Did Your Family Include a Reluctant Spouse?

Often, the decision to adopt is not unanimous. Here, families share their stories of reluctant spouses, extended family, and how they overcame.

A couple having an adoption argument

Four years ago, my husband and I were happily raising our two daughters by birth when I decided that I was ready to adopt a son of a different race. My husband was content with our family as it was, and I struggled to give him the time he needed to think about adopting.

One day, he said, “I can’t match your enthusiasm.” I responded, “I can’t expect you to. I only need you to match my commitment.” Once we’d reached this understanding, he was able to move forward with me, and we’ve been completely in synch on every adoption and parenting decision since.

My husband’s mother was even more reluctant. She was unable even to listen to our adoption plans until we were matched with our son—until he was a real child with a name and a birthday. Of course, it helped that we named him after her father! Only later did we realize that our son, Jesse Paolo, had the same birthday as his great-grandfather and namesake.

Today, my mother-in-law tells me that our son brings the same excitement, humor, and chaos to our family that my husband brought to hers. Jesse is the little boy I dreamed of, the son my husband didn’t know he needed, a glimpse into his father’s childhood, a reminder of a greatly missed great-grandfather, as well as a link to a country far away. It’s amazing to me that our family was initially so cautious in pursuing adoption; now it feels completely right and natural for all of us. —Donna S. Roland, Pennsylvania

A Question for Lois Melina: Our decision to adopt was met with great enthusiasm by everyone in our family—except my mother-in-law. When we showed her the referral picture of our daughter, she barely glanced at it. And when we arrived home with our baby girl, she was not at the airport with the rest of our family. Finally, after a lot of pressure from my father-in-law, she came to see the baby—and refused even to look at her. Subsequent visits were worse, full of dirty looks and disparaging remarks about our child.

After almost two years, we decided that this needed to be resolved, because our daughter was at the age when she was becoming aware of family relationships. My husband let his mother know that her behavior would no longer be tolerated. She finally stated that she could never accept our child as her grandchild because she is not a blood relative.

It has been almost a year since she has seen our daughter. This has been heartbreaking for our families. On the bright side, my father-in-law is very much involved in his granddaughter’s life, and our daughter has many extended family members who adore her. Our biggest challenge will be explaining this to our daughter. We do not even know where to begin. —Courtney Jackson, via e-mail

Lois Melina’s Reply: It sounds like you are doing all that can be done in a difficult situation. Your daughter will look to you for guidance in how to interpret this. This is your mother-in-law’s problem, not your daughter’s. You demonstrate that by dealing with the situation in an honest and straightforward way. Do not compensate for your mother-in-law’s behavior, pretend it is something other than what it is, or justify it.

Continue to give your daughter opportunities to be with family members who have welcomed her. There’s no explaining that can make this situation with your mother-in-law better, but as your daughter grows up, you can be open to opportunities to discuss her feelings and let her know that she does not have to accept this woman’s judgments.

When we began the adoption process, my mother was not very supportive. She felt that the system was too invasive and too demanding. After all we were giving a child a home; the state should be grateful. I know she was concerned for us, but it was hard to deal with. I felt I couldn’t share what we were going through with one of the most important people in my life. EVERYTHING changed when she met Sam and fell instantly in love. Suddenly, the process was worth it. She absolutely loves her grandson, can’t imagine our family without him—and wants to know when were going to adopt again.  —Sheila Davis, Missouri

In our case, it was my father who was less than enthusiastic. All throughout the process of adopting our son from Guatemala, he never asked how it was going, and when I would tell him or others in his presence about what was going on, he just kept quiet. I wondered why, and, in talking with others about his attitude, we thought he would change once the baby arrived. I was afraid that it was because we were adopting a Latino baby and that he might not change his attitude. As it turns out, it was only that he, like many adoptive parents who have struggled with infertility, had to grieve for the unborn biological grandchild that would have had his eyes or my smile. He is now the most wonderful and attentive grandparent any child could wish for, and my son loves his Grandpop very much. They have a fantastic relationship, and he is impatient for his granddaughter to arrive from Guatemala next year! Sometimes adopting parents forget that the extended family has not had the benefit of adoption education that we get from our agency, support groups, and books and magazines, and they may need some time to adjust.  —Jennifer Alexander, Pennsylvania

Ours is a story like so many others: years of fertility treatment followed by a miraculous pregnancy that did not go full term, and experiencing the unbearable feeling of loss that follows. Our families wanted for us what we wanted: a family of our own. Initially, we had to learn a great deal ourselves and about adoption options, and overcome our own misperceptions. We had faith and knew that our family was meant to be formed through adoption.

Our relatives’ first question when we told them we were going to adopt from Russia was invariably, “So, you’ve given up?” Thank god we had enough faith and confidence in ourselves and what we were doing! It was because of this that we were able to respond by saying, “On the contrary—that’s why we are adopting!”

After two trips to Russia, Ethan James came home just after his sixth month birthday. It’s been just over 6 months since we became a family, and we can’t remember life without him. Life is full because of him! As our Ethan grows, our conversations with family become much more fluid, and, as they are ready and willing to learn, we are committed to educating them about adoption. Ethan is awesome! We wish we COULD take credit for the gene pool from which he was born, but that rightfully stays with his birth parents. We are quite content to be the love and support for him for the rest of his life, and wear our parent badge with honor! We will do whatever is necessary to continue to learn more ourselves and to teach our families about adoption. Ethan deserves this commitment! —Laura and Adam Smith, Chicago, Illinois

My husband and I were reluctant to adopt only at different times! When he thought it was a good idea, I didn’t want to. When I thought it was something I wanted to pursue, he said no. We finally agreed to build our family through adoption after our fifth course of IVF. We started our process in September 1995 and our daughter came home from Russia in September 1996. We feel blessed with our two children—our biological son, 12 years old, and our adopted daughter, seven years old. —Ann Connelly, Suffield, Connecticut

My husband and I dealt with a reluctant family member on his side of the family. We had chosen to adopt internationally, and she was dead-set against it. She did not speak to us for the entire length of our waiting period, which was slightly over one year. Family gatherings became increasingly uncomfortable as she eyed us sternly and avoided any conversation with either of us. But then, this past Fourth of July, she met Lia, our beautiful daughter from China. I could actually see her stern features soften. Shortly after that, she stopped by our house for a visit and brought Lia a very special Barney doll who sings, “I love you, you love me, We’re a happy family.” A very symbolic gift! —Shannon Roudebush, Indiana

After two years of fertility treatments and my third miscarriage, I told my husband that I was not going to put my family or myself through that anymore. He agreed to that for my sake. After grieving over my third miscarriage, I immediately brought up the subject of adoption, which seemed to me like the next logical step in becoming parents. He adamantly refused, saying that he did not want any children that were not his. I directly approached the subject again a year later, after dropping a few hints here and there, and after he had time to think about it and had talked to some people that had adopted. He finally said that maybe we should check into it.

I was so excited, I started making calls right away! I was turned off by several agencies talking money first, and our wanting to become parents second. So on a Sunday afternoon, I made one last call. This one-woman agency had the phone forwarded to her home and spent an hour on the phone with me talking about what we wanted to do. Of course we chose her. (In fact, I am doing consulting work for her now, and she recently gave us a subscription to Adoptive Families as a gift. What a wonderful gift!)

My husband started warming up to the idea more and more as we got further into the process. During this time, he was able to analyze his feelings on becoming a parent, and realized why he really wanted to be a parent. At first we wanted a newborn; then as things progressed, we talked about foreign adoption and a toddler. My husband got really into putting the nursery together and building the crib and changing table! He kept talking about our son. Who knew if it would be a boy? I guess he did! After a year of paperwork and more paperwork, we got the call. We had been matched with a baby boy! He was from Russia and was 15 months old. We couldn’t meet with our agent until later that day, but both of us did nothing for the rest of the day but make phone calls telling everyone we knew about the good news. When we saw the photos of our son, my husband almost started crying. When we met our son, it was all my husband could do to hold back the tears. When we left the meeting after seeing our new son in person for the first time, my husband said to me, “We have a son—we’re parents!” I think it was at that moment that we both truly realized that adoption goes far beyond any biological link. We were so thrilled when we were told we could take our son home two days later.

My son looks just like my husband, and acts just like him too. He is his daddy’s boy, and his daddy is his hero. Our son is now 6 1/2. A year and a half after we adopted him, we adopted biological sisters, ages 6 and 7, who were formerly in foster care. We just couldn’t stop at one! It took a while for my husband to come around, but if you asked him today, he would tell you that this is the way we were meant to form our family, and that adoption is one of the most wonderful ways to fulfill the dream of becoming parents. He does nothing but brag about his kids, and he is the best dad any child could ever have! —Lori St.Germain-Brainard, Albuquerque, New Mexico

After I was married it hit me that I had come to that point in my life to have my own little family. When I realized we were facing infertility, my first thought was adoption. It was my husband who was reluctant. I was devastated when my he refused to even discuss adoption. He said he wasn’t ready yet—we were newlyweds at the time—and asked me to give him time. Little by little, he warmed up to the idea. I remember how excited I was when he agreed to adoption. I wanted to adopt right away. He wanted to wait until we bought a house. He was right about that, but waiting is so hard.

We started the adoption process in January 2002, but after my husband was laid off, we had to postpone the adoption indefinitely. This has opened a new door: the idea of foster care. At first I was reluctant regarding foster care, but after a year of struggling financially, I realized foster care could be a better solution. I thought for sure my husband would disagree. But when I brought up the idea, he said that he was totally open to it. I am so excited! As I look back on the developing process, I see how important it is to give your spouse time to grow and develop. With patience and persistence, he or she will come around.
—Rebecca Potter, Texas

My story is a little different from most people. My husband is an active duty major in the US Army. He deployed to Camp Doha, Kuwait the Sunday after Thanksgiving 2001 because his unit was defending our country against the terrorists who attacked on Sep 11th.

We have one biological son who is seven and he came to us through chlomid, a drug that helps with ovulation. My husband one day emailed me and said “I think we should have more kids.” I wrote back. “How do you plan on making this happen with you being 8 time zones away?”

That next week, I was reading the Atlanta Constitutional Journal and I saw an advertisement about an information meeting for international adoption. I reviewed their website and wrote him an email that I think I have found our way to have more kids even with him in a different country. So we have mailed many documents back and forth; he was able to come home for 12 weeks total this year during which we squeezed in our home study and his physical. We are still waiting on the INS to approve his second set of prints because he had both sets done in Kuwait the old fashioned way—with ink. We had to wait to turn in our dossier because of China’s quotas. So now each day when I check my mail box I look for only one envelope from the INS, sending us the most important document telling us we are qualified. So although we are were not obstacles to each other, we continue with the struggles of putting the dossier together through 8 times zones. I wish other couples well as they work through the paperchase. I can’t wait to be “Just Waiting!” —Gail Daras, Georgia

I will never forget the look of tenderness and wonder in my husband’s eyes when our beautiful, chubby three-month-old daughter was handed to us in very unpretentious surroundings (our social worker’s somewhat messy office)! He was my “reluctant spouse,” not wanting to rush into anything while I wanted to rush full speed ahead with the adoption process. His initial misgivings had seemed to be confirmed just three months earlier, when the adoption of a baby boy had fallen through only days before he was to come home to us. Yet, at that very time God was bringing our precious daughter into the world . . . We just had a little longer to wait and learn to trust. She was all the more precious because of it! —Stephanie Garcia, Michigan

We were both reluctant and endured 12 years of infertility treatments as a result (we don’t give up easily.) Finally, I realized I did not want to live the rest of my life without being a parent. I felt we could be good parents to a child. My husband took another year to convince and it was only after a psychologist (specializing in infertility) asked him a few simple questions that he changed his mind. She asked if he was afraid if he could love a child not biologically related. He said, “Yes.” She then asked him if he loved his wife. He looked at me and said that he loved me with all his heart. Then the psychologist asked him if he was biologically related to his wife. Naturally, he responded, “NO!” The psychologist then simply said, “If you can love your wife so much, what makes you think you can not love a child as much?” That was all it took. We signed up to adopt the following week and our son was born the following year. We love him more than we could ever imagine was possible. —Liza


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