Most new adoptive parents are between the ages of 30 and 50. That can make it difficult when adoptive parents are much younger.
Thanks to the recent publicity around celebrity adoption, some people claim that adoption has become the latest parenting trend.
That sort of comment annoys adoptive parent Laura Livingstone. As a 25-year-old parent she’s heard similar remarks all too often, and not just from people outside the adoption community.
“I get really uncomfortable when strangers make a reference to Brad and Angelina or talk about the ‘Madonna factor.’ Even within the adoption community there have been hints that all that media-hype might be related to why we chose to adopt,” explains Laura.
Adoption from the start
Nothing could be further from the truth. Laura and her husband Brent certainly didn’t become adoptive parents as 23-year-olds as a fashion statement. Adoption was always their plan.
Laura and Brent are high school sweethearts. They married when they were 19. Even then, though they thought they would have biological children first, they both saw adoption as part of their future. In fact, after a couple of years of being married, they decided that adoption was the only route to parenthood that they wanted to take. Laura had done volunteer work in orphanages overseas, and both felt strongly called to parent some of the world’s waiting children.
So far, the couple have adopted one little girl, Danika, nine-and-a-half months old, from Florida. Danika is African-American. They are now adopting again; this time, a sibling group from Ethiopia. “Our house is too quiet and too organized,” jokes Laura. The couple hopes to remedy that by eventually adopting four children.
Laura and Brent chose Florida because when they first considered countries like China and Haiti, they were too young to meet the age requirements. Since they started their process, they have come across other, more subtle references to their age. Though such comments are not meant unkindly, it does have an effect on Laura.
“Sometimes, I feel a bit alone as a young adoptive parent. I think people find us hard to relate to because of our age. Occasionally, other adoptive parents imply that, as young couple, and as a transracial family, we just don’t know what we’ve taken on. That might be true, but we’re always trying to understand adoption better, and we’re always willing to learn. We’re dealing with the same things as older parents. We might not have experience as parents, but we’re not naive to the challenges,” says Laura.
Even a short conversation with Laura and Brent, confirms that last statement. This intelligent couple demonstrates a level of awareness and sensitivity to a whole range of adoption issues that many seasoned, and much older adoptive parents, might not display.
Though the couple decided early on that they wanted to form a transracial family, Laura acknowledges that as time passes she is learning more about what that decision will mean to her daughter and what she must do to equip her child and herself to overcome the challenges that will inevitably arise. “I know that I have to raise my daughter to be a proud black woman. I have to teach my daughter her story, her history and her culture. That’s massive to me.”
Though Danika is less than one year old, this summer, the family attended the Okanagan-based Harambee Culture camp for families with children of African heritage. Laura has also read voraciously on adoption and on being a transracial family, and she and Brent attend local adoptive parent support groups and AFABC adoption workshops.
The hard part
Laura has also thought deeply about the more difficult aspects of intercountry adoption. “I do struggle with the idea of moving children across continents. In a way, I see intercountry adoption as a child’s last resort—if they have absolutely no birth family, or no one else in their birth country to care for them, that’s when we come in. I certainly don’t see it as 'saving' a child. If I wanted to do that, I’d find a cure for AIDS, or I’d somehow find a way to reunite a child with his or her birth family. Taking them from their country and culture is not saving them. But, for the time being, it’s what we can do. We can give these children a loving family,” explains Laura.
When people imply that’s she has saved a child, she very quickly refutes that suggestion. “I know people mean well, but I also I realize that I’m not here to sugarcoat anything about adoption. I’m here to be an advocate for my child.” Laura’s understanding of intercountry adoption is similar to the one laid out by the United Nations which states that the first and second options for children are living in their own country with their birth family, living in their own country with another family, and then intercountry adoption.
Laura doesn’t sugarcoat adoption to herself either. She recently read, Black Baby White Hands: A View from the Crib by Jaiya John and found it a tough read. “Even if I’d read it before we started our adoption process, I’d still be on the same path, but I was very challenged by the book. It opened my eyes to a lot of things about transracial adoption,” she explains. One thing that has really hit home for Laura is the importance of birth names. “When our children come home from Ethiopia, we are keeping their names whatever they are,” says Laura.
Laura and Brent’s reading has also taught them a great deal about white privilege and made them highly alert to the fact that their children will not enjoy those many, often hidden, benefits. Laura gets some comfort from the fact that Jaiya John’s book was written about a time when there were less resources for transracial adoptive. She knows that it’s up to her and Brent to advocate for their children, and to tackle the hard issues face-on.
Anyone who has preconceptions about the “appropriate” age for an adoptive family should talk to Laura and Brent. If anyone could demonstrate that adoption is about having an open mind, a willingness to learn, the ability to advocate, and lots of love to give, rather than a specific demographic profile, it’s this young couple.