us I can accept, their selfishness I can’t. But that didn’t come as a surprise to me. I know them well, accept them, but I certainly won’t have them make any choices for me. They on the other hand knew that they had zero chance of changing my mind, so they didn’t try very hard.

    Like others I have spend a lot of time educating others about adoption.

  3. Avatar Dawn says:

    Laying the groundwork is all you can do. If it doesn’t work out, you know you’ve done all you can do. I suspect that it will work out. It sounds like you and they are really trying. I wish you the very best of luck.

  4. Avatar Dawn says:

    Gang’s Momma raised a really interesting point. I hear from families that the grandparents often don’t “get” the ideas of forming early attachment.

  5. Avatar Anonymous says:

    To say your family will not go through some adjustments is not realistic. Even if you were to adopt a white baby there may be ignorant hurtful questions you would not experience if this were your biological child. But when you adopt a black, biracial or child of another ethnicity you are no longer a white family. You experience all the hurtful prejudice comments down to your very core with sadness and a sense of mother bear protectiveness towards your child. Your awareness of this much improved but ongoing ignorant judgement is brought to a magnified level. And because of your deep love for your child that transcends color and race, you also become a shining example of how love for one another,while still embracing unique cultural differences one relationship at a time can slowly make a huge difference. I have seen almost all my relatives and friends grow to love our son unconditionally and reevaluate their hearts towards acceptance of others also. This has proved to be a very rewarding added bonus that we could never have anticipated. We will continue to evolve and learn together as a family with a foundation of unconditional love that hopefully will continue to spread. Good luck to all of you, try to practice patience and love with your relatives. Most, maybe not all, will come

  6. Avatar Emma says:

    I am still at the very beginning of the adoption process. And as you will see on my blog, my parents had the worst reaction possbible. I found reading this post and the comments very encouraging. Thank you.

  7. Avatar Lynne says:

    We are in the stage of discussiong adoption. I am adopted and have always known. My husband is african american so we crossed the racial barriers a long time ago. We do have one biological children and have not been able to have more. My family has a hard time giving up on ‘my’ dream. I am shocked that they seem so closed minded to me adopting when that is the path they took .

  8. It’s also hard once the adoption is under way, to have conversations about attachment and bonding. The old “it’ll all work itself out” mentality seems to be the common response. You know, “Oh, you are worrying about things that haven’t even happened yet.” Or, “You are fussing too much, just let it be what it is and it’ll be fine.”

    For example, there was a lot of questioning looks when I shared our plan before we came home with her, to regress our daughter a bit and not let her “cry it out” at bed time. Even tho we never let our bios cry it out when they were babies, ironically. (don’t get me wrong, there were criticisms for that back then too!)

    It’s been an on-going education process for us and for them, and sometimes I’d love to just “let it be” when I’m with them. Rather than feel like I’m constantly educating someone else. NONE of them read any of the information we suggested. It was “our deal” and now they question A LOT of what we do and why we do it.

    However, they HAVE all welcomed her with open arms, love on her very well and are so patient with her. But they tend to act as if we are spoiling her and indulging her in certain areas. Babying her past the point of necessity, I guess. Often makes me feel more cautious about choosing to spend long time periods away from home to be with them . . .

  9. Avatar Ben's Mommy says:

    I have found that it is impossible to win them over when they are racist. I simply cut my father out of my life when he told me he wouldn’t have a n____ child call him grandpaw. Fine by me. My husband’s family has welcomed him with open arms and so have my sisters and rest of my family. The funny thing now is that my father want to become involved in my son’s life. It was hard at first, but I did allow him to come to a family gathering at my house and was so surprised at my father’s response to my son. It still bothers me that he is a racist, but I will have to admit that he seems to think my son is the exception to all his racist beliefs.

  10. Avatar Tammy says:

    My grandparents struggle with the idea of me adopting an African American child. When I told my grandparents that I was open to any race, my grandfather’s first response was, “No, not black!”

    They know how much I have been through with this process and are trying their best to be as supportive as they can. They watch their comments and I think they really are trying. But sometimes they are so stereotypical, it makes me cringe. My grandmother can say, “I know things are different now but I still feel like I used to”.

    I have been trying to lay the groundwork now, before I have my child. I talk about my adoption all the time and about transracial adoption. I make sure to discuss the discrepencies (sp?) that we see in race and adoption. And I make sure to tell them stories of times it did work out – and times that families have not been supportive and how much it hurt the adoptive parents. I don’t have my child yet so I don’t know if this will do any good or not. However, I have made it crystal clear that my child will be my first priority and that if they get inappropriate, I will leave. As I said, time will tell if my strategies work or not.

  11. Avatar Sammie Girl says:

    I never realized how lucky we were to have both sets of grandparents be thrilled with our adoption plans. I think they were just glad we were stopping treatment and moving onto a surer thing. They have been doting spoiling grandparents to both our kids and have never cared what race they were. My FIL has bought a bunch of black pride type books for the kids.

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