Three women who became grandmothers by adoption provide their insight on how it's impacted them and their families.
Published: October 31, 2018
By: Stephanie Rodda
Adoption can be a beautiful way to build a family. When a child is adopted, he doesn’t only gain parents, he may possibly gain grandparents.
Grandparents aren’t a part of the decision to adopt, but they can be an instrumental part of the process of bonding and belonging to a new family. They may want to provide support and yet be unsure what their role is. They may want to understand and yet be unsure about boundaries. They may want to feel hopeful and yet find themselves feeling afraid or anxious about what to expect.
Every family’s dynamics are different, but there are concerns that are common ground for extended family members when an adoption is underway. Feelings of guilt might cast a shadow on the budding relationship if grandparents find themselves wondering if they can love the adopted grandchild the same as a birth grandchild. They may face a sense of dread that somehow along the way, their children will face tremendous heartache and grief. They may feel ill-equipped and hesitant to invest in a relationship that is so different than what they’ve experienced before.
I asked three women who became grandmothers by adoption to get their insight. K works in child therapy and has granddaughters who were adopted internationally. S is a retired business owner and has grandsons who were adopted through the foster care system. V is an office manager and has a grandson that was adopted through a private adoption.
When did you first know your child would be adopting? What was your initial reaction?
K – We found out our daughter and son-in-law planned to adopt internationally about three years ago, two years before the adoption became finalized and they brought the girls home. We were excited and not surprised. Ever since they had taken several mission trips to Africa, we knew they had the heart to adopt internationally from a developing country.
S – My daughter and her husband had tried for years to have a baby. One Sunday morning in 2003, a couple attended our church who were foster parents of two little boys. My daughter fell instantly in love with the boys. She and her husband began classes to become foster parents which eventually led to them adopting the boys.
V – We found out our son and daughter-in-law would be adopting a couple of years before they actually adopted. I was very excited because of our desire for them to have a child. But the initial reaction when they announced they would be going to the hospital to get their son was an overwhelming joy!!
What were some of your fears?
K – As a pediatric occupational therapist, I think my biggest fear was that the child might have special needs for which we were not prepared. I knew that if that was the case, we would lovingly deal with these challenges and get the child all the help they needed. But there is so much “unknown” when you adopt, especially from an orphanage in a developing country. We also knew that multi-racial families have unique challenges that would have to be faced.
S – I didn’t initially have concerns. I was not a grandmother at the time. There were times during the adoption process that I became very concerned that we wouldn’t be able to keep the boys.
V – My fears only came after they talked to the attorney and started the process. I feared for their hearts to be broken if an adoption fell through. I feared for them bringing a baby into the family only to be taken away! I never feared not loving him/her! I knew this would be our baby and he would always be special! I had no fear of this child not fitting in or bonding because we are a loving, affectionate family and we wouldn’t allow this child to not feel a part of us.
What has surprised you most as you grandparent your child’s adopted child?
K – The first big surprise was when we found out we were getting twin girls, instead of one boy! We have been so pleasantly surprised at how quickly they have adapted. The first few weeks were very, very difficult on the new parents. And there are still struggles. But the rate at which the girls have learned English, gained preschool academic concepts, and accepted us as their family has been amazing.
S – I think my biggest surprise has been the feelings of rejection adopted children may continue to struggle with. No matter how much love they are shown, each of them may face emotional trauma.
V – I guess the surprise is how much our grandbaby is loved and accepted by our community! A lot of people ask me – “How is that grandbaby? He is so cute and smart!” This gives me an opportunity to brag on him and tell them what a blessing he is to us. Everyone knows the struggle the parents went through, so this makes him even more special to all those around him! And there is no jealousy whatsoever between my other grandchildren and their baby. He is that loved and important to our family.
How has adoption changed who you are and your perspective?
K – We have a niece who was adopted from China over 10 years ago, so our family was already an “adoptive” family. We knew some of the ups and downs we would face from that experience. But being a grandparent to two precious girls who needed a forever family is the greatest joy imaginable.
S – Adoption has shown me that blood doesn’t make you love one child over another. I never look at my grandchildren and differentiate which are the adopted ones.
V – Adoption hasn’t changed my perspective about interracial families or “non-biological” children. I have always felt that love and people make a family; not blood and being of the same ethnicity.
What words of wisdom would you share with grandparents who are just beginning this journey as their children begin the process of adoption?
K – Adoptive parents are typically advised to “cocoon” with the adopted child for several weeks, meaning they have minimal to no interaction with the outside world. This is to allow the child time to learn who his parents are and bond with them before introducing other “strangers” into the mix. It was very difficult, after waiting for two long years, to continue to wait after the girls were here. Especially knowing how difficult things were for our daughter and knowing how they were struggling those first few weeks. But we understood the purpose and tried to be supportive. It’s important for adoptive grandparents to understand their role in those initial weeks is to allow that time for bonding and know that your turn will come soon. There will be other ways you can support and encourage your child during that time.
S – Be prepared for the biggest blessing, but don’t be surprised that there may be issues for the children to overcome, especially with older-child adoption.
V – Be supportive and pray hard!! Be there for the ups and downs and assure them that God has a plan. Be involved in the process as much as they will allow. They need to know that their family is behind them and that you will love this child with all your heart.
As my husband and I began our adoption journey, we didn’t always meet with support and understanding. My own grandmother, who was one of the kindest, most loving people I’ve ever known, struggled with adoption misconceptions from past years when it was considered secretive and certainly didn’t cross racial boundaries. She grew to love my children and treated them with tender care. But I don’t think she was ever able to overcome her apprehensions of what difficulties might be ahead.
There are unfortunate examples of extended family members who could never accept the truth that adoption is not the consolation prize for not birthing children. There may be times when there will be necessary healthy boundaries with certain family members. Thankfully, time and experience can often mend these relationships as eyes and hearts are opened to the beauty of adoption.
If your child is adopting a child, educate yourself, follow their lead and be prepared to embrace the joy of grandparenting the unique child that has been lovingly and purposefully placed into your lives.
Stephanie Rodda is an adoptive mom of seven and a freelance writer who lives in the Birmingham area. She blogs at StephanieRodda.wordpress.com and has authored fiction books that are available at Amazon.