This comprehensive piece gives a 360 degree approach on adoption - from the processes involved to talking to your child about being adopted.
By Christine Machado
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.
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.
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.”
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.
We talked about the announcement process but how about the adoption process itself? Here are a few guidelines to help you out…
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