Gay and Lesbian Adoption FAQ

A same-sex family who adopted with FIA
FIA Family Joe, Joseph, Ella and Emi, on a still photo taken from the film by Johannes Cortens and Sarah Kilborne for the ‘Supreme Kiss’ for equality. “The video was sent to the Supreme Court when they were voting on marriage equality, and we were part of it!”

The answers to the questions below are provided by Michael Colberg, J.D., C.S.W.

  1. My partner and I have decided to adopt. What do you think is most important that we know about adoption before we begin?
  2. Does it take gay and lesbian familes longer than straight families to adopt?
  3. My partner and I are adoptive parents. Lately, our three year old has been asking why she has no mommy, what should we tell her?
  4. If a family plans to adopt a second (or more) child, what do the parent or parents need to think about when trying to prepare the children already in the home for the process?
Michael Colberg is a therapist, advocate, teacher and author who has worked with and on behalf of LGBT parented adoptive families for many years. He was a founding co-director of The Center For Family Connections – New York and a member of The Pre/Post Adoption Consulting Team in Cambridge, MA. He has a private practice in New York.

My partner and I have decided to adopt. What do you think is most important that we know about adoption before we begin?

The single most important thing to learn about adoption is that it is not an event.
Adoption begins with the placement of a child into an adoptive home and continues throughout the lifetime of the family. Adoption is a form of relationship and relationships are ongoing and change over time. When a child is moved out of one family and into another, the child and both sets of parents face developmental tasks that are important to recognize and acknowledge. In order for a child to grow up feeling good about themselves they need to feel connected, valued and supported. This includes learning to become connected to those pieces of themselves that come from both nature and nurture. They need to make sense of who they are and how they came to be adopted. They benefit from knowing who they look like, who they act like and where their sense of humor comes from. They benefit from knowing that although they are not being parented by their biological parents, they are loved by them and were not rejected and discarded.

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Does it take gay and lesbian familes longer than straight families to adopt?

Friends in Adoption is a recognized Leader in supporting and serving LGBT Families. Presented by HRC's All Children - All Families
Friends in Adoption is a recognized Leader in supporting and serving LGBT Families. Presented by HRC’s All Children – All Families

LGBT prospective adoptive parents often feel like they will have a harder time adopting than their heterosexual counterparts. This is not necessarily true. Although it may be hard to resist the temptation to adopt through whichever means appears to be fastest, it pays off in the long run to wait until you identify a situation that you feel is right. Take the time to explore the lifetime nature of adoption. Learn about how your family’s needs will change at various stages in your child’s development. Take the time to focus on what the differences are between one situation and another. Take the time to remember that genetics play a sinificant part in who we grow up to be. Children who are adopted are a product of nature and nurture. You would not automatically form a partnership with the first person you date. Not every situation is the right fit. There are many ways of becoming a family through adoption and each one has its own set of characteristics. Take the time to learn about which form of adoption feels like the best fit for you and your partner. The decisions that you make now will be the decisions that you will live with for the rest of your lives.

Above all, resist keeping the focus on your right to adopt and do as much as you can to learn about how adoption will affect you and your child in the years ahead so that you can become the best parent that you can possibly be.

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My partner and I are adoptive parents. Lately, our three year old has been asking why she has no mommy, what should we tell her?

This question offers parents an important opportunity. Underneath many questions is a child’s need to know that they are OK and that they fit in. Tell her that she does have two parents. She has two fathers instead of a father and a mother. Tell the child that families are made in different ways and tell her about the way that her family was made. Let the child know that everyone who is born has a daddy and a mommy. Her mommy is called a birthmother because she gave birth to her but is not parenting.

These discussions will happen over and over as the child develops more cognitive awareness. Do not feel that you have one opportunity to explain. Adoptees wrestle with many complex issues. Each set of questions should cue a parent to the fact that the child has engaged, once again, with making sense of their story. This process goes on and on. It is most important that parents create an environment in which children feel that their questions are welcomed. If a child senses that a parent is made uncomfortable by a question, they may not feel free to bring it up again.

It is also important to understand that difficult and often painful feelings are a part of the story. It is not the parents’ job to tie everything up in a happy package. It is their job to help the child learn how to manage difficult feelings in a way that helps them learn to coexist with them. There are many books out there that help parents explain adoption and one of them is, Tell Me A Real Adoption Story by B.J. Lifton helps parents to normalize their child’s adoption story. The book relates one (heterosexual) family’s story as a mother begins by trying to paint too pretty a picture of how her daughter came into the family. The daughter lets her mother know that she is more interested in the truth and the mother goes on to tell her daughter’s real story. We advise people to add their story to the book.

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If a family plans to adopt a second (or more) child, what do the parent or parents need to think about when trying to prepare the children already in the home for the process?

The key issue in talking to children is honesty. As adults, we must watch our language and be sure we are saying exactly what we mean and what is true. Young children take wordsvery concretely. We cannot talk about an adoption plan from a hoping stance… we must always stay in the present. The first step is to analyze for ourselves exactly what is happening. Then begin planning how to discuss it with your child or children. The variables will be the age of the child you are talking to and whether or not that child was adopted.

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