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Bringing up an adopted child

One thought-provoking stumbling block to deciding if inter-country adoption is for you, is the idea of bringing up a child who is biologically not your own.


Adoption is not new and one of our favourite Old Testament stories is that of the baby Moses floating on a reed bed down the River Nile and into the arms of the Pharaoh's daughter who took him as her own. In some countries in West Africa, adoption is a form of social ladder climbing, where you adopt your child out to a family who is of a slightly higher social standing then yours.  This family too, adopts their child out, into a 'higher' family and so on, with the result that most  families are bringing  up someone else's child.  In most religions of the world there is a special place for orphans and for those who take care of them and in history there are many, many famous people who have been adopted and grown up to lead happy and successful lives.


What I am saying here, is that is a natural human action to bring into your home, life and love, a child that is not biologically your own. In fact it is the stuff of good stories - Oliver, Peter Pan, Pinocchio, Wizard of Oz, Anne of Green Gables


For some people they find the idea of bringing up a child who is not their own a strange and awkward concept. You may feel that it is 'some other man's child', and there is the fear that you may never love this child and will always have the feeling that there is a 'stranger' in the house. And then there is the whole question of genetics.....


 These feelings are all real and I doubt if anyone who has been touched by adoption, has not experienced them in one form or another.  When the initial conversation about adoption arises, it is often initiated by the woman, with the reluctance and rational coming from the man. This is quite natural and it is positive and necessary, to bring these concerns out into the open.  They need to be researched, worked though, discussed and explored. Once you embark on the adoption process, you need to be fully committed to the whole idea of adoption.




Genetics is one of the big key concepts in the last century.  Since it 'discovery' many fantastic and truly horrific events have happened in its name.  Depending on where you stand on the time line the understanding of genetics has shifted and influenced everything from society to war. Believing that poverty, intelligence and alcoholism were inherited began the tragic eugenics era with the resultant patholization of the Jews and the Holocaust in the first half of the 20th century.  Fortunately,  we now realise that it is more societal ills then genes  that are 'definitely and distinctly deleteriousto the welfare of the society'


There is the big nature vs nurture debate which swings from one to the other - and often somewhere in between. I think it goes without saying that both nature and nurture have an effect on the character and personality of your child. In my experience there is something else - something that is the child's own, the something that makes them totally unique and individual and which inheritance and environment have no influence eg. detailed, precise, and accurate observation, propensity to sing or dance, natural sense of irony.


Obviously though, there are traits that are inherited.  Your child will not look like you or Uncle Percy, although some matches are uncannily similar.  You will not know if your child's stubboness is just like their father, or something they have learned or acquired.  The debate became very clear to me one afternoon whilst I was waiting in the street for someone to finish at the cash machine.  I was leaning against the wall, my right hand holding my head, my left on my hip and  one leg crossed over the other.   I peered down and my three-year old son was standing directly under me, in the exact identical pose! Nurture!



The thing that no one wants to talk about - the mental capacity.  Adopted children obviously do not come from good homes and you may be concerned about their school and future careers. Contrary to initial thoughts, there is evidence that shows adopted children actually do very well:


In 1994, the Search Institute in Minneapolis released the results of “Growing Up Adopted,” a four-year study of 881 adopted adolescents, 1,262 adoptive parents, and 78 non-adopted siblings. The study found that the majority of the adopted teens were strongly attached to their families and psychologically healthy. In fact, the adopted teens in the study scored better than their non-adopted siblings or a sample of their peers in …


  • Connectedness—having three or more friends and having access to two or more none parent adults for advice.
  • Caring—placing a high value on helping other people.
  • Social competency—friendship-making and assertiveness skills.


Adopted teens also scored higher than non-adopted adolescents in …


  • School achievement—having a B average or better and aspiring to higher education.
  • Optimism—expecting to be happy in 10 years and expecting to be successful as an adult.
  • Support—having a high level of support from parents and from school.



On a personal note, one of the joys in bringing up a child that is not your own is the expectations.  One can sit back and just watch the child emerge like a butterfly instead of feeling that they are a little one of you and pushing them to make up for possible or imagined inadequacies on your behalf!  It is such a relief not to have great expectations - I want my child to fulfil his potential but it is not me who is determining what that potential is.




 It is not unheard of that people feel racism towards members of their own family - and even towards their own mixed race children.  If you have any feeling that certain 'types of people' are in any way inferior to you or deserve to be treated in a demeaning manner then inter-country adoption is not for you. 


Loving someone else's child


Love is an incredible emotion and if your believe poets and musicians it can do virtually anything! But one thing it is certainly capable of doing is loving children that are not your own. There is a connection between an adult and a child and when that child is depending solely on you for its nourishment, shelter love and support it takes the very hardest of people not to give into love. I am not saying that the moment you see your child you will be totally in love with them - this can and does happen - but more the deep and respectful love that nurtures over time growing stronger by the day. I personally could not imagine feeling any deeper love then I do for my son. I would, as one proverbially say,s 'die for him'. Apart from genes he is every bit  my child and I am every bit his parent. I don't have a birth child and thus cannot  compare but in one respect my love is easier as I don't have the expectations that I think I would have if my son was my birth child and thus I love him for who he is. 


Richard was quite reluctant to become an adoptive father. He did not vocalise these concerns for fear of upsetting his wife, but he held them very close to his chest and was deeply anxious that it would all go terribly wrong.  He created all sorts of scenarios in his mind as to what the future would bring and how he would respond to this child that was coming into his life.  He knew that he should be talking about this but at the same time could not - he didn't even understand the feelings himself.  He was feeling inadequate that was true, not siring his own child left an open wound which he worried would be constantly prodded every time he would see 'an adopted child'. He was angry, angry at himself and at the world. Angry that life should be so complicated and so full of responsibilities - and now he would have to burden more. He wondered too why his wife just had to keep on about a child would 'complete' them.  These thoughts rolled around in his head and sometimes were over ridden by the complexities of the process and sometimes exasperated by them. So it was totally out of left field when, going through the motions, he found himself in Thailand and introduced to the wide-eyed, black-haired, scrunched brown-faced boy who was to become his son.  His heart  missed a beat and the most incredible feeling of warm honey flowing through his body engulfed him. He almost stumbled from surprise and then yelped for joy as he lifted his son above his head and bought him down into the tightest hug either of them had ever experienced!


Talking to friends and family


 Support is one of the most fundamental resources in adoption . Speak to your closer friends and family to see if they have any reservations about you adopting and discuss these with them and with each other.  You will not be able to get all the support of all your friends and families but initially discussions may bring up some interesting factors that you had never contemplated. When I was having the boy/girl debate I was rather surprised to hear that my male friends thought that I had a 'male attitude' and that a boy would feel very comfortable in my care - this was complete news to me. Remember that this child is going to be part of your family and if anyone of your close ones have prejudices etc towards a particular creed then it needs to be discussed carefully.  Adoption is for life and you don't want to find yourself in a situation where there is a family split because of your child.




The adopt ion community is a fantastic support group - why they are all people just like you going through exactly what you are going through. Join the forum here on  the site, express your concerns, see what others think and feel. Download some of the audio files which are coming to hear what those who have successful adopted have over come their fears and concerns. 


And visualise. See yourself in scenarios in the future and  see what is important to you - the joy of teaching your kid to roller skate or having a child with same skin tones as yours?



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