Adoption is defined by the Collegiate Dictionary as: “to take by choice into a relationship.” Choice is the operative word in this definition. Whenever a child is adopted, the parents make an informed choice to take them into a parent-child relationship. To be chosen is a great honor; I was chosen when I was about 18 months old. My parents chose to adopt me and provide me with a loving, stable, two-parent home with an abundance of love not just from the two of them but from an entire family (village).
“For many are called but few are chosen” Matthew 22:14 (KJV)
I am not an expert on adoption with any academic qualifications on the subject but I am a person with first-hand knowledge gained through years of experience as an adopted child. Every adoption story has its own peculiarities; however, I contend there is common ground as well. I have a deep and sincere desire to share some of the choices that worked as well as some that could have been done better. I believe there are some universally applicable imperatives or choices that are critical to the success of every adoption.
Imperative 1 – Choose Love. Adopted parents must have the capacity to love the adopted child without regard for any circumstances of their birth. The decision to adopt comes with an inherent choice to love and nurture the child. I was blessed to have a mom and dad who loved me to a point that I never remotely questioned their devotion to me. I never had any reason to question their love or to doubt that they loved me as much as they would if they had been my biological parents. They provided a safe, secure, encouraging environment. They took me to church and attended my school programs; they spent time with me, they taught me about life; instilled values, and held me accountable. I still recall the day my dad took the training wheels off my first bicycle and the first time he let me drive the family car down an old dirt road. I remember when my mom introduced me to my first grade teacher and the day she dropped me off at college and waved goodbye. Love has to be a top choice.
Imperative 2 – Choose Inclusion. The adopted child must feel acceptance and inclusion in the entire family; not just the parents and siblings but the entire village – siblings, family members, neighbors, friends, etc. The adoption, itself, is an undeniable fact but if the inclusion process is exacted, it becomes a fact that is neither emphasized nor brought up and is seldom even thought about. I was blessed with an entire village that accepted me as just another person in the family and as memberships will state – with all the rights and privileges. During my childhood, I never heard anyone refer to me as their adopted son, adopted grandson, adopted nephew, adopted cousin, or adopted anything else. Most of them knew I was adopted but they loved me to the point, that fact was given absolutely no energy. Some of my first cousins told me, they had no idea I was adopted until we were well into adulthood. Although some family members did treat the undeniable fact of my adoption as state secret, the fact really was not important to them. Nobody cared then and nobody cares now and that is good to know I am part of a loving family. The importance of full and unconditional inclusion in the village simply cannot be overstated.
Imperative 3 – Choose Open and Honest Communication. The adoptive parents must discuss, determine, and rehearse when and what to say as soon as the child is old enough to process the information. For some, it may be earlier than others and of course, with older children, the fact they are adopted is likely known, understood, and accepted. For children who were adopted as babies, this is a tough one and I will admit that this is a part of my story that did not go so well. Know this – the questions will come; I call them the “Five Ws”- who, what, when, where, and why. The most challenging of all may be the last W. Why was I adopted? It will take great reflection, introspection, and prayer to deal with all this but the sooner you do it, the sooner the world can normalize. This is important, especially for the central character in this story – the child. This is the time where all the main characters will emerge to add context to the story. Although I had lived with my mom and dad since I was about 18 months old, I didn’t know I was not their biological son until I was about 11 years old so the secret information had been closely guarded by members of the village and there were no inadvertent or intentional leaks. My parents finally started to open up to me by rationing information after I started asking questions but even then, they deflected and slowly revealed by rationing the 5Ws to me. I admit mine is a very complex adoption story and I will not attempt to peel back the layers of that onion here and now. I always believed I could have accepted my reality and moved on a lot easier if I knew sooner – prior to having to suffer the taunting and bullying that sometimes occurred from classmates who theorized my status based on my physical features. If anyone reading this was ever a kid (all of you), you probably remember how kids can take any information, weaponize it and add it to their “bully arsenal.” If I had only known that I was “chosen,” I could have had a “ready response” to shut that talk down instantly. Bullies lose effectiveness when they can no longer get to you. I realize my parents thought they were doing the right thing by protecting me. In retrospect, a more honest explanation at an earlier (appropriate) age would have worked much better.
Conclusion: There were certain things that went well and some that could have been done better but hindsight, as they say, is always 20/20. It is great to have been chosen and I am grateful to my parents for choosing me as well as to my family (my village) for accepting me and loving me. I have often heard the expression – “blood is thicker than water” and I agree with that both in a natural sense and as a metaphor; however, my own parallel expression is that “a relationship created from love is thicker than blood.” I know this because my life is proof. Family is not just based on DNA connection; family can also be based on choice.
BY CHARLES SCOTT