Adoptive Parenting Tips From the Trenches By An Adoptive Mom And Adoptee

Am I a “real” mother, even though I didn’t give birth to my child? How do I deal with the pressure to be perfect? What do I need to do to bring out the best in my child and not feel guilty when I fall short?

For adoptive parents, and especially new adoptive parents through open adoption, those are just some of the many questions that keep them up at night.

Being a parent is the toughest, yet most rewarding job in the world. Being a parent through adoption is also immensely rewarding, but it comes with its own set of challenges.

Luckily, we have Madeleine Melcher and her new book to guide us through them.

Readers of our sister site’s blog know Madeleine. Over the years, she’s written on a number of topics including  her journey from an adoptee to an adoptive parent to the owner of an adoption profile service;  the advice she would have given her pre-adoptive self,  and the most important thing that prospective adoptive parents need to know when they’re starting their adoption journey

Now, drawing on her experience as an adoptive mother and adoptee, the three-time author tackles some of the most common, and thorniest, issues facing adoptive parents in her new book. 

Written in an accessible yet lively manner, Dear Adoptive Parents: Things You Need to Know Right Now – from an Adoptee has been described as a “love letter of sorts” to adoptive parents, an antidote to all of the negativity they may encounter online and elsewhere,

And it is certainly that—and more, a road map filled with words of support, encouragement, and best of all, hope.  

Recently I had a chance to discuss some of the book’s key themes with Madeleine and what adoptive parents need to do to be the best parents they can be to their children.

1. Although your book is directed at adoptive parents, you go out of your way NOT to address your readers as “adoptive parents.” Instead, you refer to them as “parents”—without a qualifier. Why is that?

Because honestly, I do not think a qualifier is needed. Parents, let me assure you right now– you ARE a parent and just like any good parent you will do anything you need to for the best of your child. 

You will go to the ends of the Earth to help your child, to pick your child up when they are down, to inspire them to meet their potential, to take steps to help your child heal when they are hurting emotionally or physically, to listen when your child has joy, fears, concerns or milestones to share, and to encourage your child to shine their light on the world. That is a parent and if any qualifier is added, let it be LOVING, DEVOTED or AWESOME. Read more about this topic in letter 1 in my book.

2. One issue you tackle early on is the fear that adoptive parents have of not being recognized as their child’s “real” parent. Where do you think that fear comes from and what tips do you have for parents who are struggling with it?

While I do think that some of those worries come from comments by some members of the adoption triad on social media and elsewhere that do not recognize parents through adoption as “real” parents because there is not shared biology—and some may come from the questions of well meaning family, friends or strangers who do not know proper adoption language and etiquette—I think many of the worries come from the parents’ own head.

What matters is what your child thinks, feels and recognizes.  Will you choose to listen to doubts over being the one called for when your child is afraid, excited or needs a hug?  Will you listen to others—people who don’t know you, who do not know better or who don’t care over listening to your own child? 

I assure you, my mom was VERY real.  She really dealt with my lack of geometry skills, really wiped every tear I spilled over boys, really caught throw up in her hands and really thought I had the voice of an angel (obviously she had “ears of love”). 

No matter where I was or what I had done I always knew her love was real and came without condition.  Parents, “real” is not contingent on biology. Read more about this in letters 3 and 15 in my book.

3. You mention that adoptive parents are just like other parents and have nothing to be ashamed of. And yet there are issues related to loss that are unique to adoptive families. How do you balance those two concepts?

What do parents who have adopted have to be ashamed of?  Ideas like that are a part of the problem.  Adoption is not something to be ashamed of for anyone in the triad.

Unless parents who adopted have not handled their adoption ethically or are not honest (in an age appropriate way) with their child about their story, there is nothing for parents who adopted to be ashamed of outside of anything any other parent could do to be ashamed of. 

As for issues specific to families built by adoption, I challenge you to find any two families ANYWHERE in the adoption community or outside of it that share the exact same issues and loss is not something that is exclusive to adoption. 

There are abandonment, divorce, death and a million other things in life that equal a loss in life and there are also a million different ways that people handle that loss.

Why?  Because we are human beings and we all have our own experiences, thoughts and feelings. 

I personally have never felt a loss relating to my adoption—just never have—it is not a part of the way I have ever processed it. It is not denial, it is just a way I view things and living in loss is not a part of that. 

I choose to look for the good.  That said, I have thought many times over the years about the pain that my own birthmother may have felt and I can honestly say that I hope with all my heart that she was able to move forward and has found some peace of mind and happiness in her heart. 

I am just one person and adoptees’ feelings about loss run from white to black with every shade of grey in between—that is why you will listen to your child—which is your job as a parent anyway.  ALL families have unique issues and it is disingenuous to say otherwise. 

Don’t pre-judge how your child should feel. Handle things as they come.  Do everything in your power to meet whatever your child’s needs are.

Love your child with all your heart and be their strongest advocate and biggest cheerleader—THOSE are the jobs of all good parents. Don’t borrow trouble.  Read more on this topic in letter 17 in my book

4. “Perfection” is a big word in the adoptive parent community. Many parents, especially in open adoption, feel the burden of not only being great parents but also of not letting their child’s birthparents down. As a result, when they run into problems, they’re  reluctant to seek help. What advice and words of encouragement do you have for them?

Not one of us is perfect.  NOT ONE!  There is no one who has all of the answers—not even Siri. 

Part of being the parent, and a good one to boot, no matter how you grew your family is to sometimes ask for help or to reach out to others who have “other tools in their toolbox” that you or your child could benefit from, 

To not do what your child needs or to not reach out for the info or assistance you need to help your child because you fear it is an admission that you are not perfect is a huge mistake. 

I am going to make this easy for every parent on the planet, “YOU ARE NOT PERFECT!” but you are much closer to it when you are doing all you can to meet your child’s needs—whatever that means or looks like in your family. 

Honestly, it does not matter what anyone else thinks of you because when it comes to helping your child, this is not about you—it is about your child. 

Be “all in” no matter what each morning brings, do what your kiddo needs and love with abandon—that is about as perfect as parenting gets. Read more about this topic in letter 5 of my book.

5. One of the many stereotypes you deal with in your book is the assumption that all adoptees are wounded and that all of their problems can be directly traced back to the “primal wound.” As an adoptee and an adoptive mother, what suggestions do you have for adoptive parents or waiting adoptive parents who may be concerned about these issues?

No, I do not buy into the “inherent” nature of the premise that adoptees are primally wounded, but that does not mean I do not believe that there are adoptees that feel wounded to their core. 

My best, most important suggestion is and ever will be to listen to your child.  There will never be a more important voice on or about adoption than that of your child.  Listen, Listen. Listen. 

It sounds so simple, and it is.  Keep communication open and natural and no matter what feelings your child expresses, do not judge. 

If you are honest with your child from the start and allow your child to share concerns or feelings without a fear of disappointing you then he or she is much more likely to come to you about anything in the future (adoption related or not). Read more about this topic in letter 10 of my book.

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