More and more families are welcoming adopted children into their lives. In 2001, there were 1.5 million adopted children in the United States1 and 64% of Americans have had personal experiences with adoption.2
The addition of an adopted child into your home will undoubtedly be a joyous occasion, and many families seek ways to officially welcome and introduce their new addition to immediate and extended family members. “We are finding that many parents of adopted children have experienced the emotional roller coaster ride of a lengthy adoption process,” said Charlotte Eulette, National Director of the Celebrant USA Foundation. “As a result, they are eager to share their new bundle of joy with the love of family and friends in an official welcoming ceremony. Whatever elements you include, your adoption ceremony affirms your life as a united family.”
Following are guidelines from the Celebrant USA Foundation on how to create a welcoming ceremony and celebration for an adopted child.
Honor birthparents. Depending on the type of adoption you’ve had, you may know a lot or very little about your child’s birth family. Either way, you may wish to give thanks to the people who gave your child life. If yours was part of the growing trend towards open adoptions, you may be fortunate enough to share some thoughts from your child’s birth parent.
Pay tribute to your child’s background. For international or multicultural adoptions, include symbols, music, rituals or foods that honor your child’s ethnic or cultural heritage. Research traditional clothing, dance, décor or readings for your ceremony, or post photos of your child’s birth country. Integrate your child’s foreign and American family names into the invitations or the cake.
Light a “forever family” unity candle. Married parents might even want to use the unity candle from their wedding, if they have one. Have godparents or guideparents light the candle from smaller tapers representing parent and child. As a special tribute, include a candle representing your child’s birthparents or country of origin.
Tell your adoption story. Adoption is a remarkable and sometimes trying journey. Open your ceremony by personally sharing with your guests the tale of how you came to be a family.
Mark your child’s journey. It is important to recognize your child’s history before he or she came into your lives. If you have any mementos from your child’s first days, place them on the ceremonial table and explain them to your guests.
If you have adopted an older child, let your child speak, sing or dance. Make sure your child is comfortable with this role or have a sibling share the stage for moral support. If your child decides to participate, the adoption ceremony will be richer for these words or actions from the heart.
Give thanks. As any adoptive parent knows, adoptions don’t happen without the assistance of numerous professionals. Thank foster families, social workers, facilitators, agency and orphanage staff and anyone else who has helped shepherd you through this sometimes daunting process.
Celebrate adoption. Every year, adoption becomes a more common way to create a family, and the old stigmas associated with it continue to wane. For some of your guests, your child’s ceremony may be their first experience with adoption. Let it serve as a beacon to others of the joys of adoption. Continue to celebrate adoption by marking anniversaries with annual family rituals.
“Welcoming Ways” by Andrea Alban Gosline & Lisa Burnett Bossi
“Creating Ceremonies: Innovative Ways to Meet Adoption Challenges” by Cheryl A. Lieberman
“Designing Rituals of Adoption for the Religious & Secular Community” by Mary Martin Mason
“Baby Blessings” by June Cottner
“Multicultural Celebrations” by Norine Dresser
1 Fields, Jason, Living Arrangements of Children, Current Population Reports, p. 70-74, U.S. Census Bureau (April 2001)
2 Meaning that they themselves, a family member, or a close friend was adopted, had adopted a child, or had placed a child for adoption. Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, 2002 National Adoption Attitudes Survey.