Don’t wait until your child asks about his origins. Start a scrapbook as soon as you receive the referral for your child. Include photos, copies of reports from adoption agencies and – most importantly – include your thoughts and emotions. Knowing that you specifically wanted this particular child will help him build a bridge over any rocky start he may have had in life.
Am I open to discussing birthparent issues?
This brings us to the birthparent issue. Yes, birthparents are just as relevant in international adoption as in domestic adoption. Surprise!
No, you don’t have to worry about losing custody of your internationally adopted child to his birthparents. However, you do need to acknowledge and address the fact that your child has (or had, in the case of orphans) biological parents. Some countries open to international adoption keep very meticulous records about the birthparents – some even have medical histories on members of the extended biological family. You may have details about illnesses that may run in the family (heart disease or high blood pressure for example), and your internationally adopted child may also have the opportunity to search for – and find – his birthfamily. In other countries, however, the majority of children placed for international adoption are foundlings and thus no information is available about the birthparents. Your attitude about discussing your child’s birthparents may influence your choice of country.
What are your ideas about race?
Even the most open minded of us may carry around some stereotypical ideas about race. Do you think Asian children are obedient and good at math? Do you see people from Latin America as being “time challenged”? Will you expect your child to have these characteristics? More importantly, do you think you will be able to set these stereotypes aside and discover the person behind the race? Internationally adopted children become Americanized. Try to visualize that adorable baby becoming a teenager, an adult, a parent. Can you grow beyond any preconceived racial stereotypes you may have?
How do you feel about interracial families? Through international adoption, you may become an interracial family. Do you raise your child to have the same identity as you (or your other children)? How do you help your adopted child develop his own cultural and ethnic identity? Should his name reflect his national origin?
Adoption of a child of another race or country is not just about a cute little baby. How do you feel about interracial marriage? How does your family feel about interracial marriage? How will you feel if people look at your internationally adopted child and assume that you are married to a person of another race? How can you learn to know what it’s like to grow up non-white in a predominantly white society if you don’t know this from your own personal experience? How will you support your child when he experiences racial prejudice and discrimination? To become sensitive to your child’s world, you’re going to have to learn about – and experience – these issues.
Do you have family or close friends of other racial, cultural, or ethnic groups? If so, these people can be a valuable support network and a great source of information on being a minority in a white society. If you do not currently have such friends, you should examine the reasons for this and explore ways to develop such relationships.
How do you feel about getting lots of public attention?
If you adopt a child whose ethnicity differs from yours, brace yourself because people are going to stare at you. A lot. Even people who mean no harm will stare. Sometimes it’s just a matter of people not being used to seeing parents and children of different ethnicities, but sometimes people stare out of a disapproval based in their own bigoted mindset.
Every parent of an interracially adopted child has war stories to tell – about the nosy strangers asking, “What is he?” (Answer: “My son.”) Or, better yet, “What language does he speak?” Shortly after my husband and I decided to adopt a child from Thailand, I ran into a former neighbor at the supermarket. When she learned of our plans for international adoption, she responded with a horrified, “It looks like we moved just in time!” (My response: “Yes, indeed! You saved us the trouble of having to move!”)
Also, if you have a biological child as well as an internationally adopted child, you must be careful to give both children an equal share of parental attention. As difficult as it can be for an adopted child to fit into a new culture and a new family, it can be equally difficult for a biological child to adjust to suddenly having a sibling. Before the arrival of your adopted child, the whole family must come together in the belief that families can be created a number of ways, only one of which is through biology.
What is Your Motivation for International Adoption?
In addition to your qualities and abilities as parents, it is important for you to understand your motivation for international adoption. Do you feel you are doing a good deed for a poor orphaned child who will be grateful to you when he is older? Do you think people will admire you for your selflessness in “saving” an orphan? If so, you need to do more self evaluation before going any farther with your international adoption plans. These unrealistic reasons for pursuing international adoption would likely result in a poor adoption outcome, both for you and for the adopted child.
Furthermore, if your primary post-adoption focus is to help the child become absorbed into your culture at the expense of his own, then international adoption is not for you. For international adoption to succeed, you must have an attitude of respect for the country and culture into which the child was born. For children of international adoption to thrive, you must help them learn about and develop pride in their birth culture.
On the other hand, you may be a great candidate for international adoption if you have the capacity to identify with a child of a particular country, if you can see the world from his point of view and can lovingly supply his physical, mental, and spiritual needs.
Credits: Excerpted from "International Adoption Guidebook," Mary M. Strickert, © 2004
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Note: Our authors are dedicated to honest, engaged, informed, intelligent, and open conversation about adoption. The opinions expressed here may not reflect the views of Adoption.com.