Extended Family

Sometimes I wonder whether it makes more sense to compare adopting a child to getting married, rather than to the usual way of becoming a parent.

Sure, we adopters don't stand up in public and make solemn vows, but there is a legal process involved. More than that, though, it's the way that adopting a child joins two previously unconnected families together in a long-term relationship of sorts.

I've never been married, so forgive me if I'm off the mark here, but it seems to me as though you don't just marry your partner - you also marry their extended family, their friendship group, their past and their future. It's the old cliche of "not so much losing a son as gaining a daughter" oft repeated by the father of the bride.

When I adopted Birdy and OB, I made a lifetime commitment to both of them. I also inextricably linked myself with two sets of, sometimes shadowy, extended families. I have never met the vast majority of them. In some ways I'm only guessing at the existence of most of them, assuming there are aunties, uncles, cousins, grandparents on both sides, as well as the birth parents and siblings. And yet when birthdays, Christmases and celebration days roll around, they are in my mind, as I imagine our children are also in theirs.

Every so often, a member of these extended families will pop into reality, becoming more than a just a figure in my mind. Most recently, it has been Birdy's birth mum who, apparently, after all this time has asked the social worker to request adding photos as part of our letterbox agreement - that's a whole can of worms I'm skirting around right now. Before that it was OB's half siblings, needing an adopter, and before that Birdy's mum adding two more children to the mix. There was OB's grandma who went to great lengths to send one letterbox letter but then never sent another, and I can't forget the momentous day I saw OB's birth mum walking down the street not far away.

For most adopters there are also foster families, so recently in their children's past, and all the extended family network involved in that life too. It's a huge mesh of interconnected lives that can be challenging to explain to a young child who barely grasps the relationships involved in their immediate adoptive family.

I suppose there's an extent to which we, as adopters, choose our children, rather like a person chooses a spouse (although it's usually more of a blind date arrangement!). What we don't choose is the family they will, even indirectly, bring with them into our lives together. There's no option to walk off into the sunset. There are obligations to be met for the sake of the children involved and we adopters must navigate these murky waters to the best of our abilities, knowing that one day our children will hold us accountable for the decisions we made.


  1. This is spot on. I have been married (still am) and one of the shocks and difficulties was the extended family who suddenly claimed to be part of my husband's life. In the same way that I did only marry him, I didn't marry my mother in law etc, I also did adopt my children but with that is a love for their other siblings (who I will probably not meet) and a real concern for the birth family. And indeed each birthday etc I do think and shoot a quick prayer for them because I am pretty sure this was never the plan they had for their or their children's life.
    At dinner my son asked me if tragic was the same as sad. He's 8! We explained that tragic is deeper than sad but sadness is the outcome of something tragic. We talked about death being tragic, we didn't talk about how actually adoption is tragic for everyone but us. But it is. The children and their family have lost so much and that should never be forgotten. Thank you for this reflection. I look forward to helping my kids rebuild any relationships they want to with their birth family when they are old enough and mature enough to handle it.

  2. Like marriage, adoption is a contracted form of family recognized by the government. These contractual formations of family diverge when it comes to the ability to enter into a contract: The parties to a contract for marriage in the modern world are adults who do so freely and of their own will. The spouses enter into marriage retaining their own identity and legal status within their own families and without any modification to their birth records. If one spouse takes on the other's last name, it is by choice, not by force and there will be no change to the last name or the names of their parents on their birth certificate. The marriage certificate in fact identifies the spouses by the names on their birth certificates and any legal name change is done after marriage in a separate process with separate documentation. Adoptions occur prior to the adoptee reaching the age of majority, they are not legally able to enter into a contract, nor are they legally able to make the decision to change their last, first or middle names. So to be clear the adoptee is not a party to this contractual family formation they are the object of the contract and the parties to the contract are the government and the adopters.

    Adoption does not join the family of the adopters to the family of the adoptee the way that marriage joins the two families of the spouses. The families of the spouses are legally regarded as kin by designation of step or in-law prefixes to relational positions. No such terminology exists in law to describe the legal relationship of the adoptees family to the adopters family because there is no legally recognized relationship. The birth terminology used in this post and used frequently by people who adopt is colloquial and any recognition of the adopted person's family is at the sole discretion of the adopters as you've pointed out in many of your posts, you are not ready to share the person you adopted with their family even though physical safety is not in jeopardy or you'd have a restraining order against them.

  3. Unlike the marriage by force that is adoption, foster care is a testament to the government's ability to find people willing to take care of other people's offspring while helping facilitate ongoing contact with their family members and without severing the legal kinship to their family members by modifying the birth record of the fostered youth to name the individuals providing care as parents. A fostered youth that is never raised by his or her parents but is never adopted will age out of care with his or her identity and legal rights fully intact despite having never lived with his or her parents. Such a model of care fully respects the legal rights of the dependent minor not only during childhood but in adulthood as well because the minor was not forced to pay for their food and shelter with the loss of their own family and identity.

    Sadly people are only willing to help take care of other people's offspring if they believe there is a chance the government will at some point regard them as the legally recognized parents of the person they are caring for. That is to say many people are only willing to help if the person they are taking care of will at some point be forced to give up their identity and family in exchange for that daily care.
    In adoption the government reduces the rights of the adopted person in order that they can fulfill the states promise to the adopter that they can become parents by virtue of a contract rather than by having offspring. The government reduces the rights of the adopted person not just during childhood but for the rest of their natural lives, giving the adopted person no option to exit the contractual relationship by seizing their identifying paper that proves they are actually a member of a different family.

    Adoption should be handled legally much more like marriage insofar as legally recognizing the adopted person as a continuing member of their own family with full unaltered recognition of their existing relationships to parents and other kin while simultaneously recognizing the legality of the adoptive relationships, complete with a legally recognized in-law-via adoption relatedness of the two families. Name changes are not necessary to conduct the normal business of doctors appointments and passport applications but if any name changes were to occur they should be handled without birth certificate revision just like changes in names for marriage. Adoption should be documented with an Adoption Certificate just like Marriages are documented with a Marriage Certificate. This way the family of the adopted person could still obtain their vital records and see who their relative was adopted by and the adopted person could still obtain their family's vital records. This is a primary right of relatives vital records that is reduced for an entire family with adoption as it is today. There should be no creation of an entirely new person that belongs only to the family of the adopter because that is a falsehood. We simply cannot achieve that exclusive type of parenthood without having our own offspring unless we reduce the rights of the adopted person and their relatives. We must stop that abuse of human rights.

    So there that's the real parallel to marriage - seems similar but it's not. What kind of contract does it really look like?

    1. Marilynn, you are of course free to post as many replies as you wish on my blog posts. I will not delete them even if I disagree since we can all only learn from hearing differing views and opinions.

      However I must take issue with this sentence you wrote:

      "Sadly people are only willing to help take care of other people's offspring if they believe there is a chance the government will at some point regard them as the legally recognized parents of the person they are caring for."

      In the UK (where I am based - I'm assuming you are in the US where the adoption system and its legalities are extremely different- perhaps you'd like to look into those differences?) there are approximately 70,000 children in state care at any one time. The vast majority of these children are in foster care.

      There are around 4,000 adoptions per year in the UK. Therefore, the overwhelming majority of children who cannot live with their birth families do not go on to be adopted, but rather stay in long-term foster care. It is simply not true that people are only willing to care for other people's children on the basis that they will eventually adopt them. Statistically, it is not true.

      On the other hand, foster carers are paid an allowance by the state for caring for other people's children. I have heard people who grew up in foster care speak of the pain of living in a home where they felt they were only accepted because of the money they brought in. Foster care is not a panacea.

      The truth is that once a child cannot live with their birth family because of abuse or neglect and have to be taken into state care, there is no perfect solution. For a child removed at 4 or 5 years old, who carries memories of the abuse they suffered at the hands of their birth family, these assumptions that they will long to return to those abusers at the first opportunity seem somewhat insensitive. Whether a child is fostered long term, or adopted, this is something they will need to find a way to come to terms with.

      In the UK, there is no private adoption. The average age for a child to be adopted is 3-4 years old. 75% of adopted children have experienced abuse and neglect at the hands of their birth families. Whether you disagree with adoption or not, the truth is that there is no easy solution to all of that, and being raised in state care is no easy option either, as the testimonies of so many care-experienced young people, fending for themselves alone in the world at 18, will prove.

      I have already adopted two children. I am unsure what you are hoping to achieve with so much time spent responding on this blog since, in my case, the deed is already done. However, I can assure you that if you really want to get your message out to a wider readership and convince the world at large of your views, then you would be much better off starting your own blog (if you haven't already) and doing some work to get it out there. I can assure you from the statistics that Blogger kindly provides that a vanishingly small number of people are going to view your comments on my years old posts.


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