Understanding Adoption

Before you can make a decision about adoption, you have to understand how it works and what kind of impact it has on everyone involved. Adoption takes a child from one family unit and permanently places him in another. Everyone involved is impacted by this major move, and understanding some of the effects can help you make an educated decision. Adoption is sometimes referred to as a triad — a three-sided figure made up of the birth parents, adoptive parents, and the child. All three are interrelated and linked to each other. Even if your child never knew his birth parents, the triad still exists and is an important part of life for all of you.

Legal Process

In every adoption, there must be a legal proceeding that frees the child for adoption — that breaks the legal bond between the child and the birth parents. When birth parents place a child for adoption, they must provide legal consent to the adoption by appearing before a court or signing a paper giving up their rights to the child. When a child is removed from a home by the state and freed for an adoption, the court severs the legal bond between child and birth parents, making the child eligible for adoption. In international adoptions, children are placed for adoption, or are sometimes left at orphanages, with the birth parent essentially consenting to the adoption.

The Impact of Early Experiences

When deciding if you could be a good adoptive parent, you should be aware of how adoption can affect a child. Raising an adoptive child is like raising a biological child most of the time; the child will be yours and part of your family. You will love him as much as any natural child, and you will face ups and downs together. However, some of the challenges you will encounter with your adopted child will relate directly to his adoption.


All children need nourishing food, clean, safe surroundings, and unconditional, persistent love. Your adoptive child will have these same needs, but may also require help to overcome the lack of proper care before and after he was born, depending on the situation he was in. You must ponder your fitness for parenting a child whose earliest experiences could have a lingering and sometimes profound effect.

Even if your child is placed in your arms within days of his birth and received good prenatal care, he will eventually begin to wonder about his biological origins. His early years won't be much different from any child's, but by the time he enters school, being adopted may become an issue. No matter how much love he receives from you, he will wonder about where he came from and question why he's with you. You must be ready to answer his questions in a way that reassures him about your abiding, enduring commitment (see Chapter 15).

Reasons Your Prospective Child Needs a New Family

The child you adopt may have been given up by a healthy mother who decided she couldn't parent, or may have been removed from a dysfunctional, dangerous home by the state; he may have been abandoned, or been placed in an overseas orphanage by parents overwhelmed by poverty. Each child has his own history; your role is to provide a new home for the child and help him eventually understand, in the best possible light, the choices made by the birth parents that led to the adoption.

Children who become adoptable are in the situation involuntarily. Some children of toddler age and older may feel powerless and hopeless if they've changed homes more than once through foster care. Infants have an innate desire to be with an attachment figure, a parent who will consistently meet their needs and assure their survival. Children whose birth parents, their attachment figures, have disappeared have to deal with that loss. Even children who had no contact with their birth parents will still wonder about them. Through adoption, you can give your child a loving home and begin what some mental health professionals call “The Dance of Attachment” — a process through which your child becomes deeply attached to you, a trustworthy parent, and you have bonded to your child — which will bring you great rewards.


How can I find reliable information about adoption that will help me make a decision?

The Internet is a great tool, but it isn't selective — anybody can put information up for public consumption, and some of that information may be distorted or false. Instead of just searching the word “adoption,” go to reputable sites like the American Academy of Pediatrics (www.AAP.org), The National Council for Adoption (www.adoptioncouncil.org), or Adoptive Families (www.adoptivefamilies.org).

Attitudes about Adoption

As you ponder whether or not you'd be a good adoptive parent, you'll encounter diverse opinions, ranging from those who believe that only biological relatives should be able to adopt, to those who believe that adoptive families are superior to biological families. Complicating the picture is a public perception that adoption is somehow inferior to forming a family through giving birth. The rhetoric on both sides tends to be hard to follow, but you can sort out fact from fiction by studying the results of scientific research, talking to experienced parents and adult adoptees, and most of all, listening to your own instincts; only you can make the decision that is best for your family.

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