A Dad Is A Dad

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My husband is every kind of father there is. (And I'm not talking about the good, the bad, and the ugly.) First, he has been a stepfather to my 17-year-old daughter since she was five, then four years ago, we adopted a baby girl, and 15 months ago we had a biological son. One evening, as I was watching him roll around the floor with the two little ones while carrying on a conversation with the oldest, I asked him: "Do you think parenting a biological child is different from parenting an adopted child?" He quickly responded, "No way; a dad is a dad."

Of course that is the answer that is expected, and let's face it, the one we all want to hear. But I have come to believe that although the love is undeniably the same, the experience of parenting is completely different, and even more so when doing two together in the same family.

A "blended family," as we are often called, has its own set of challenges that may or may not have anything to do with adoption. Whether you are an adoptive parent, or a foster parent, as well as a birth parent, you have to deal with each of your children in different ways. Of course all three of our children have different issues at each stage in their lives. With our 17-year-old, we're dealing with driving and boyfriends and college entrance exams. With our 4-year-old daughter, we're dealing with her sense of independence and desire to run the household. And with the baby, well, if he sleeps through the night, we're all happy.

There is, however, an extra dimension to identity in our family. We have to teach all of our children about adoption issues and periodically revisit them as our children move through different developmental stages. We have to help them cope with stereotypes and prejudices about adoption and teach them how to talk about it to others. We have to deal with conflicts with those who view our family as fundamentally different, especially since our adopted daughter is Hispanic and we are Caucasian. And we have to accept the fact that adoptive (and foster) parents are raising children who, from time to time, may wish their lives had turned out differently. We need to support our children's anger and sorrow for the loss of their birthparents, even when they are not aware of it themselves. It adds a challenging, interesting dimension to parenting that would not otherwise be there.

Families involved in "open" adoptions have their own set of challenges unique to their situation as well. A friend of mine who has 4 children (2 biological and 2 adopted) told me, "Parenting all four of my kids is exactly the same. That is, except when my daughter's birthmom calls, or when we arrange a visit with my son's birthparents. We've had to figure out how to incorporate these extra sets of parents into our lives. I never had to deal with that with my biological children!"

Other "blended families" have told me that standard parenting techniques that work with their biological children often falter with their adopted children, especially older adopted children, who may have attachment issues that need to be dealt with. It is normal for all children to push their parents away from time to time as they entertain possibilities of independence and more exciting lives somewhere else, but adoptive parents sometimes feel more threatened by this behavior, and adopted children may use that to push their parent's buttons, so to speak.

We, as adoptive parents, in many ways have to be PROACTIVE and to anticipate the issues our children may face. We need to try to prepare for our children's adoption challenges and to plan ahead about how we will help as parents. We shouldn't let normal and predictable issues in adoptive family life surprise us or cause us to overreact.

So, even though "a dad is a dad" and "a mom is a mom," parenting an adopted child IS different from parenting a child you gave birth to. It's not better or worse, just different. Don't fear the fact that it's different...celebrate it!

Rebecca Gold is an adoptive mom and the author of "Till There Was You - An Adoption Expectancy Journal" (1998, Pineapple Press). Write to her with questions and comments at RebGold@aol.com or visit her website at http://members.aol.com/pynappress
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