Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew by Sherrie Eldridge.
Delta, Bantam Dell, Random House, New York, 1999.
Nonfiction, 224 pages including index and recommended reading.
This book of advice, information, and deep thought aims at communicating with the next generation of adoptive parents so the adoptive experience can be better.
This was probably the most helpful book I read before becoming a parent. (One was great for general parenting but not especially relevant to this blog.) Sadly, this isn’t a book recommended by a social worker or from one of our required classes.
Some of my adopted friends reminded us to consider the child’s perspective. At the used bookstore this was the only book by adoptees I could find. Rereading it for this review was an unexpectedly emotional journey.
The book opens with two chapters introducing the topic and reasoning behind this book. We experience a trip to the author’s adoptive parents’ graves, before delving into adoption world. Eldridge is compassionate toward adoptive parents but doesn’t hold back the truth that adoptive parenting is very different and begins with trauma and loss. She is blunt about the damage secret adoptions do.
A large portion of these first two chapters seems to be aimed at convincing parents that their day old perfect newborn who looks just like them is in fact NOT just like them, and has experienced a severe trauma that could be compounded by them inadvertently handling this wrong. This seems obvious to me, but is apparently needed. These chapters are not as relevant for those who foster, or adoption of older children, but they may still be helpful.
With chapter three, we dive in to the main topic of the book. The remaining chapters each follow the theme of one of the twenty things that adoptees wish their parents knew. One very interesting aspect of the book is the back and forth nature of the arguments. This book is aimed at adoptive parents and is very pro adoptions, but doesn’t shy away from the harsh realities of adoption and asks parents not to either.
For adoptive parents reading this review, know there will be hard moments in this book. Most likely, there will be points in the book where you disagree strongly, and every adoption experience is different. However, I would ask that when you come to that point in the book, try to consider your child’s viewpoint.
Despite organizational method (each chapter having a different thing for adoptive parents to learn), there was a good flow between chapters. Most chapters were broken down even further into short sections, making it easy to pick up at random points during the day and absorb snippets of information. Chapters end with a section titled “What Parents Can Do”, but really the entire book alternates between practical ideas and informative narrative.
The frame of this book includes the author’s own personal adoption story and adoptee experiences. Normally I don’t like this kind of inclusion in a non-fiction book about a specific topic, but in this case, it actually greatly improved the book. We know the author’s credentials, and she’s careful to include other stories and a variety of perspectives. Like Janet Mock about transgender experiences, Eldridge is careful to point out that her experiences do not represent all adoptees.
In the 18 years since this book was written, there are more open adoptions. This book focuses on closed infant adoptions and may have less value for those with open adoptions, older children, or foster care placements. The general principles still apply, and Eldridge includes some suggestions for older children as well as infants and toddlers.
There are other, newer books (and certainly I shall be seeking more out to read and review), but this is a book every foster and adoptive parent should read. While it’d be helpful at any point, it was easier to absorb the main principles before having a child and becoming emotionally invested in a particular foster or adoption scenario. This book could also be helpful to adult adoptees, especially if they have gone through similar circumstances to the author. I’d also recommend this book to people involved with the child welfare system or adoption.