This sweet family’s picture slid into my email at the end of last week. They were reaching out to share a photo from the recent virtual adoption finalization of their son. As an agency, we haven’t been sharing “finalization” photos much lately. As I looked at this beautiful family woven together through adoption, and thought about their story, I knew we had to share it.
For many, adoptive families and outsiders looking in, court day is often a big day.
It’s seen as an ending. A culmination of a journey. A final stamp of “you are officially and legally a family!” And, it is a very special day. But, it’s not an ending at all. It’s truly the beginning of a journey.
It’s when the real work begins. The work of parenting and raising a child. The sacred work of raising a kiddo where part of their identity is that of being an adoptee. Supporting, guiding, walking with them as they learn and explore their story and identity. It’s the work of keeping promises made to birth families and leaving room for relationships to grow with time. It’s holding space for your child’s pain and trauma and a willingness to sit with them in it.
The day a family finalizes their adoption in court has sometimes been coined, “gotcha day.” We used to refer to it as that until members of the triad starting pointing out the problems with that phrase and some other phrases commonly used. “Gotcha day” infers ownership. You are now ours. We gotcha! I’d argue a child, biological or adopted, belongs to no one. They belong to themselves. To god. To the universe. I’ve often heard in adoption circles we should be asking “not who does this child belong to, but rather who belongs to this child.”
Some then moved from “gotcha day” to “family day.” Others let their child name the day once they are old enough to do so and even let their child decide if they want to celebrate it or not. We’re moving in the right direction! Thank goodness adoptees, birth mothers and adoptive families are sharing their experiences and insights with us! Let’s keep leaning in and listening!
Back to the sweet family in this photo.
This family has adopted through us twice now. We’ve watched them learn, grow and lean in. They recently attended our post placement class (virtually of course due to current circumstances). We ask all families to attend this class prior to finalizing their adoption. There’s no way we could cover all the things in this two hour class. But we give it our best shot and dive in head first! We look at open adoption as a lifelong relationship. We talk logistics. We process grief. The varying grief all members of the triad bring to the table. We work to spark a passion for continued adoption education. Specifically to seek out and listen to the voices of adoptees and birth mothers. We talk about raising an adoptee and how to do that well.
During their class as we’re talking about hard things, this adoptive mom said something along the lines of, “I know my son may some day want to spend holidays with his birth family. He may have to navigate multiple families and where do I go when. And, I have to be ok with that. I have to give him space to explore. He doesn’t belong to me. I have the honor, privilege and joy of raising him, yes, but he is not mine. And, I want to make sure he knows I’ll support him in whatever he needs. Even though it may not always be easy for me.”
In that moment, I knew. She gets it. I was filled with hope and encouragement that if we keep doing this work, more families are going to get it too. When this photo popped up in my email, I didn’t see just around “finalization” photo. I saw love, joy, AND most importantly, commitment.
That’s what I want to rename this day.
COMMITMENT DAY! In this photo, like so many of our other families too, I saw a commitment to their family. To their children. To their children’s birth families. To promises made. I saw a commitment to honor their children’s stories. To be both honest and vulnerable. To sit in the hard with their kids.
As this photo was snapped, they may have just legally finalized their adoption, but I know (and they know) what really took place in those few special moments. They made a commitment to a lifelong (adoption) journey of love.