How is raising an adopted baby or child different?

There are, of course, countless ways that raising an adopted baby is just the same as raising a baby you’re biologically related to. Every baby sleeps a lot, cries a lot, and gets distracted by things their parents just don’t think are all that interesting. And every new parent goes through a crash-course in cry-decoding, diaper changing, and takes on the uniquely challenging task that is trying to cut a child’s fingernails. But there are a few things that are different about the way adoptive parents and their children navigate the world, and these differences can be helpful to keep in mind even when children are very young, even if they might not seem relevant just yet.

Differences in timeline

Just based on the logistics of adoption, parents who adopt may not feel as prepared as parents who have gone through what is generally, when a biologically-related baby is born, a more standard lead-up process to bringing a baby home.Instead of waiting a fairly predictable nine-ish months before a baby arrives, adopted parents may have either an unexpected match that seems to come out of nowhere or years of waiting that can feel like they’ll never end. Adoptive parents may feel either caught off-guard, or like they’ve been waiting too long, or both at once. This can mean that when the baby arrives, they can end up feeling unprepared or wrong-footed.

Medical differences

One of the obvious differences in raising an adopted baby is that he doesn’t come from the same genetic background as you or your partner. Depending on the type of adoption, there may only be a limited amount of information available about a child’s personal medical history and the family history of his birth parents. This means that, in terms of conditions with genetic components, parents may not know what to keep an eye out for in the same way that they would for conditions that run in their own families.

Many cooks in the kitchen

In the case of domestic adoptions, children’s birth families are more likely to stay involved in their lives to one degree or other. This puts adoptive parents in the position of trying to figure out the right way to respect and safely navigate a birth parent’s relationship with his or her child, which is a complicated situation that the parents of biologically related children just don’t come up against.

Red herrings

Even the happiest, healthiest, most well-adjusted, and most well-loved children have rough patches sometimes. One thing that adoptive parents may worry about is whether normal, inevitable rough patches and disagreements are somehow related to adoption. Sometimes issues that come up may, indeed, be related to adoption, but it’s also completely possible for patches of childhood rebelliousness or friction that are totally normal to get attributed to adoption even if they’re not connected.

Cultural differences

Sure, a baby may not know if he comes from a different race, country, or cultural background from his newly adoptive parents, but that doesn’t mean he won’t find out someday. And since kids are smart, it probably won’t be a day too far in the future. Helping an adopted child to connect or stay connected to his cultural identity – even if it’s not one that his parents share – is an important way for new adoptive parents to help their new children foster and strengthen their own unique identities.

Adoption

The most basic difference between raising an adopted baby and a biologically related baby is that the parents of biologically related babies don’t have to discuss what adoption is and means with their children from an early age in quite the same way and also don’t have to worry about finding healthy ways to help their children deal with their feelings about and reactions to their adoptions. So as the parent of an adopted child, having these conversations early is an important part of being open and positive about your child’s background. And while your little one may not be ready to have that conversation quite yet, now is a great time to start talking to your partner or close family members about how you’re going to when the time comes. 

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