There is a gaping hole when it comes to resources for adoptive parents.
If you follow any adoption accounts on social media, you’ve likely heard the call to elevate adoptee voices. For too long, the narrative of adoption has been based solely on the experiences of adoptive parents, along with the media’s portrayal of adoption and foster care. As a TV writer, I can tell you what Hollywood considers to be important: Diversity. Stories of gender identity and sexuality. Women-centered stories. But honest portrayals of adoption — not even on the radar.
I founded Raise because there is a lack of parenting resources for non-traditional mothers. As an adoptive mom, I struggle to find adoptive parents who post honestly about the day-to-day complexities of parenting non-biological children.
Most Adoptive Parents Post Only To Promote Adoption
There’s no shortage of adoptive parents with blogs and social media feeds, but very few of them offer actionable advice to fellow adoptive parents. Instead, their posts tend to focus on the following:
Assuring prospective parents that they can and will love a child who is not biologically theirs.
Educating their followers on ethical adoption.
Promoting open adoption.
Sharing dos and don’ts of interacting with an adoptive family.
Debunking birth mother myths and honoring first families.
All of these things are valuable. But there is a gaping hole when it comes to resources for adoptive parents. Very few people talk about the complexities of parenting an adopted child.
We Need More Adoptive Parents To Talk About Parenting
In an effort to prove our love for our children and the validity of our families, adoptive parents have pushed the narrative that parenting an adopted child is no different than parenting a biological one, especially if the child was adopted at birth. As both a stepmom and adoptive mom, I can tell you with certainty that 90% of parenting is the same regardless of biology or how old the child is when you became their parent. Diaper changing, potty training and teaching your kid to drive is exhausting and terrifying no matter what. Helping with homework and chauffeuring your kid from practice to practice will torment you the same amount no matter how they come into your life. But that remaining 10% — the adoption layer — is something that needs to be discussed. It is essential to acknowledge that parenting an adoptee IS different from parenting a biological child.
We are the first generation of adoptive parents to recognize that open adoption is ideal and valuable. To believe that birth families should be honored, not shoved into a box and hidden under the bed. To understand that raising a Black adoptee in an all-white community is the wrong approach. This progress is good, but we still lack resources with examples of how to implement these lessons. Previous generations didn’t parent this way, so we only have each other to learn from. It’s imperative that we share stories about navigating open adoptions (and closed ones), along with discussions of how best to answer our children’s difficult questions about their birth stories and first families. It’s not about exploiting our children’s privacy, it’s about parenting our children to the best of our abilities. Adoptive moms deserve just as many resources offering support as traditional moms do.
We Must Elevate Adoptee Voices
There is so much to be learned from adoptees who are willing to share their stories. These voices are invaluable and must be elevated. But that doesn’t mean adoptive parents should stay silent. We must talk about parenting and motherhood, mental health and self-care, and how to navigate the very specific circumstances of adoptive parenting.
That said, we adoptive parents must STOP doing is this: speaking on behalf of adoptees.
I can talk all day long about what it’s like to be a stepparent. About how much I value our blended family and how I can’t begin to fathom my life without my stepsons in it, but if I stood up and declared that blended families are amazing and “just like nuclear families,” you’d be taken aback. You’d raise an eyebrow and say, “Blended families are amazing, but they’re not the same. Your kids had an another mother that came before you.”
No one would allow a stepmother to ignore the existence of the child’s first family or pretend that the divorce left them unscathed. Yet that’s exactly what adoptive parents do when we go on social media and claim that adoption is equal and adoptive families are just like biological ones. Adoptees rightfully raise their eyebrow at us.
“But my child was adopted at birth. They’ve never even met their first family. How could they be traumatized?” I hear you, but consider this: there are only two explanations for adoption.
My birth family wanted to parent me, but was unable to.
My birth family did not want to parent me.
The absolute best case scenario is that a child grows up in an open adoption, feeling loved by both their first family and adoptive family and understanding that their birth family wanted to parent them but were unable to at the time they were born, for a very valid reason.
That is heartbreaking to process.
This doesn’t mean every adopted child is doomed to a life of depression or that they would be better off if they lived with their first family. It’s simply a reminder that adoption is not either/or. Adoption is both.
We must stop describing it solely through the parents’ perspective. Along with the joy, we must acknowledge the devastation. Think of it in terms of my blended family: the love between me and my stepsons is very real, but it cannot cancel the effect of their parents’ divorce on their lives. The same is true for me and Levon. My unconditional love for him cannot erase the difficulties of his adoption. I will never understand those difficulties the way he does, but I will spend the rest of my days trying my best to learn from the adoptees who have come before him and are willing to share their stories. What a gift they are to me and my son.
Jessica Butler is the co-founder of Raise, stepmother of two, and adoptive mother of one. Prior to Raise, she was a writer on USA’s "In Plain Sight" and TNT’s "The Last Ship." She and her husband, writer/producer Warren Bell, co-created the Nick at Nite series "Instant Mom," based on her life as a stepmother. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and six-year-old son, Levon.