The process by which adopted children and adoptive parents learn to relate to and accept one another in their respective child-parent roles. (Readers should refer to ADULT ADOPTED PERSONS for questions relating to the lifelong psychological adjustment of adopted persons.)
Several parenting books have been written for adoptive parents, for example, How to Raise an Adopted Child (Crown), Parenting the Adopted Child (Prentice Hall Press), Raising Adopted Children: A Manual for Adoptive Parents (Harper & Row) and After the Adoption (Fleming Revell). Adopting the Older Child (Harvard Common Press) was specifically written for parents choosing to adopt older children rather than infants. You're Our Child: The Adoption Experience (Madison Books) is a helpful book for all members of the ADOPTION CIRCLE.
The time needed for all parties to begin to feel comfortable with one another and accepting of each other varies greatly depending on circumstances.
Experts agree that adjustment is generally the easiest and most rapid when a child is an infant and when the prospective parents are well prepared for the child and have seriously considered adoption issues, such as their own infertility and their feelings about the birthparents. They should also realize there will be a need to communicate about adoption issues with the child they hope to adopt. This communication, at the child's level of understanding, is vital once the child is old enough to understand and the parents must be willing to be candid about adoption as the child grows up. (See EXPLAINING ADOPTION).
One reason why all states do not instantly "finalize" an adoption is to ensure a time period has passed that has enabled the adoptive parents and the child to adjust to each other. As a result, most adoptions are not finalized for at least six months.
When older children are adopted, and even when the child is as young as a toddler, child development experts say there are usually stages of adjustments the child and parents must go through; an example of such a stage is the "honeymoon period," which may last for days, weeks or even months. During this time, the older child strives mightily to behave in a perfect way and please the adoptive parents.
A testing phase may come next, when the child misbehaves on purpose to see if the adopting parents will continue to parent him anyway despite his behavior. Although it may strain their patience, most adoptive parents do survive this period. Finally, the child will assimilate into the family and seem like a regular member, not overstressing the family but making reasonable demands on it.
Adopting parents also go through an adjustment period, whether they are adopting a newborn infant or an older child.
They may first shower the child with gifts and wish to throw away a toddler's tattered blanket or well-worn stuffed animal. This would be a serious mistake, because the item may be the only element of continuity the child knows, and it is very important for him to retain it until he feels ready to discard it.
The parents may feel unsure and insecure about disciplining an older child, and some children are adept at turning on the tears to manipulate their new mom and dad. Most parents and children must feel their way along until they feel truly comfortable with each other. To reach that point may take months or as long as a year or more, depending on the family.
An adoptive parent support group composed of other families who have each adopted a child of about the same age can be a tremendous help to a new adoptive family.
If the child is an older child from another country or a child with serious handicaps, both the child and the adoptive parents will need to give themselves extra time to adjust. The parents cannot expect the child to learn English overnight nor expect themselves to know automatically and immediately how to cope with a blind or deaf child.
The parents of children with SPECIAL NEEDS must also learn about resources available in the community so they can assist their children with specific conditions or problems.
Older children appear to fare much better in families with more than one child, and studies reveal they adjust the most rapidly in large families. Although on the surface this may seem contradictory, in that it would appear difficult for parents of large families to provide much attention to an additional child, what often happens is the children already in the home assist the adopting parents in welcoming the child and helping the child fit in.
Studies also reveal that people who already have children are favored by social service agencies as prospective parents for older children. The theory is that families with existing children understand child rearing and are not seeking a perfect child.
Another factor in adjustment is the attitudes of the family's support groups. Studies of new adoptive mothers indicate that many feel adoption is not accepted, at least initially, by family and peers; thus, it would appear that much more work needs to be done to educate the general public about adoption.
Adjustment is an ongoing process for parents as children grow older and become more independent: it is not a one-time achievement. (See also ADOLESCENT ADOPTED PERSONS; ATTITUDES ABOUT ADOPTION; MIXED FAMILIES; PREPARING A CHILD FOR ADOPTION; EXPLAINING ABOUT ADOPTION; SIBLINGS.)
Claudia Jewett, Adopting the Older Child (Boston: Harvard Common Press, 1978).
Lois Rusaki Melina, Raising Adopted Children: A Manual for Adoptive Parents, (New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1985).
Cheri Register, "Are Those Kids Yours?": American Families with Children Adopted From Other Countries (New York: Free Press, 1990).
Stephanie E. Siegel, Ph.D., Parenting Your Adopted Child (New York: Prentice Hall Press, 1989).
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©2000 by Christine Adamec and William Pierce, Ph.D. Reprinted from The Encyclopedia of Adoption, 2nd Edition (2nd Edition) with permission of Facts On File, Inc.
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.