Gaia is a qualified social worker working in child protection and adoption and today she chats to us about her own story of adoption and shares some advice for adoptive parents. I met Gaia during our screening process with Wandisa (our adoption agency in Somerset West) before we adopted Kira – it was one of those potentially awkward couple interviews where we had to chat about our relationship, parenting styles and discipline and answer probing questions. Well, it was only a little awkward. Thanks for sharing your story with us, Gaia.
What is your definition of adoption?
The gift of a forever child for a family and a forever family for a child. Adoption is as birth is; a child coming to be part of a family for always.
How do you feel about adoption in general?
Adoption is a truly beautiful process for both the child and for the family. It is a leap of faith and hope and a life long commitment (as is the process of having a child biologically).
Tell us a bit about your family.
I love my family! I grew up with a brother who is a biological child of my parents. It was just the two of us kids. We grew up close and spent loads of time together as kids. He is only one year younger than I am and he treats me as his sister, sees me no different given I am adopted. He is an awesome human and I absolutely love him. And he has a little one on the way so soon he will be a dad and I will have a nephew!
How do you feel about your parents?
I am truly grateful that I was adopted by my parents and for the opportunities in life I have been given. We have had our challenges but I would not change this for the world. My parents have moulded me into who I am today and have always been there for me. They have taught me kindness, openess, good manners, a strong work ethic, an understanding of God and faith and a moral compass. They have encouraged me to pursue what makes me happy and to strive for what I believe in.
How do you feel about your biological parents?
I have compassion and understanding that they were very young when my biological mother fell pregnant and they were unable to care for me themselves.
At what age, if ever, did you want to find your biological parents?
I was 18 years of age. I contacted an adoption social worker and asked for her help in locating my biological parents. My biological mother was found but did not wish to meet or have any communication with me.
How were you told that you were adopted?
I have always known I was adopted. I had a children’s book that explained it to me in a way I could understand and I am so thankful for that. I think it is important that a child is made aware as early as possible that he or she is adopted. This needs to be done in an age appropriate manner. It can be helpful to use media such as books or animated movies with an adoption theme. These can help young children understand adoption and feel positive about it (the Lilo and Stitch film is a great one!).
What has been the hardest part of adoption for you?
I have very little knowledge regarding my biological family which I find hard at times.
How can adoptive parents best equip their children to deal with the hard parts of being adopted?
Build your children up from a young age. Develop within them a strong and healthy sense of self and a good serving of resilience! Provide them with unconditional love, give them consistent and clear boundaries and surround them with family and friends who are supportive of them and of your choice to adopt. They need to learn that they are unique and different and special, as are all children. Encourage communication always. Teach your children how to talk to you and to express themselves! Let your children know it is normal to struggle sometimes with feeling different from the family and from others. It is natural to struggle with not understanding where you come from and how you fit in. Ensure your children feel it is okay to talk to you about anything that bothers them, that you as the parent are absolutely okay within yourself and okay with the fact that your child is adopted.
Some children struggle more than others, whether adopted or not! If a parent is unable to fully support their child in healing and growing through the hard parts of growing up, it can be useful to find a good psychotherapist to help. The process of therapy can help the parent understand their child better and learn tools to better support and help their child. Depending on the age of the child therapy can also help the child process their feelings in a way that perhaps they aren’t able to with their parent. Don’t give up if the first or second person you see does not work, finding a therapist that works for you is the same as any other relationship in life! Many people don’t work for you and a few people do.
What to say to your adopted child?
You are loved, cherished and wanted. It is the perfect plan that you are a part of this family and our lives would not be the same without you. It is okay to be you, in whatever form that takes. We are all different and unique and that is awesome. Listen to your heart, chase your dreams and your family will always support you.
What not to say to your adopted child?
You are exactly the same as a biological child (this can make your child feel it is not okay to feel different sometimes and does not acknowledge that adoption is a very different journey into a family compared with being born into a family).
Please don’t tell your child not to speak about their adoption story. It is their story, not yours! Help them find an appropriate version of the story that feels comfortable for you and for them to speak about and to be known by others.
Would you ever consider adoption in your future?
Yes my fiance and I plan to adopt in the future. It is strongly in our hearts and we can’t wait to begin the process!