If you are not an adopter you cannot fully understand what the adoption journey is like. As with most things in life, you need to go through it, to really get it. There are so many assumptions about adoption that are at best, misplaced, and at worst, harmful. These are some of the things I’ve heard said to adopters:
‘Is he yours?’
‘Oh, now she’s adopted, everything will be fine’
‘Are you going to tell them they are adopted?’
Moving beyond the fact that some of these questions are just plain rude, they can be extremely complicated and exhausting to answer.
What adopters really need is informed supporters, advocates and allies. Adopters parent some of the most vulnerable children in our society and they need support from the adoption community and beyond, whether that be friends, family, professionals or politicians. They need to have people that fight with them, and on their behalf, for proper funding and adequate support provisions if and when they need them.
At this point I have to tell you, I am not an adopter. Whilst I am a mum to three wonderful, noisy birth children, my parenting experience to date does not include adoption. My knowledge of adoption, before working for WAF, was built from a mixture of personal interest in the process, the experiences of friends’ adoptions and from the myriad helpful and equally unhelpful ways it is presented in the media and wider society. On reflection, was I naive about the realities and complexities of life for adoptive families? Yes, I think I was.
I am now in the hugely privileged position of being the Director of We Are Family. When I originally joined WAF as a member of staff in May of 2019, the work of the charity was being carried out solely and tirelessly by volunteers, most of whom were also adoptive parents. They were running local peer support groups, leading the charity, all whilst parenting their children and working their normal day jobs. I set about doing my level best to bring some relief to their WAF loads.
However, the role quickly became more than just a job to me. I care deeply about what we do and the people we do it for. The work of WAF volunteers in their communities of adoptive parents is transformative. It offers a lifeline, or safety net, to so many parents who are in the thick of parenting children who have had anything but easy starts in life. Our support is free, and it has grown, beyond face-to-face opportunities to build networks, to include online support and information to encourage confidence and resilience in parenting. We are there for the highs and the lows.
I believe my own ability to support and advocate for adopters has increased ten-fold. Is it through more in-depth knowledge of the adoption process? Maybe. Is it because I am tuned in to policy making and current practice? Perhaps. Is it because I have listened to the experiences of hundreds of adopters? Most definitely.
Amongst many things, I have learned it can be incredibly difficult for adoptive families to find education settings that understand the impact of trauma. It can be hard for adoptive families to access the Adoption Support Fund and the therapeutic and other support they need. I’ve become increasingly aware that contact with birth families can be complex and that most processes around it are very outdated.
The spectrum of adopter experience is vast. Every family is different. Every parent and child has their own set of experiences to navigate. To move beyond unhelpful tropes and narratives about adoption, we must listen to those in our lives that are on these journeys and do our best to understand the very unique set of circumstances they are in.
Whether we are aware of it or not, we are all products of our upbringing. We can make quick assumptions and judgements about family dynamics or parenting styles or challenging behaviours.
My biggest take-away from my almost 5 years at WAF? Never assume you know the story. If you are a friend or family member of an adopter, one of the most important things you can do for them is to listen, and to learn.
WAF exists because we believe in the power of connection. As we often say, it takes a village.
If you would like to listen and learn more, please come along to our webinar on Saturday 2nd December @ 10am: “How Friends and Family Can Support the Parents of Differently Wired Children” with guest speaker, Zach Gomm. To find out more and register, visit: https://wearefamilyadoption.org.uk/