Christine Fernandes was six years old when her world was shattered. “My cousin and I were playing and jumping about on the bed one day. I don’t remember what happened, but somehow she made me cry, and I told her that I would tell my mother,” she recalls. “That’s when she told me she’s not your mother. You’re adopted!”
Christine ran out of the room, confused and devastated. But her father managed to catch up with her and console her. Even though her parents explained everything to her, thoughts continued to plague her mind. “Parents mean the world to a child. I began to wonder, why the woman who had given birth to me threw me out,” she confesses.
It was a difficult period for her but she managed to ride through it. She is the darling of her adoptive parents and she loves them as much. “The attitude towards adoption is changing now. But during the 80s, it wasn’t so. If you were adopted, you were considered the black sheep of the family, someone who didn’t belong. I am glad times are changing.” Now, in her thirties, Christine, who lives in Goa, has long since adjusted and accepted the fact of her adoption.
In contrast, Milind Naik, from Mumbai was about 12 years old when his parents broke the news to him. “It didn’t really bother me at that time, but as I grew older, thoughts did come to my head. On occasions, I did wonder about my real parents, but didn’t do much about it,” he says, adding that he slowly realised that he was in fact lucky, and that everything happened for the best.
Revealing the truth
The fear of the adopted child searching for his or her roots, and the society’s judgements, haunts many adoptive parents, who decide it is best not to reveal to the child that he is adopted. Shankar S of Sudatta Adoptive Families Support Group, believes this is a risky approach. “No relationship can be healthy with a continuous fear of being found out. If we value our relationship with our child, we need to tell him he is adopted.”
He illustrates the two alternative patterns that parents employ when they adopt, as given by sociologist H. David Kirk. “In one pattern, we adopters seem to reject the idea of a difference between biological parenthood and our own. This is identified as R/D behaviour (Rejection of Difference). In the second pattern, adopters identify themselves as atypical parents and accept the differences that adoption brings. This is referred to as A/D behaviour (Acknowledgement of Difference).”
“Kirk reasoned that parents identified with R/D behaviour typically approach the task of revealing adoption with fear – neither wanting to hurt the child’s feelings nor to undermine the child’s trust in them. When we parents create ‘social distance’ between ourselves and our child, it is unhealthy for the relationship,” says Shankar.
On the other hand, those exhibiting A/D behavior are comfortable with the fact that the children have 2 sets of parents, the biological parents and the adoptive ones. They see no threat and have no fear in revealing the truth to their children. They encourage the children to express their sadness and fears, and readily answer any questions they may have.
Right age to talk to your child
A good time to start talking to your child is when she begins to ask questions about ‘where babies come from’. It can be as early as when she is in preschool.
Christine, who also has a younger adopted brother, started guiding him from the beginning to avoid a similar harsh experience like hers. “Children should be told about their adoption either by their parents or older siblings at a young age, before others do. Parents will be able to break it to the child gently, unlike others who can be brutal in their approach,” she states.
Shreemathi Srinivas, mother of an adopted daughter, and former secretary of the Voluntary Coordinating Agency for Adoption, Chennai, advises that the process of telling should be an ongoing discussion and not just a one-time event. “I used to tell my daughter stories of Andal (the only female avatar of the 12 Alvar saints of South India) and how she was found as a baby lying under a Tulasi plant,” she explains.
Thanks to good exposure to the concept of adoption right from the start, Shreemathi’s daughter could adjust easily. “It is not good to wait a long time before telling the child; one should never make an issue of it or say it out of anger. Parents need to be confident and secure before telling the child,” she adds.
Vidya Shankar, founding member of a leading support group, insists that such announcements should include the immediate family and other significant family members who interact with the child. “At every age, the understanding of a child is different. The parents should have a strong conviction that they are doing the right thing and that it will in no way affect their relationship with the child,” she says, adding, “If you leave it for the teen years to broach the subject with your child, there are factors like education, hormones and peers that also step in.”
Guidance from support groups
Adoptive parents can get guidance from support groups through counselling sessions. Sudatta Adoptive Families Support Group is one such group that was started in 1994 to facilitate sharing and learning for adoptive families and to help children feel comfortable.
It presently has branches in Chennai, Bangalore, Coimbatore, Mysore, Mangalore, Pune and Delhi. There are around 450 families across India that are connected with this group, and there are 50 experts worldwide who provide aid and advice.
Vidya believes that it is good to be part of a network as it helps the child and the family. “In those regions where there is currently no support group, parents should ideally get together and crystallise as one. It has been proven that when parents get together to support each other in adoption, it is very beneficial,” she says. She also cautions that parents should not adopt unless they have time to spend with the child. “It is a slow bond and forming an attachment takes time,” she explains.
So, if you are among those who have been waiting to make that announcement, wait no longer! Start the process right now and in a few days/months/years, you will realise you made the right decision.
The ‘Announcement’ guide
- Pre-School: The explanation should be simple and direct. You could try telling it in the form of stories. As children are usually not familiar with the process of conception and pregnancy, they won’t really react to this new information. Hence parents should be prepared to continue the process of telling as the child grows older and understanding dawns.
- Age 3 - 7: It is vital to begin the process of telling as early as possible, to prevent the child finding out from other sources. The child needs to know that he or she was born just like any other person. Also, the feeling of being loved should be reinforced so that the child does not feel different.
- Age 8 - 12: As children can usually understand the concept of adoption well by now, parents need to be prepared for a barrage of questions. The little ones may feel insecure about the fact that they were given away. Keep assuring them that they are loved.
- Adolescent: While it is not recommended to leave the announcement so late, if the situation is such, parents should be prepared for rebellion and denial. Also, at this confusing stage, adolescent children might start feeling that adoption is the source of all their problems. Parents should just give them their own space as they search for solutions.
Your guide to adoption
We talked about the announcement process but how about the adoption process itself? Here are a few guidelines to help you out…
Who can adopt?
According to the law, a child can be given in adoption –
- To a person irrespective of marital status.
- To parents who have their own living children. The adopted child can be of either sex.
- To a childless couple.
Additional eligibility criteria
- 2 years of a stable relationship in case of married couples.
- Couples can adopt children of 0-3 years, if their maximum composite age is 90 years; the individual ages should not be less than 25 years, or more than 50 years.
- To adopt children above three years of age, the maximum composite age of couples should be 105 years; the individual ages should not be less than 25 years, or more than 55 years.
- A single person desiring to adopt should not be less than 30, and more than 50.
- Prospective parents should be in good health and have a sound financial status.
- A second adoption is allowed only when the legal adoption of the first child has been finalised, though in the case of twins or siblings, the legalisation is done together.
- Single males are not permitted to adopt girl children.
Steps to follow
- If you are considering adoption, you should register yourself with a unit of Specialised Adoption Agency (SAA), recognised by CARA (Central Adoption Resource Authority) or register yourself online through the CARA website.
- Once the registration, along with the necessary documents as per Schedule IV, and registration fee is received by the agency, it issues a registration slip to the prospective parents
- When the child has been identified, the PAPs (Prospective Adoptive Parents) have to approach the SARA (State Adoption Resource Agency) and get the home study done, wherein a social worker will visit the home of the PAPs and do a report on the family environment and certify you as fit for adoption. This report is valid for up to two years for any adoption across the country.
- The parents should then visit the child and get a medical examination of the child done by their own paediatrician.
- If the parents decide to adopt the child, they are given 10 days to give their formal acceptance. If they decide to not adopt the child, a maximum of two other children will be shown to the parents and they are given three months to reconsider.
- If the child referred is seven years or above, a written consent from the child must be obtained. If the child cannot read or write, a verbal consent from the child will be recorded by the Adoption Committee along with a thumb impression.
- The agency will then do a foster care agreement with the parents, and the child is allowed to be taken home.
- After a specified period, the parents can go back to the court and get the adoption order from the presiding magistrate.
- To ensure the child’s well-being, the agency conducts half-yearly follow up reports of the child, from the time the child is placed in foster care to two years after legal adoption.