Is Adoption for Me?
By Virginia Spielmann, B.Sc. (Hons) Occupational Therapy and Erica Liu Wollin, Psy.D.
Growing your family through adoption is a profound and life changing experience. If you are thinking about adoption as a choice for your family, there are some significant considerations your family should discuss with each other and seek advice on. This document is a quick introduction to some of these topics; although it is impossible to cover everything one should consider, we hope some of the points below will help you in your decision making process.
Am I Looking for Adoption to Cure My Infertility?
Adopting a child as a result of infertility is a difficult journey. For most, adoption may solve the issue of not having a child, but it does not heal the grief, identity issues, and lost dreams of infertility. It is strongly recommended that you intentionally seek support for your grieving process before moving to adoption, and again process your infertility grief throughout your journey of healing even after adoption, if beneficial. It is important that your adopted child does not hold the weight of your unmet expectations and dreams arising from infertility.
Do I Equate Adoption to Giving Birth?
Adopting a child is not the same as giving birth to a child. As obvious as it may seem, it is important to realise adoption – while wonderful and beautiful when successful – is immensely different to parenting a child who was born into a family. Conventional parenting books and advice from neighbours will often be less than relevant for adoptive parents, as adoption has unique challenges and demands that will take up brain space and energy in surprising ways. (1)
Am I Educating Myself on Bonding and Attachment in Adoption?
Love at first sight is not guaranteed. It often takes time to bond with the newest addition to your family. Whatever the age of a child when s/he comes home, the equilibrium of the household will be disrupted. While this massive change in schedule and routine occurs, you may find this new human being does not immediately reciprocate your feelings of love. Children who have experienced multiple disruptions or previous placements, or who are toddlers, or older can also experience tremendous fear or resistance to attach due to previous trauma. Others will go through an initial honeymoon period and then their insecure behaviors will begin to show. These require a tremendous amount of patience, emotional health and security on the part of the parent (and sometimes professional intervention) as you will not feel your love requited immediately or it will be inconsistently felt.
Have I Considered My Relationships?
Parenting puts additional strain on a marriage relationship, adoption sometimes even more so. Make sure that you and your partner are both fully aware and fully committed to this journey; if one of you remains hesitant about adoption, it may not be the right time for you, or it may be helpful to meet with a counselor about these hesitations before moving forward with adoption . If you decide to proceed with adoption, we encourage you to find a community of people who can support you throughout your family’s journey. If you are a single parent, you will need a community of people to support you and will be available at a moment’s notice to lend a hand.
Have I Examined My Financial Resources and Time Commitments?
Just as parenting is expensive – adoption can be expensive too. In some cases even more so than parenting biological children. In addition to agency fees, court fees, and citizenship, immigration and passport costs, which can be more complicated for adoptions, costs of additional therapeutic or educational services for your adopted child may be more than you would have anticipated. Parenting is also time consuming. No matter how many parenting books we read in preparation, most people agree the reality of parenting is quite different. Adoption can be even more time consuming because an adopted child needs extra time, care and support for his or her story and identity to develop in a healthy and robust manner.
Am I Aware of Invisible Special Needs and How this Might Impact My Family and the Way I Should Parent?
Even if you have not opted to adopt a special needs child, it is very possible your child will indeed have tangible or invisible special needs. Children who have been adopted often need extra support from specialists in child development in order to develop to full potential, and children who have been in institutionalized settings, have experienced frequent moves or inconsistent care, or experienced early neglect or abuse, may carry lasting developmental and emotional trauma. The therapeutic parenting needed for such children may mean frequent trips to speech and language therapists, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, mental health professionals, tutors and more. Some of these extra support services may request the whole family attend in order to achieve the maximum benefit. These unanticipated special needs can impact the entire family, as siblings may experience a different atmosphere around the home for a significant transition period, or less time or attention available from one or both of their parents on a more lasting basis. It is highly important that you be willing to take the initiative to engage in ongoing conversations with all family members about how changes may impact them and discuss the various feelings that may arise. At times, children from difficult beginnings might need specific parenting approaches. Adoptive parents need to be willing to reconsider their parenting strategies and philosophies if these strategies are not working for their child.
Am I Willing to Let Go of My Own Timeline and Achievement Expectations?
Parenting is a lifelong endeavour; we all know this. Children may move out of the home at 18, 21 or 35 in some cases. But, because of early trauma, children who are adopted may take longer to move through developmental stages than we might expect. Milestones may not be achieved according to the usual trajectory, or not at all. This can also mean that we have a child living at home past the expected ‘norm’ – requiring adjustment of educational expectations and notions of independence.
Am I Prepared to Talk About Adoption Openly?
There is a general understanding now that children who are adopted need to be aware of their whole stories. Keeping adoption a secret from a child or keeping part of a child’s story a secret can be very harmful to the sense of self and mental wellness. You need to be comfortable with your child’s story and with sharing that story in a way that honours the child and the child’s history, even when a story contains trauma. Adoption professionals can assist you to learn these skills, and your commitment to communicative openness will contribute to greater security and trust for your child.
Am I Secure Enough to Allow My Child’s Birth Family Be Part of Their Story and Possibly Part of Their Life?
Some day your child may need support to search for his or her birth parents or birth family members. This process is always a unique journey that requires open and supportive communication, willingness to put your child’s needs over yours, hard work, and resources. Adoptive parents must understand that a desire to trace one’s roots is not a reflection of the adoptee’s love or loyalty to the adoptive family.
Have I Thought About the Implications of Transracial Adoption for Me, My Family, and My Sense of Privacy?
Adopting a child of a different ethnicity carries with it certain considerations. Learning to respond appropriately to other people’s comments and opinions on your family’s appearance and composition will become important to you and your children. You will need to become comfortable with empowering your child to handle surprising or intrusive questions, and talking about his or her experiences on the playground and in the classroom. The balance between ensuring your child feels loved and one of the family, and affirming the cultural heritage requires a commitment which needs to be beyond superficial. It may involve serious consideration of school and neighbourhood demographics and who you choose to spend time with. It is important that your child have the opportunity to interact with other transracial adoptees, as well as people from your child’s culture of origin (not just other adoptees from that culture but also natives who will help your child to develop and own his/her identity).
Am I Willing to Continue to Educate and Equip Myself?
Adoption is a wonderful and beautiful experience and journey for a family. It is important to be aware of the high level of support you will need before and during the process; that this is different to mainstream parenting and that the demands placed on you are significant. The highs and lows of an adoptive parent’s journey can be extreme. We know many adoptive families who would never change a thing and who value every part of their experience; usually these are families who are intentional about dealing with the unique challenges of adoption and who received support from their extended family or community in meeting these challenges. We commend you for reflecting on these important matters and encourage you to be involved in organisations such as Adoptive Families of Hong Kong where you can continue to discuss and learn about these issues within a supportive community.
(1) For more on this subject, see the following articles: https://creatingafamily.org/adoptioncategory/adoptionchild/
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