Winning Over Reluctant Extended Family in Adoption
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.
Other Creating a Family Resources You Will Enjoy
- Should Grandparents be Allowed To Care for a Newly Adopted Child
- A Reluctant Spouse: When Only One Partner Wants to Adopt
- My Wife Wants to Adopt. When Do I Tell Her I Won’t?
- Finding Balance with “Cocooning” Newly Adopted Kids
First published in 2009; Updated 2017.