How to Be A Good Adoptive Parent

What adopted children really need.

Anyone following adoption news and adoptee writers knows adult adoptees are extremely dissatisfied with adoption’s portrayal: It’s too happy, it’s too sappy, it’s too focused on the adoptive parent’s journey.

Of course, I helped them out a bit:

But I believe most adoptive parents want to do good by their children and it’s under that assumption that I share this with you.

I know many adoptees have asked you to #JustListen, but what does that mean? Does it mean reading our tweets, our blogs, and our books? Does that mean taking us for coffee and asking for parenting advice?

Let’s get specific about what #JustListen really means. Here’s exactly what you, as an adoptive parent, need to know.

  1. This isn’t about you.
  2. Education isn’t 100% the agency’s responsibility.
  3. Don’t prioritize your biological child, if any.
  4. Find your child therapy and attend, if possible.
  5. Don’t close your mind to “negativity.”
  6. Your adoption journey includes someone else’s loss.
  7. Fundraising for adoption looks really tacky.
  8. Hand-waving adoption trauma and grief (it’s a lifelong adoption side effect) damages your child.
  9. Your grief over being denied adoption doesn’t trump the grief of mother-child separation. And keeping a mother and child together is ALWAYS a win. The child gets to stay with his/her mother.
  10. Transracial adoption doesn’t make you woke.

Let’s talk about this.

While some of the items above are self-explanatory or linked, let’s discuss the general theme.

Becoming a parent and deciding to adopt is your choice. It is. But ultimately, adoption is about that child — your child — and not the home-studies, the paperwork, and the fees. When that child comes to your home, it’s still about that child, not about your post-adoption depression, your sleepless nights, your stress.

As a mother myself, all of my parenting issues shouldn’t ever take away from my son’s narrative. That’s his story to tell. Not mine.

Taking classes pre-adoption won’t make you an expert on parenting or adoption. It also isn’t the adoption agency’s responsibility to educate you 100% on parenting an adoptee. Who provides education to biological parents?

It’s important agencies successfully prep you for trauma, childhood development concerns, cultural barriers and sensitivity (for transracial/intercountry adoptions) and finding post-adoption support. But you, the parent, assume full responsibility for your education and that means reading and researching (legit researching — not just Google searches) articles and studies that may not paint adoption and its outcomes in a favorable light.

I know its uncomfortable and offensive to hear we might be making a mistake. It hurts to be told something we really, really want might not be best. But if you truly love a child, you will set your emotions and desires aside — like any good parent — and use rational thinking to ensure you’re doing right by them, not you.

That said, don’t dismiss adoptee voices as angry simply because they speak critically about adoption. Think about it:

Did your parents do everything perfectly?

Do you sometimes criticize them?

Adoptees are doing the same thing, except they’re directing their attack at a system that is only beginning to hear them. Desperate, frustrated Facebook and Twitter posts are a result of distinct unmet needs. By not listening to those voices, simply because they’re unpleasant, you’re missing an entire swath of experiences that will:

  1. Enrich your own parenting style
  2. Help you avoid those pitfalls with your own child.

Since you want to be a good parent, you don’t want to make mistakes. Read what other adoptees are saying and don’t do what their parents or the system did.

I read about adoption every day. Every. Single. Day. I read posts and articles about the system, about adoptive parents, and about adoptees. I am training to be a CASA volunteer. I study transracial adoption and its effects on adoptees and society in general. I am not an expert but I am informed and learning every day. I speak respectfully with adoptive parents and adoptees equally.

I am not angry at you and I am not anti-adoption. I agree some adoptee messaging is overwhelming. That’s why there are other adoptees taking all of those voices together and speaking directly to you, to distill it all down and make it easier while helping you improve your adoption story.

I am always speaking for a child’s — your child’s — best interest. As an adoptee with lived experience, an experience mixed with love and fear and family and failures and happiness — I, like other adoptees, are speaking from lives rich with the stories adoptive parents need to build strong families. Isn’t that what you want for your child? And when you do speak out for or against adoption, do it with your child as the narrative’s center. Don’t make it about your struggle. Make it about making the system better.

And one more thing:

Don’t blame your child when your gifts and home and education and love doesn’t fix their trauma.

It isn’t about you, so don’t punish them (or rehome them) because they’re not responding to your expectations.


Sunny J. Reed is a New Jersey-based writer. Her main body of work focuses on transracial adoption, race relations, and the American family. In addition to contributing to Intercountry Adoptee Voices, Plan A Magazine, and Dear Adoption, Sunny uses creative nonfiction as a way to reach a wider audience. Her first flash memoir (‘the lucky ones’) was published in Tilde: A Literary Journal. Her second piece (‘playground ghost’) is featured in Parhelion Literary Magazine. She is currently at work on a literary memoir. Follow Sunny on Twitter and Facebook.

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