[NB: There are pictures of some of friends in here. If you're not in any of the pics, it's because I don't consider you a friend...
...but seriously, it's only because I don't have a photo of you on hand. So don't be too offended, okay buddy?]
We generally have a good idea what to do when our friends have kids via birth - we've had generations of socialization. We've seen how our parents responded to their friends having a baby, and if we're an older sibling we've seen how other people have treated our parents.
Plus, you know, there's a lot of it happening in TV shows and movies...which is where I get most of my education on how the world works.
What we don't get a lot of is clear directions for how to respond when your friends adopt a child. Now, since I've only adopted one child, I'm clearly not an adoption expert - but I do have some ideas of how you (yes, you!) can be a great friend to adoptive parents:
1) Keep it similar
Yes, the path to adoption is different in many significant ways to the biological path, but they do have some things in common. For instance, the parents to be are anxiously awaiting the arrival of someone who they plan to love with all their hearts. That means that while they are waiting, you can do what you do anyway - celebrate them. I want to make this clear, so forgive me for shouting:
IT IS A GREAT IDEA TO THROW A BABY SHOWER FOR ANY EXPECTANT PARENT
Yes, even for dads. I would have loved a baby shower, in hindsight.
Think about it: What are baby showers actually for? Firstly, to help new parents gather all the stuff they'll need when the baby arrives - that applies to adoptive parents. Secondly, it way of show the parents-to-be that they have a community around them that they can call on. This is definitely true for adoptive parents.
When the child arrives - help the parents celebrate the moment! Be there for them if the ask you to, bring food to them while they start the long process of adjusting to a new person being in the family, and generally remind them that they are awesome and can totally do this thing!
Of course, that's what I got from these crazy cats:
2) Keep it different
I bet for a moment you thought you'd just get away with that first point, right? Sorry buddy. There are as many differences between adoption and biological stories as there are similarities. Maybe there are more differences. I'm only 5 years into this thing, so we'll have to see.
The number one, all time top thing you can do as good friend is to educate yourself about adoption. Understanding the language that needs to be used and even the deeper complexities of adoption will help you support the parents better.
Frankly, it is exhausting having to explain these issues to people. I know many adoptive families that end up not correcting problematic language around adoption because it ends up being all they would talk about.
Here are some phrases to avoid (as a starter - you'll need to do your own homework here):
- He is SO lucky you guys chose him. You are such good people for adopting.
- Will you have your own child?
- I can't believe someone can just give up a baby.
We've had people say these things to us with the best intentions...but they don't realise how distasteful or downright offensive these sentences can be.
So yes...you'll need to educate yourself. Do some research on the "Adoption Triad" and read and listen to stories from adult adoptees as a start. If you need help, go the Arise Website. They are an organisation that specifically deals with adoption education.
Other than that, keep it mind that becoming a adoptive family is a complicated and traumatic process that doesn't end when the child arrives. In fact, that is when things start to ramp up - and that's when your friends will need you the most.