Becoming a Grandparent Through Adoption

Period of Adjustment May Be Required

grandfather with adopted grandson
Gaining a grandchild through adoption can be an infinitely rich and rewarding experience. Medioimages/Photodisc / Getty Images

There's more than one way to become a grandparent. Most grandparents are created when a child or a child's partner gives birth, but some grandparents are created when a child adopts.

Although this pathway to grandparenthood is a little different and presents some challenges, millions of grandparents can testify to the joys of becoming a grandparent through adoption.

Watch What You Say

Of all grandparenting scenarios, no one presents more immediate hazards than becoming a grandparent through adoption.

It is natural for grandparents to have questions and even doubts about the decision to adopt or about the adoption process. Voicing such doubts, however, is risky. By the time they have arrived at the decision to adopt, most parents are fiercely committed to the adoption. Grandparents need to be fully supportive and work out any misgivings they have in private. 

What if you accidentally slip up and use a hurtful phrase, such as referring to a biological child as "a child of your own"? Apologize immediately and profusely, and try not to do it again.

Learning the News

Some who are thinking about adoption share openly from the beginning. That's probably the easiest scenario for grandparents, as they are granted time to adjust to the possibility of adoption before it becomes reality. Of course, grandparents may still be taken by surprise and may say something that they would not have said had they had time to fully think it out.

Still, in this scenario, grandparents should have ample time to redeem themselves and to set the stage for a good relationship with their grandchild.

In other cases, however, adoptive parents choose to keep their deliberations to themselves and only share their decision when the adoption is well underway.

Grandparents in such a case will have to make a more rapid adjustment. Parents who have been well-prepared for adoption will realize that they need to grant the grandparents time for adjustment.

Mourning for Biological Grandchildren

Some parents choose adoption in order to add to the children already in their family. Others, who struggle with infertility or other issues, adopt instead of having biological children. If you learn that biological grandchildren are not in your future, it's natural to go through a process of mourning. It's hard to give up the idea of seeing family traits manifested in a grandchild. Many adoptive families report, however, that their adoptive children resemble them in many ways, giving them fresh insights into the nature vs. nurture dichotomy. Also, the adoption process has its own drama and heart-stopping moments. So, although it may be natural to grieve for the grandchildren who won't be, this process should be conducted in private and should be concluded as swiftly as possible.

If this is your first grandchild and it will be an older child, not a newborn, you may also regret missing out on the baby stage of your grandchild's life. In this case, it's good to remember that every stage of a grandchild's life has its own charms.

Prepare yourself to be the best grandparent possible to your toddler, preschool, school-age, tween  or teen grandchild.

Accepting New Adoption Practices

Contemporary adoption practices are quite different from those that most grandparents grew up with. It can be difficult for grandparents to adjust to new ideas about adoption, but it is crucial in order to make the process as smooth as possible.

Once the ideal was to adopt a newborn as similar as possible to one's biological family and integrate the baby seamlessly into the family. Today, instead of seeking to replicate the experience of having a biological child, parents may celebrate the uniqueness of adopting. They may opt for an international adoption or adopt a child of another race. They may choose an older child or a special needs child.

Sometimes they choose a child who has been reared in a different faith, and they plan to integrate those beliefs into their household, creating an interfaith family.

In the past, an adoptive child's past was sealed in secrecy. Today that is not always the case. Grandparents are likely more comfortable with the traditional system, but there are sound reasons why some families choose open adoption. If the parents opt for an open adoption, you must strive to understand their reasons and accept their decision.

Normally grandparents' visitation rights do not survive adoption. In some states, however, and under certain circumstances, birth grandparents may still have the right to see their grandchildren. So it is possible, although not likely, that your new grandchild will come with an extra set of grandparents, which is one more thing to adjust to.

Grandparents should educate themselves so that they will be aware of the choices to be made. If you are privy to the parents' decision early on, ask if there are meetings you can attend or other ways you can be a part of the process. Parents will probably be happy to share some information, although they may wish to keep other parts of the process private. Even if they wish to go through certain steps alone, they probably will appreciate the fact that you asked.

Handling Worry

Grandparents are champion worriers, and the process of adoption gives us fresh fodder for the worry mill. Grandparents may worry that their grandchild won't be healthy or that the adoption will fall through at some point. In cases of open adoption, they may worry about the contact with the birth family and whether it will be beneficial for the child.

It may calm worries if you are able to make connections with some who have been through the adoption journey, especially grandparents of adopted children. Talking to a spiritual adviser or trusted friend may help, too.

Contributing Financially

The cost of adoption can be considerable. Some grandparents will wish to help with expenses, but they must be sure that they are financially able to do so before making a commitment.

It will not help a child's family if you contribute to them but end up impoverishing yourself. In addition, if you have more than one child, you will have to consider whether it is fair to make a large contribution to one child and not to the others. If you do make a commitment, be specific about how much you can give and do not back out of your pledge.

Welcoming Your Grandchild

Of course you will want to welcome your new grandchild with all the celebratory hoopla that traditionally accompanies a new baby, but the parents still call the shots. Since many adoptions do not proceed smoothly, the parents may not want a baby shower or gifts ahead of time. If the adopted child is older, they may want to keep toys and gifts to a minimum to avoid overwhelming the child. The parents may want to introduce members of the extended family gradually rather than all at once. Follow the parents' lead, but do show your excitement and do offer to help out in any way that you can.

Will you feel an immediate connection with your grandchild? It's hard to say. With both biological and adopted grandchildren, some grandparents feel an instantaneous bond, and others report that forming a bond takes time. It's okay if you don't immediately feel like a grandparent. For some, adjusting to being a grandparent takes time.

If your adopted grandchild is an older child, it's  less likely that you will have an immediate bond. Your situation may be somewhat similar to that of the stepgrandparent. You may have to build a relationship with your grandchild step by painstaking step, keeping in mind always that the final goal is a worthwhile one.

Know What to Say

When you announce your new grandchild to your friends, you'll want to take your cue from the parents. Note the phraseology that they use and adapt it for your own purposes. Ask the parents how much they wish to share about your grandchild's story and be certain not to reveal more.

Adoptive parents often have to answer ticklish questions posed by members of the public as well as by friends, relatives and acquaintances. Observe how they handle these questions because chances are that you may get asked questions, too. It's good to have answers at the ready.

Be in for the Long Haul

Once the initial hubbub is over, the adoptive parents will settle down to the business of becoming a family. Your job as a grandparent is just beginning. If there are rough patches, help your grandchild's family negotiate them. And always celebrate the gift of having another child to love.