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A few months after my husband and I announced that we planned to adopt our first child, a friend sent us a gift for the baby. I was amazed. I hadn’t even purchased anything for the nursery yet. I still didn’t quite believe we would become parents. Within a few short months, however, our daughter was home with us.
A couple of years later, we applied to adopt a second child. I was much more relaxed. This time I knew we could “pass” a home study. I believed that anyone who saw how our daughter was thriving would place another child with us. I’d beaten the feeling of “inevitable loss” that infertility had left with me.
Most important, however, I knew that, whatever happened with the application for a second child, we would not be childless. We already had a family; we just wanted to expand it.
Arriving at that level of optimistic surrender, however, is not easy. The decisions that seemed so simple with a first adoption are more complicated the second time around. Furthermore, the desire to adopt a second child affects the first child in the family, too. So it isn’t unusual for parents who confidently dove into the unknown for their first child to be a little hesitant going into their second adoption.
Adoptive parents don’t always talk about these reservations. To do so may seem as though they are somehow dissatisfied. After all, they may think, if we were happy with our first adoption, wouldn’t we want a second one?
Most people head into their first adoption with some anxiety. Will they really experience the depth of love with a child they adopt that they would with a child born to them? They wonder as well whether the child will love them as deeply as she would have loved her birth parents. Usually it doesn’t take long to experience the mutual love and attachment that we long for.
New adoptive parents may also have to overcome other beliefs, such as the belief that their children had to share their interests or have a certain level of intelligence to fit in with their family. They may have had the idea that they should all look a certain way to qualify as a “family.” Usually parents are soon comfortable with the racial make-up of their family and celebrating the unique qualities of their children.
But those myths about adoption surface again the second time around. Perhaps the parents fear that they are “pushing their luck” by adopting a second time. They may question all over again whether they are willing to accept the risks — that birth parents will change their minds; that genetics, prenatal drug or alcohol exposure, or inadequate prenatal care will result in problems down the road, that this child will, for some reason, not integrate into their family the way the first did.
Parents may be surprised, or even ashamed, that they’re having such thoughts. It’s not always the adoptive parents who raise the concern, but their relatives. When that happens, parents may wonder whether their first child was as accepted as she appeared to be by her extended family.
The Adopted Child as an Only
There are a lot of parallels between the only child and the adopted child. Parents of a singleton often lavish all their resources and attention on him. When this becomes over-indulgence, it can result in a spoiled child. Excessive attention can also lead a child to believe he is expected to fulfill all of his parents’ hopes and dreams.
Adoptive parents also risk being too intense. While the biological parents of a singleton compare the child’s physical and intellectual development to the standard in a child care manual, adoptive parents look out for signs of insecurity resulting from relinquishment, attachment issues or even fetal alcohol syndrome. They may reorganize their lives around activities tailored to meet their child’s unique needs.
Adoptive parents often believe that the family environment is primarily responsible for the child’s personality, intellectual ability, and talents. This sometimes leads adoptive parents to believe they can mold their child to fit a preconceived pattern.
Both singletons and adoptees may grow up feeling that they are under a microscope. They fear they will disappoint their parents if they don’t meet their expectations. When the adopted child is also a singleton, some believe that the burden of meeting parental expectations is that much greater.
Just as parents of an only child are told they must have another child to give him a playmate or keep him from becoming spoiled, parents of a single adopted child may be told they must adopt again for reasons like these: She needs someone else who can understand her feelings about adoption. He needs someone of his own race in the family so that he has someone to whom he can relate.
While there is some validity to these concerns, they aren’t adequate reasons to add a child to a family. Children should be wanted for themselves — not for what they bring to a sibling.
Concerns to Consider
There are other facets to the decision to adopt a second time, even when parents would love to expand their family. Adoption is expensive and the process can be uncertain. Even if they have sufficient resources, parents may wonder whether spending their first child’s college fund attempting to adopt a second child makes sense.
They may be willing to take the wild emotional ride to adoption when the alternative is to remain childless. To hop on board a second time takes even more courage and faith, especially when their first child’s well-being is now on the line as well.
Parents might be willing to face the emotional risks of developing a relationship with a prospective birth mother but they may wonder what the impact might be on a first child if the birth mother places her child with them but subsequently changes her mind.
A single woman might be able to take leave from her job to travel to another country for weeks or months for an adoption. However, such an extended stay may not be possible if there is a toddler at home.
Parents who have an open adoption with their first child may find that they want a similar experience for their second child. At the same time, integrating the birth family of one child into the family can be complicated; integrating the birth relatives of a second family may be overwhelming.
Then there is the issue of age. After years of infertility as well as the extended wait to adopt, adoptive parents are typically older when they first become parents. Some worry that by the time they adopt a second time, they’ll be mistaken for the child’s grandparents.
The wait for a second child may put more years between the children than the parents want to have. In some cases, the age of adoptive parents makes them ineligible for the adoption program they used the first time, or makes them question whether a birth mother would choose them.
Resolving the Question
Sometimes hesitancy to adopt a second child indicates concerns about adoption that need resolution. In other cases, parents may choose not to adopt again for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with their love for their first child or their satisfaction with their first adoption experience.
The decision to expand one’s family is intensely personal. Parents need to be honest with themselves and listen to their hearts — not relatives, well-meaning friends, or adoption experts — in deciding what’s right for their family.