Family means so much more than just genetics.
Any adoptive, foster, or stepparent can tell you, a family is about love, not DNA. As a new stepmother myself in 2015, I had no idea my heart could expand to love my two bonus children from my husband’s previous marriage the way I love them. I also did not know my two biological girls could love their new step-siblings as much as they love each other, but they did. The experience of loving and considering these children my own, even though I did not carry them in my womb, was the most profound experience.
Adoptive families feel the same way. As the former executive director of Joint Council on International Children’s Services, I regularly met with families through our annual conference or other events who shared their fears before adopting that they would not love or bond with their adoptive child the way they would their biological child. Some were concerned that, after the pain and heartache of failed fertility treatments, they would not bond with a child that they did not carry in their womb or to whom they did not have any DNA connection. This could not be further from the truth. Parents who have gone through the adoption process regularly comment that their heart just expanded. The children they adopted were just as much loved and as much their own as the children they birthed. Foster parents also share the profound experience of loving the children in their care as their own while they are with them. The period of time does not matter; it is that they are a family during that period and the children are loved on like any other member.
As our world gets more interconnected and also as we move further away from our childhood towns in which we grew up, we continue to choose our family. Many people who have adopted also count on the family they chose: their friends and community who they love like family. It truly takes a village to raise a child, and that village many times becomes the family we choose with whom we are not connected by DNA. These people support us through our adoptions as we welcome another member into the family.
As prospective adoptive parents, stepparents who may be considering adoption, or foster parents, know that your heart will continue to expand to the new children who enter your family. Your family will look different than other families. My children’s school does a gallery wall every fall with a photo of every family in the school community. The exhibit is titled “Love Makes A Family” as it showcases families of all shapes and sizes. The families are made by love through adoption, foster care, blended families, and families with guardians who are not the biological parents. This art exhibit further validates to the children that families are about love, not DNA. Because love is the most important thing.