How Do I Help My Family See Adoption The Same Way I Do?

It’s a common thread we read in emails and comments from adoptive families. Everyone is excited about their adoption except their extended family. Is there anyway to change this?

Married couple in separation

I’m going to be brutally honest here. Extended families (moms, dads, aunts, uncles, brothers and sisters) can be the worst supporters when you’re starting out on the adoptive journey. In fact, some of the stories we’ve heard recently wouldn’t even qualify as support. They’re anything but. Personally, we haven’t experienced this. We are blessed to have two amazing families on both sides who have always supported our family and our decision to adopt. But we’ve spent lots of time with people who aren’t as fortunate.

The biggest question we get (usually over email, and sometimes in blog or Facebook comments) is, “How do I help my family see adoption the same way I do?”

It breaks our hearts every time we read a question like this. Why? Well, it’s simple. We know the places of the heart this question comes from. It’s a place of passion. A place where deep love burns bright for children who need a home. It’s the most defeating feeling in the world to share this with people you’d expect to be on your side, see your vision, and share your passion, only to have it squelched or extinguished altogether.

It can cause a myriad of emotions inside of you. You even start to question your decision to adopt. After all, your family is where the greatest source of influence derived from when you were growing up, on your way to becoming an adult. Even in your adult years, you listen to your mom and dad, your grandma and grandpa. It starts to feel hopeless when you feel a barrier between you and them over something you’re excited about.

But all hope may not be lost. Over the years, we’ve watch friends who had misunderstanding family members, move into a place of understanding, even commonality, with them. Here are 4 steps you can take to help your family see your adoption the way you do:

  1. Calm Conversation. If the recent events in the United States have taught us anything, it’s the great need for some good ole calm, conversation where we listen to one another’s hearts and minds first, before reacting or becoming defensive. The same is true for your interaction with your family and your decision to adopt. Stay calm and be willing to enter into a conversation civilly….at first. Listen and talk, listen and talk. You’re going to begin this way, but you won’t stay in this place forever, especially if you can sense that there will be no understanding.
  2. Intentional Participation. As much as you can, include your family in the adoption process. Ask them what names they like best (if you’re choosing your child’s name), or call them with updates or news on your progress. Often times, families feel left out (even though they may not be) and just want to be included. This doesn’t mean that you rely on them to make decisions for your adoption, or call the shots for your family. It just means you’re intentional in allowing them to participate in the process.
  3. Compassionate Tolerance. If it takes a long time for family members to come around, be compassionate. Even tolerant, to be the best of your ability. Combine those two together. Continue to converse calmly and allow them to participate, but proceed with compassion. Remember- adoption is widely known by the world, but still very misunderstood. Sometimes it takes some time to show the world (even your private world) the beauty of adoption.
  4. Proactive Protection. If you arrive at a place where you realize your family will never understand, or never be onboard, it’s time to move into, what we like to call, proactive protection. Even though you want your extended family along for the journey, this is about your decision and your family, no one else’s. You don’t owe an explanation or a detailed reasoning for why you chose to adopt. You’re an adult, and you make adult decisions. How you raise a family is one of them. If all else (really, all else) fails, it’s time to protect your heart, and your family, and set up safeguards.

At the end of the day, it’s about your calling, and your family. No one else’s, including your extended family. You may notice that in the points I made above that I do not tell you to spend a lot of time explaining or convincing. You don’t need to do this over and over again. Answer questions when they come, but stay focused on the journey you’re on or about to embark on.

While you may not be able to convince your family of the beauty you’re a part of, you can commit to praying for them. They can’t stop you from doing this. The hope is that you will reach a day of mutual understanding, even celebration over your amazing decision to adopt. Keep believing in this day.

Question: Do you have extended family members who misunderstand your decision to adopt? Share your story with us in the comment section below. You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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  • Allisonm

    This is such wise counsel! We enjoy wonderful support from our extended family. Before I met my husband, but after I learned that I would be unable to bear children, a man who was courting me withdrew because he feared he would be unable to love children who were not biologically related to him. Being adopted myself and having other adoptees in my extended family, that fear had never occurred to me. (As far as I know, I’ve never met anyone to whom I’m biologically related since my birth, so everyone I’ve loved has been a non-bio relative.) I do now recognize that my former suitor’s fear is not all that uncommon and since we’ve adopted, I’ve seen this fear affect relationships in other adoptive families. Meeting fear with compassion and encouragement is certainly a skill for which a foster/adoptive parent will have much use and we can start with our families.

    Adoption can challenge our hidden biases and beliefs about what it means to be “family.” It can take time to work through those. I know my own biases don’t disappear magically when I realize I have them, but take thought, prayer, and adjustment of my beliefs. Allowing family members that opportunity is respectful and bodes well for the future.

    Before we adopted, a lot of people shared every adoption horror story they had ever heard. Some of those people were truly concerned and really wanted for us to not face such difficulties. Some of them even stuck by us when those difficulties became our daily challenges.

    • So glad you like the post Allison. 😉

  • nelleia

    Our families have been very supportive of our adoption but now that we’ve ventured into foster care its harder for them. I don’t think they truly understand the unique difficulties we’re facing. My mom, trying to be supportive keeps telling me how cute our foster daughter is and how I’m so patient and she knows if anyone can do this I can. I so appreciate her faith in me but what I really need is for her to understand how non-patient, non-loving I feel some days and how no matter how cute my daughter is (and she is adorable) that really doesn’t make things easier. Her comments make me feel guilty for not being loving or patient enough, like maybe if I could just be who she thinks I am all of the problems would go away. My mind knows that my daughter’s problems came with her and her brokenness is something only God can ultimately fix but I still feel guilty. My husband’s parents are just the opposite. If I tell them what’s happening they say things like, “you know you don’t have to keep her.” or “I’d hate for all her behaviors to ruin what you’ve built in your family”. They also are trying to support us but it really doesn’t help when my father in law emails my husband behind my back or my mother-in-law tells him about behaviors that happen when she’s babysitting but doesn’t tell me when I am picking the children up and could possibly still address them or at least give her ideas of how to deal with those behaviors if they happen again. Sorry, this is a little off topic but I can’t say these things to friends and family. I love our parents and they are trying to support us in their own ways. I just don’t know how to tell them that their support is making me feel like I’m a fraud for being frustrated or that I’m going to ruin my son’s life because I’m trying to make my daughter’s better.

    • It sounds like you’re on the right track by involved. Sometimes it takes time and you have to go step-by-step.

  • Deana Etheridge Roberts

    One side of my extended “family” has made it clear they do not accept our children. They say the right words, but when it comes down to it, they could care less. They do not visit us, never call to see how we are doing, never offer to help with anything, and have spent less than one day with my children in the four years we have had them. We finally realized when they had plenty of time to visit others, take trips out of state and even out of the country, but never had time to visit us when invited (yes, at first we invited them to everything) that they just don’t care. So we set them free and don’t engage with them. My children will not know their extended family on one side, but that’s ok, the family is the ones missing out, not us.

    • Oh goodness, so sorry to hear this. We know how that is. Hang in there.