A (long) while back, a reader asked what I thought adopting parents need/don't need from family members as they go through the process. (I need to take a second to tell you about this cool woman. She's not adopting--someone in her extended family is--and she's reading adoption blogs to learn what waiting families need or want from their extended families. Don't you love her? She's reading through all of our navel gazing for the sake of someone else in her life. I just want to give her a hug and clone her for other waiting families.)
With the caveat that this is just me speaking out of my own experience and each person is different, here are my thoughts on how to support family members who are adopting:
Don't treat us differently
We're bringing another grandchild/cousin/niece/nephew/etc. into the extended family. Period. More than anything we want our kids to be welcomed with open arms by you, their new family. It troubled me when family members treated us differently than my siblings-in-law who have non-adopted children. Partly because it hurt my feelings, but mostly because it seemed that they were putting my children-to-be into a different (lesser) category. Was our new family not worth celebrating, too? Whatever you've done for other family members when they added to their families--whether it's hosting a shower, knitting a blanket, offering meals, or even just calling to check in along the way--do it for adopting parents just as you would for birthing parents.
Remember that adoption is different
I realize this seems to contradict what I just wrote. But while you're busy treating us the same, remember that we're going through a unique process. Understand that adoption doesn't exactly parallel the pregnancy/birth process, so our reactions and emotions along the way won't always be the same. Adoption often brings up a lot of conflicting emotions. There is immense joy in adopting, but also sadness, stress and uncertainty. On top of the usual adjustments to parenthood, we're also working out what it means to be an adoptive family in a non-adoption world. I hesitated to share those layers of emotion during our first adoption because I worried that people would think adoption wasn't as valid a way of creating a family. I was much more open during our second adoption and discovered that most people appreciated getting that insight into a process they hadn't experienced first-hand. Just having people acknowledge the emotional complexity without judging it meant a lot.
Learn some basic adoption terminology. If you know the agency, lawyer, or facilitator they are using, visit their website; most will provide at least a basic outline of their adoption process. Needing to explain every step or term to one less person can be a relief. And they'll be impressed when you know the difference between the end of a revocation period and finalization.
Don't ask how much it costs
Seriously, it's tacky.
Let us interpret the things that happen to us
Once, when we had a potential adoption not happen, a friend said to me, "Oh, so this is like a miscarriage." My mom said, "This just wasn't the baby you were meant to have." While those sentiments may have been appropriate for others, they didn't match my response to the situation at all. Being told how we should think or feel about events can be frustrating and isolating, especially when coming from people who haven't been through the adoption process. A simple, "Congratulations," or, "I'm sorry," is usually adequate. When in doubt, a sincere, "Tell me more," is a good response. Then, just listen.
Stick up for us
Sure, we can stick up for ourselves--and we will always stick up for our kids--but knowing someone else in the family has our back feels wonderful. My mom is a superstar at this. She fights for our privacy by deflecting nosy questions (contrast that to another family member who makes up reasons why my kids were placed because he apparently can't utter the words, "I don't know"). More importantly, my mom has defended our adoption decisions to family members who questioned them. Because she's fighting those battles, I don't have to.
I'm sure I've just scratched the surface. I'd like to turn it over to the rest of you. What kinds of support did you appreciate from your family members? What do you wish they had done differently?
ETA: You can find the follow-up to this post here.