In-laws Reject the Idea of an Adopted Grandchild

My husband and I have decided to adopt a child. We are currently on a wait list, so we haven’t had a referral yet. My mom is excited. She helped us get a loan for the adoption costs and everything, but my husband’s family either acts like they don’t care or they are offensive about the adoption.

My husband’s mom is the worst. She asked yesterday when I was going to have “real grandbabies.” Seriously, just like that. His dad and stepmom aren’t as openly offensive, but they never ask anything about the process and have acted like it’s odd that we chose to do this.

I am at the point where I don’t want to be around any of them anymore. I know my husband feels badly at the way they are acting, but he hasn’t said anything to them, and I’m not even sure that’s a good idea. His mom and stepmother are both the type of people who are hard to approach about things and they never apologize. Any help?!

By deciding to adopt a new member into your family, you and your husband are taking an important first step in a life journey that promises to be exciting and transforming. As well as having these positive feelings about the adoption, I daresay, you probably have moments that leave you feeling overwhelmed and anxious about your future as adoptive parents. A full range of feelings is to be expected!

It is wonderful that your mother has been quick to support your decision and to be available to help you through the process in whatever ways she can. Her evident acceptance is an important step and indicates she will probably have little difficulty assuming her role as a grandmother to your child.

Alas, it seems the other grandparents-to-be in your extended family are not as forthcoming with their acceptance of and support for your decision to be adoptive parents. However, this initial reaction by extended family members questioning your decision and not being supportive of having an adopted child join the family is not unusual. Extended family members often have difficulty in seeing themselves in a new and unfamiliar role as grandparents of a child who is not biologically related to them.

Your mother-in-law’s asking when are you going to have a “real grandbaby” is an indelicate and unkind way of expressing her disappointment that her grandmother fantasies, whatever they happen to be, will not be fulfilled, e.g., wondering if her grandchild will resemble her in any way, the idea of her lineage being passed on. Further, grandparents often have initial fears that an adopted child will bring into the family health and other challenges that will prove to be disruptive and difficult. And, sadly, many grandparents-to-be have prejudices and misconceptions that come to the surface, especially if the adopted child is of another race or culture.

None of this is to excuse what you experience as offensive and rude behavior by some of the grandparents to be, but rather, it is meant to help you and your husband have some understanding of their reactions , and perhaps, some empathy for them. This will make it more likely that you and your husband can take some specific actions that will benefit all of you, especially your adopted child. In other words, what can you do to help them get beyond their initial reactions?

As is the case with anything new in life, awareness, education, and knowledge can often go a long way in expanding one’s comfort zones. To this point I offer several suggestions, beginning with my urging you and your husband — and perhaps you mom, too, as a member of your adoption team – to join immediately a support group comprising other actual, or soon-to-be, adoptive parents. You could benefit immensely from sharing your issues and concerns with others who have direct experience with the adoption process, as well as others, like you, just beginning the process.

You will learn that you are not alone in dealing with hurtful and insensitive reactions from family and friends. You will also learn ways to help turn some people’s negativity into the loving support you seek. In addition to checking with your adoption agency, here are some resources to find a support group: (1) Adoptive Families; (2) For NY and NJ, Infertility and Adoption Counseling Center; (3) The Adoption Guide; (4) North American Council on Adoptable Children.

I also want to suggest you and your husband consider reading a couple of books about becoming and being adoptive parents. I can offer two that I think will be helpful to you and all the grandparents-to-be, as reading the same materials can ease the way for family sharing and meaningful discussions, as well as dispelling myths about adoption. “One example is the wide spread myth that people often conceive after adopting because they then relax and things just happen naturally. The truth is that only 5% of those who adopt will spontaneously conceive after adopting, the same percentage figure as for those infertile couples who do not adopt!”

This quote is from Adoption is a Family Affair: What Family and Friends Must Know, by Pat Johnston. Another book you might read is In On It: What Adoptive Parents Would Like You To Know About Adoption, A Guide for Relatives and Friends, by Elisabeth O’Toole. Both books have been published within the past two years and contain up-to-date and relevant information.

As you will happily learn through your experiences with support group members and by reading what researchers have found, your in-laws’ initial, disappointing reactions to your news that you and your husband plan on becoming adoptive parents is not necessarily how they will feel in the future.

You will be pleased to learn that with some empathy from you, as well as by giving them some specific materials to read and discuss with you, your in-laws might change from resistant or reluctant grandparents into terrific grandparents. For this to happen, however, you and your husband will need to take an active role in helping them become more knowledgeable about adoption.

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Dear Readers,

There was a three-week gap in time from when I sent the young mom with this situation a copy of my column and when it was posted. She e-mailed me this update:

Unfortunately, no positive changes with my mother in law. I did, however, try. I wrote her an e-mail on Facebook two weeks ago. (I don’t have her e-mail address and thought a phone conversation might not go well.)

My message to her was not in any way mean or judgmental — I simply told her my feelings were hurt when she referred to our future kids as “not real grandbabies.” I told her I understand that the adoption was new for all of us, but going forward we would really like her support. I also said that even though the kids won’t biologically be “ours,” they will be just as much our children as if I gave birth to them. I told her thanks for listening and I appreciate it.

You can see on Facebook when someone reads your message; she read it that night, but hasn’t responded or reached out to my husband or me. I wasn’t even expecting an apology, just maybe a reply of “You’re right, I don’t understand your decision but I will make an effort to be supportive.”

It’s hurtful, but I know I at least tried now, and if she doesn’t want to speak to me because I told her the truth, there’s not much I can do about it. If she does decide to contact me, I will suggest reading the books you told me about.

In response, I e-mailed this message to her: “I cannot begin to tell you how disappointed I am that your reaching out to your in-laws has been greeted with silence. So sad.

“Let’s hope that they have a change of heart, but as you say, you’ve done all you can with this situation. Your mother is on board, so you know your child will have at least one loving and supportive grandparent!

“I hope to get an e-mail from you in the future saying your in-laws have had a change of heart and want to be grandparents to your child.”

Two days later I received this e-mail from the young mom:

“So I just got an e-mail with an apology from my mother-in-law!! What a nice surprise. I wrote back thanking her and explaining some of the reasons we chose this route for our family. I also said there were some good books out there for adoptive parents family members, and if she wanted, I could give her a few names.

“I told her that her support means a lot and we appreciate it a lot. So, I’m happy a good dialogue has been started, and hopefully, she will be able to be a positive part of our child’s life. Thanks for your help!”

Ask Dr. Gramma Karen is published every other Tuesday.

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