Forever Mom: What to Expect When You’re Adopting by Mary Ostyn.
Nelson Books, Thomas Nelson, Nashville, Tennessee, 2014.
Nonfiction, 241 pages.
Mary Ostyn shares her experiences as a mother of ten, six adopted, children.
I’m always interested in reading books about adoption and foster care. Initially when I got this, I thought it would have more about fostering or domestic adoption. While Ostyn did go through the initial process of domestic adoption, in the end all of their six adopted children were foreign adoptions.
This is part memoir and part advice book. Ostyn writes from a Christian background so there are scripture quotations and references to Jesus and prayer. I didn’t realize before reading this book that like many international adoptive parents, she feels particularly called by Jesus to adopt the children who ended up in her home.
This book was not so irritating as Kisses from Katie – there were Christian references in every chapter, but the narrative was also present around that. However, I would not recommend this book to a non-Christian reader. The references were frequent and integrated into the text, so they couldn’t be easily skipped. I was disappointed that the synopsis I read before buying this online did not mention the Christian viewpoint.
So much of this focuses on infant or young child international adoption, which is very different from fostering or domestic adoption. I do know about international adoption both from friends who have adopted and friends who are adopted, but so far my own lived experiences have been with kinship, foster care, and domestic adoption processes.
The best part of this for me were the snippets from other adoptive (and a few foster) parents. By including those other views, Ostyn made this book much stronger. After all, every child is different and every parent is different, so each interaction between two unique individuals is bound to have some differences. Sometimes two children, even full biological siblings who have lived through the same scenarios, will each need a different style of parenting.
As is typical of these kinds of books, the focus is very much on the adoptive mother’s feelings and experiences. Ostyn does talk about her husband’s reactions, and other family members. She also thankfully includes a chapter with adoptee’s perspectives, something that is often sorely lacking in these kinds of books. (And I do understand that adoptive parents sometimes need a safe space to read or vent their own views. But frequently the adopted child’s viewpoint has been silenced, especially in narratives aimed at new parents.)
However, it’s crucial for potential adoptive parents to also read other narratives by adoptees. A careful reading of this chapter will show the progression is designed to ease an adoptive mother into recognizing that adoption has some benefits and challenges different from a birth parent-child relationship. First Ostyn points out that adoption can have negatives, then looks at what young adoptees have said to their parents. Finally teens and adult adoptees are given their say. Indeed, even this chapter is near the end of the book. There are valid literary reasons for doing this (the first half follows the narrative of Ostyn’s personal journey), but it’s important to consider a wide range of perspectives on any adoptive path.
Ostyn offers a great deal of practical advice and much of it (like making sure to have regular couples time with your spouse) is timeless. However I would caution parents reading this book on two areas. One is the idea that love will cure all. This thought is popular in Christian adoption circles, combined with the related idea that bringing children to Jesus will cure their hurts. That’s not accurate. Love is an essential piece of a complicated puzzle. The other warning I would give is that research is constantly evolving and we are learning new information about how best to parent children who have experienced trauma. It’s very important to seek out further information and training and be open to new findings.
When a person first starts toward adoption, especially if they don’t know any nonbiological families or if they are choosing adoption because of infertility, it can feel very isolating. Prospective parents who are having a biological child have a wealth of books, websites, podcasts, etc. to guide them. Potential adoptive parents have a much smaller pool of resources. Since adoptive situations vary so much, guides like these can be helpful in giving parents an overview without being too overwhelming.
I don’t think this should be the only book you read about adoption. However for a Christian pre-adoptive mom, this could be a good starting place to prepare for the journey.