Q: My cousin, who has struggled with addiction for years, is pregnant. She knows she is not ready to be a mother and we’ve discussed my adopting the baby. I realize we’ll need a lawyer, but what else will we need to do in order to adopt a family member's child?
A: You would have to follow your state's adoption laws regarding a home study, pre-adoption education, a post-adoption contact agreement, or whatever is required. You will need to contact an adoption agency (or, in some states, a lawyer) to be sure all is in order.
But, on top of these legal/logistical concerns, you would do well to consider:
- The consent and future role of the birth father. Does he agree with the adoption plan? Will he want to be part of an open adoption?
- Pre-adoptive counseling for your cousin, to be sure she is aware of all her options and making an informed decision.
- If you are married, is your spouse on board?
- Are your cousin's parents (your aunt/uncle) on board?
- If you do move forward with the adoption, who will name the baby? Would you allow your cousin to do that or agree on a name together, or have you envisioned your naming the baby on your own?
- Is the child going to call you Mom/Dad, or Aunt, Cousin, or something else? What is the child going to call his birth mother?
- Frankly, it can't really be a closed adoption unless you plan on avoiding every family wedding, funeral, birthday, and so on. But how open will it be? Will you send pictures? Have visits? Overnights? How often? What will you do if your cousin shows up for a visit while under the influence? Are you going to set up a formal agreement regarding contact?
- Are you going to tell your friends and your husband's family who the birth mother is?
- You may need help telling the child his story. Since everyone in the family is going to know the truth, you will need to be sure the child knows it, too, and that he hears it from you first.
- What are your cousin's addictions? Has she been sober during the pregnancy? If so, beginning in which trimester? If not and the child was prenatally exposed to drugs and/or alcohol, what future health complications could he face? What resources do you have to parent a child who may have medical needs?
Kinship adoption is a wonderful way to build a family, but it comes with all of the issues of any adoption, with an extra layer of family matters. Some relatives will be supportive and relieved, others will feel that the child should have stayed with his birth mother, so you need to be strong and know that what you, your cousin, and the birth father decide is best for the child.
—REGINA M. KUPECKY, LSW
is a co-author of Parenting the Hurt Child: Helping Adoptive Families Heal and Grow, Adopting the Hurt Child: Hope for Families with Special-Needs Kids - A Guide for Parents and Professionals, and therapeutic workbook series The Adoption Club. Kupecky also co-authored The Mystery of the Multiple Mothers: A Cub County Caper, a mystery novel with an adoption theme, with her brother. She has been working with adoptive families and children for more than 35 years, and recently retired as a therapist at Adoption & Attachment Therapy Partners, in Broadview Heights, Ohio.
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