While parenting any child has its trials, parenting an adopted child comes with its own set of unique challenges.
Some may come from your family – through relatives who treat your child differently or refuse to accept them. Others can come from the school – through classroom assignments about the family tree or classmates who tease. They can stem from the community – by nosy neighbors or friends who feel entitled to interrogate you about the adoption experience.
Terilee Wunderman, whose two adopted children are now adults, has been through it all. Now the Kendall psychotherapist, who has 30 years of experience working with adoptive issues, helps guide other parents through the process.
The first tools in your arsenal should be a sense of humor and a little advance preparation, Wunderman said.
"Use humor, and have a canned reply ready for insensitive comments. If someone says 'Don't you want any children of your own?' or asks your child 'Don't you want to know your real parents?' then say something funny like 'They're real enough for me!'"
The bottom line is to deflect intrusive comments while keeping the relationship between you and your child your No. 1 priority.
"Most people don't know anything about adoption except for what they've seen on TV. A lot of times, it's an adoptive parent's job to educate others about it," she said. "In the process, parents are showing their children how to deal with it when the world doesn't accept them, whether it's because they are not athletic or have curly hair, or for whatever reason."
Here are some quick tips from local adoption experts:
Why is it important for adoptive parents to seek support?
Cherish Adoptive Families, a South Florida support group for adoptive families, and those considering adoption.
South Dade Foster and Adoptive Parents, a new support group for adoptive families.
Adopting.org includes articles and resources for adoptive parents, adoptees and those looking to adopt.
Adoptivefamilies.com, a national magazine for adoptive families.
Tapestrybooks.com, specializes in books on adoption
Jeanne Becker, president of Cherish Adoptive Families, a support group that serves South Florida parents considering adoption, as well as those who have already adopted, said adoptive parents can benefit from each other.
"Many issues can come up, and it's comforting for parents to talk to other parents," said Becker, who adopted her 13-year-old son from Russia when he was 14 months old. Cherish Adoptive Families meets four to six times a year and sponsors family picnics and educational programs.
When should I talk to my child about adoption?
Start using the terminology and getting comfortable with it from day one, because it's part of him, Becker says. "Adoption is a joyous, beautiful thing, and it should be something you embrace," she said.
At age 2 or 3, put together a life book that tells your child's adoption story. Then answer questions as they come up, in terms they can understand.
Adrienne Rich Hochman, a Miami clinical social worker and psychotherapist with Adoption Associates of South Florida, recommends using storybooks about adoption as a jumping off point - www.tapestrybooks.com has several. Becker likes Talking to Young Children About Adoption, by Mary Watkins and Susan Fisher.
My adopted child is starting school. Should I tell the teacher he is adopted?
If a child is young, Becker advises telling the teacher "because some teachers need to be educated about how to talk about adoption," she said. But as your child gets older, "you want to respect the privacy of the child," Becker added.
Hochman said it can be helpful to tell the teacher in advance if the child is struggling with the adoption, or if the adoption may be obvious to others. For example, if the child is a different race from the parents, and you fear the other kids may pick up on it and tease your child.What advice should I give my child about talking to his friends about adoption?
What if someone asks intrusive questions about the adoption that I don't want to answer?
My child feels rejected because their birth parents didn't want them. What do I do?
I have both adopted and biological kids, how I do help ensure a happy blended family?
How do I get my extended family to treat my adopted child like the other kids?
What happens if my child wants to search for his adoptive parents?