Pre-Adoption Parenting Classes: Are They Necessary?

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Are They Necessary?

Do adopting parents need to learn how to parent? If love were the only requirement for being a good parent, the answer would be almost always be "no" but, as we all know, love isn't always enough – not in biological families, and not in adoptive families.

Changes in adoption and in family life more generally have spurred the growth of pre-adoption parenting classes outside the agency venue to meet new needs. Certainly, some agencies offer their clients much more than just education about the process, but it often falls to other groups to equip parents with skills they will need to meet a variety of challenges.

Much like childbirth preparation classes, the focus is on the prospective parents' transition to parenthood. Classes can include basic baby-parenting skills (diaper changes, formula preparation, etc.), parenting solo, parenting a child with different abilities, different ethnic or cultural heritage, parenting within the "adoption triad," and more.

Experienced adoptive parents and adoption experts agree that the best way to assure a successful move to adoptive parenting is to have as much information and as many coping skills as possible, and they encourage prospective adoptive parents to take advantage of every educational opportunity possible. Of course, some don't take this advice.

Not long ago, I was reading the story of a couple's international adoption journey. Describing the time in the hotel with their son while they awaited processing of visas and court appearances, the authors wrote that tensions and frustrations (that originated with delays and documentation mix-ups) mounted as they tried to change diapers – something they didn't know how to do. The frustration escalated to a shouting match between husband and wife, and I thought how sad and unnecessary it was that their first hours alone with their son may have scared him and certainly did nothing to promote bonding.

The need for more and different types of pre-adoption education has been the focus of new opportunities and approaches to traditional learning, including:I spoke with Myrna Mills, Certified Instructor, Mentor, and Doula at Life Center of the Poconos, about her program, which draws from a holistic approach described in "Birthing from Within" by Pam England. She said,

"Because of the inherent differences in extending a family through adoption, potential adoptive parents are given techniques to help them and their families embrace the transition to parenting and the adoption triad with confidence and love. We present the adoption process as a rite of passage, not just as papers, numbers, and waiting.

"Clients develop the skills to stay focused on making this the most positive experience it can be (whether domestic, international, closed, or open adoption), but we don't narrow our vision only to the positives. All too often, people believe they will adopt the perfect child, the process will go smoothly, and the adjustment in the family will be seamless. Not many are prepared for the possibility of attachment issues, lost paperwork and delays, or discrimination from within the family itself."

Her course includes, but isn't limited to:
  • Assessment of beliefs and attitudes towards adoption,
  • Mental preparation,
  • Techniques to cope throughout the adoption process,
  • The adoption triad,
  • Adoption as a rite of passage,
  • Life Art,
  • Adoption, culture, and positive imagery.
Those adopting through the U.S. foster care system are required to take parenting classes as part of their homestudy process, and while some private agencies are adding this requirement, many agencies and attorneys do not require adoptive parent preparation classes. Should it be a requirement?

~Nancy Ashe

Related Resources
Adoption: The Basics
Education Resources
Parent Support Groups
Adoption Triad
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