by Seth J. Meyer, LMSW, PhD:
When talking about conference participation and caregiving, we often focus on a heterosexual couple who has given birth to their child. While this is the reality for many, some may choose a different path toward having a child. People who decide to adopt, whether they be a heterosexual couple, a homosexual couple, or single parents, have different needs and anxieties.
In the conference setting, there are three specific issues which a caregiver may face: 1) The social anxiety of not knowing when they will have a child, 2) The need to leave a conference abruptly or cancel due to having a child, and 3) Being questioned about being the child’s parent. Understanding this perspective is a way we can make conferences welcoming to all families. First, when a person is waiting to adopt, they can get a call at any minute informing them that their child is born. This is a stressful time in a person’s life. Often, they get questions regarding their adoption, such as “have you heard anything” and “how are you preparing”. When a person has been matched with a child, they may not tell many people. This is because, even after matching and placement of the child, the birth parents still have the opportunity to change their minds after the baby is born. This can be a heartbreaking process for an adoptive family. Therefore, questions can be awkward for waiting parents. To help alleviate stress, phrase things such as “Let me know if you want to talk about the process” or let your colleague know that you are free to talk if they want.
When a parent is waiting for a child, all plans are tentative. During the adoption process, the potential parent may get informed that a birth mother is pregnant and will give birth in three months, or that a woman who has just given birth would like to put her child up for adoption. Going through the adoption process means being ready to make quick decisions that will change one’s life. Therefore, if your colleague is in the adoption process, it is possible they may need to leave a conference early or not come at the last minute. Once a child is adopted, there are sometimes certain complexities that families face which are unique to their situation. This is only amplified when the adoptive parents are in a same-sex relationship. To start, the child may be of a different race than the parent. This can lead to people asking about the child’s parents and suspicion of the parents by outsiders. When creating caregiver spaces, allow for the child to say things such as “My parents adopted me” and help answer other children’s questions regarding the child looking different from the parents. One of an adoptive parent’s worst nightmares is being constantly questioned or having to constantly justify that their child is, indeed, their child.
The most supportive thing academics can do when their colleague is adopting is to understand that they are in a stressful position, and the stress is different from when one is pregnant. Be understanding of the flexibility that an adoptive parent may need while they wait for their kid to be born and be understanding that their child may be of a different race. Most importantly, be happy for your colleague as they grow their family.
About the author:
Seth J. Meyer, LMSW, PhD is an Assistant Professor of Nonprofit Management in the Department of Political Science at Bridgewater State University. His research focuses on LGBTQ and Jewish issues within nonprofit organizations and organizational behavior in organizations with multiple sites. He is also a consultant helping build organizational relationships with affiliates. Seth received his MSSW from Columbia University and his PhD from Rutgers University-Newark School of Public Affairs and Administration. Seth can be followed on twitter @sethjmeyer.