The Adoption Triad: It’s Complicated


There is a term in the adoption community called:
The Adoption Triad.

Triangle with Child, Birth Parents, and Adoptive Parents at the points.

The Adoption Triad serves as a reminder that there are three main points of relationships in adoption: the child, biological or “birth family,” and the adoptive family. These three points are interconnected, and will always be, on varying levels and in various ways depending on the specifics of an adoption. In some situations, there may also be a foster family interconnected with the life of the triad.

I share from the perspective of an “Adoptive Parent.” The longer I’ve been in the adoption triad, the more I’m faced with the reality of how complicated, messy, and traumatic this whole thing can be. And for the sake of my son’s life, I’m so grateful my eyes have been opened.

There are differing adoption routes and perspectives entering an adoption triad that makes each situation nuanced and different. But no matter what leads a family or child to adoption — there is a HUGE responsibility and necessity on the parents’ part to understand one thing:

Adoption is born from LOSS.

Laurie Grinnell Photography

When we first learned about who would become our firstborn son through adoption, my perspective was admittedly a selfish one. I wanted my son home ASAP. This isn’t a bad thing in itself, as children need permanency. But I also found my thoughts warped inward when I started realizing how much time I was missing with him while we waited.

As time went on, my eyes opened more and more to all the loss in the other two parts of the triad. My son’s birth mother lost him — it matters not the circumstances. She still lost him. She missed many of the same moments I did, too. Yet more profoundly, she is still missing moments. She is missing all of the joy he is. She’s missing all the laughter and silliness and FUN he is. She’s missing the ways he keeps growing and changing, ever brighter. And my heart breaks for her.

And then my son . . . he never asked for this. He didn’t choose to lose his birth mother, his first love. He didn’t choose us to be his forever family. He didn’t choose ANY of this. Though he doesn’t consciously remember this loss — his brain does, his thoughts do, his actions remember. And this is a huge part of his life story that he will always have lingering in the background, and sometimes in the forefront of life in different stages. As he grows and learns more about his family background and story, he will have a lot to grapple with. Any adopted child has an extra background, extra history, extra identity to wrestle with — whether consciously or not. And even if a child’s first family situation wasn’t safe, it may be all they know, and it is still lost.

When It Gets Hard…

So when my child inevitably says something honest and potentially hurtful to me, as he struggles to wrestle his truth out, I have to remember this:

Yes, I have worked so hard to get him home and bond with him, but I am the least hurting. I am the least traumatized and have the least amount of loss out of all of us wrapped up in this Triad together.

I want to foster a love in our family that is secure enough to be honest. Yes, I want to teach my son to be respectful, but not at the price of keeping his real feelings about his adoption story hidden from me. I cannot burden my son — my CHILD — to protect me from his anger, sadness, and true feelings. It’s the least I can do for him. I don’t want him to parrot back gratefulness to us for adopting him — the common outside narrative typically imposed on adoptees.

He owes me nothing more than his honest, real self. I have chosen this hard path, whereas he has not. I am the grown-up. I am HIS grown-up. I am for him, forever and always. And he needs time and space to be the CHILD grappling with any hard, grown-up realities of his story.

What Has Helped Me

The amazing thing about social media is the connectedness it brings to people who would otherwise never meet or share their stories with one another. What has been some of the best resources for me is being a part of Adoption Support groups online — not only for parents through adoption, but also ones that include adult adoptees. There is MUCH to learn from other grown-ups who have been where my child is.

I recently sat on a 14-hour flight next to a woman who has a similar adoption background as my child, and she graciously offered to share some of her story with me. There is so much to glean from adoption books, training, and other adoptive parents. But I believe just as importantly, as a parent through adoption I need to listen to the voices further down the path from my child. The best insight, whether from good or negative experiences, comes from those who have lived ADOPTION.

And though the Adoption Triad is complicated — sensitivity and compassion is the foundation of what’s needed to navigate the hard stuff. If I seek to understand my child, what he’s gone through, and what he could go through in the future — that is a family. That is a parent. That is a mother, whether I birthed him or not. That is the beauty in adoption.

November is National Adoption Month!

It primarily started as a way to bring awareness to the thousands of children in the foster care system who are in need of permanent, stable, loving families to care for them forever. Over the years, all roads of adoption have joined in on this month — to share adoption stories, celebrate their loved ones, and advocate for children needing families worldwide.

The Adoption Triad_ It's Complicated Charleston Moms
Laurie Grinnell Photography

Roads to Adoption

Families come to adoption through different routes. There’s domestic (US) infant adoption, adoption through foster care, kinship (family member) adoption, international adoption . . . open adoptions (contact between birth and adoptive families), and closed adoptions.

The reasons for choosing to adopt are just as diverse. Some families believe God, or a higher power has called or led them to adopt. Some families take a humanitarian stance — there are tons of children in the world who need families. Others have experienced infertility, and so adoption is a way to grow their family. Some families feel they aren’t complete yet, and so decide to adopt after having biological children — whether because of secondary infertility, health issues, humanitarian beliefs, or feeling led by God. Some families come to adopting a family member through the death of a parent or hard circumstances in the originating family.

There are countless different perspectives and life experiences that bring children to the point of adoption, and families to the point of adopting. All of which intricately change what the adoption triad looks like for each family. Of course, keep in mind I’m referring to situations in good faith. There are the horror stories of people adopting who should not have, and that is part of the terrible evils in this world. But none of the roads to adoption I listed are incorrect or wrong.

My family has a spiritual background to adoption — we know God has called us to adopt children, and it has been confirmed to our hearts over and over again. We also feel no judgment towards other healthy families who come to the adoption decision, through whichever route they choose. I believe God leads families to different routes on purpose. There are children everywhere who need homes and families — and none are less worthy of that than others.

If you have considered adopting, don’t ignore that tug on your heart! With sensitivity, compassion, and understanding, adoption can be a beautiful thing.

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Amanda Gibson
Amanda is from upstate New York, married her Tennessee guy in 2011, and moved to Charleston the next day. They adopted two toddler boys from South Korea in 2017 and 2019. She loves to share her heart about adoption, and humor lent by beginning motherhood with her toddler who spoke another language. Amanda has a social work degree and a background in non-profit work. She enjoys her awkward floppy hound, assertive cuddly cat, and constantly sings (commonly incorrect lyrics) throughout the day. She is always up for creating, helping out at her boys' schools, and occasionally dancing, playing the drums, and singing out in the community!