Homecoming Day. It is perhaps the most ingenious idea my parents ever had. Shortly after they adopted my older brother, they invented the tradition in my house that the day they got him should be celebrated. It was considered a day to celebrate their son, sort of a mini birthday party. There was a cake, some small presents, and always a letter to tell him how much his addition to the family meant in their lives.
When, three years later, they showed up at the foster home where I spent my first six weeks of life to pick me up and take me home, the tradition was extended to me. What that meant in my life, and how it shaped my world view is something that I have truly come to understand and appreciate as an adult. What my parents did with that one special, loving celebration each year was to make adoption and my role as an adopted child something that was special. Neither my brother nor I can ever point to a moment in our childhoods when we felt any less our parents’ children than our younger sister, who is their natural child. If anything, we felt that she got short changed. Models of diplomacy, my parents recognized that of course my sister would need a Homecoming Day, too, so the only day they could consider was the day she came home from the hospital. After the rush of her birthday (which sadly for her, falls shortly after Christmas to boot) the smaller celebration of the Homecoming Day was a bit of a wash. I grew up feeling just a little bit sorry for all natural children of their parents. I thought they got jipped.
Another way my parents handled their responsibilities as parents of adopted children that I highly recommend to all adoptive parents is that they had the word “adoption” floating around the house before I understood what it meant. I never had “the discussion” which would alter my view of family, and enable me to have that “not your ‘real’ child response that so many adopted children report experiencing when they first learn how they came into the world and into their families. I always knew. There was no moment, I knew it like I knew that my parents names were Bob and Judy, and that my hair was blond. It was never a big deal. They talked extensively about how long they waited for us, and how long they had wanted us, but they never had to inform us that we were any different from our friends. It was understood, and being adopted was something to be proud of.
The third piece of advice I have for parents looking to adopt will for many be far more challenging to follow, but in my life, it made a significant impact. Many adoptive parents live in fear of the day that someone will knock on their door and say “I am Billy’s real mother”. My advice is to not fear that day. All my life, my parents reassured me that if I ever felt the need to seek out my biological parents, not only would they support me, but they would also assist me in any way possible. I never dreamed about my “real parents” being superstars or millionaires. I believe firmly that those fantasies are usually held by children who are concerned or confused about their place in the family. I also believe that all children can, on some level, detect their parents’ anxieties and will attach disproportionate (or proportionate depending on the level of fear the parents are experiencing) importance to them. This can be extremely confusing and upsetting to the child. By assuring me that my natural curiosity about the people with whom I share my biology was normal and understandable, my parents fostered in me a feeling of security that left me with virtually no drive to find my natural parents. It’s not easy to step back from your valid concerns about your child’s other parents and the fear and confusion their intrusion in their life might inflict, but, from my experience, it is one of the most important things you can do, if you’re able. And, on that topic, I am happy to report that when I was twenty-two I did meet my natural mother, Heidi, and not only has she been a great addition to my life, but my parents love her as well. My mother, frustratingly, will generally get the jump on me each Mother’s Day and call me before I get the chance to call her. She does this because she wants to remind me to call Heidi.
If you follow my parents’ lead, I am convinced that your child’s adjustment to life in your family will not only lack the pain some adopted children experience at some point in their lives, but will leave them with the understanding that they are the most special additions to your worlds that you could ever welcome. The completeness of the merger is largely in your hands. Good luck.