Like many adoptive parents, you've dreamed of the day when you could travel to your child's country of birth as a family. You instinctively understand the importance such a visit will have on your child's sense of identity and self-esteem. Yet there are many questions and issues:
• Are there programs out there created especially for adoptive families?
• How old are the kids traveling?
• Is it appropriate to take other siblings or extended family members such as Grandma and Grandpa? How do the kids usually react?
• Are they made to feel welcome in their birth country?
• Do we want to try to connect with people and places significant to our child's adoption? Is that even possible?
During the past eight years, as director of the Ties Program, I have had first-hand experience with hundreds of families who have traveled back to their adopted child's (children's) birth countries. The following advice and information was based on those experiences. We hope it will help you plan for one of the most significant events in your family's life.
What should I look for in a program?
Most homeland visits run anywhere from 10 days to one month. Typically, participants have a variety of opportunities in the country they visit for sightseeing, school and home visits, foster parent meetings (sometimes with the birth family), meetings with other people significant to the child's adoption, maternity home visits, orphanage and hospital visits, and so on. We emphasize that what feels appropriate will vary from family to family and even from child to child within a family. Families should look for programs that will be as flexible as possible; that way each family can tailor the experience to its individual needs.
Who should go?
Some families choose to send one parent and one child. Others bring the whole family, often including Grandma, Grandpa, aunts and uncles.
Generally, our experience has taught us that if it feels right in your heart, it probably is ... with one exception. In two-parent families where one parent does not travel, we frequently find the family regrets that decision. These journeys tend to be quite profound, and they often have a significant effect on those who travel. By the end of the trip, it typically becomes evident that the parent who did not travel may have missed the most important piece of the child's life thus far. Even parents who work the trip into business plans and stay with the group part of the time have told us that they wished they had made another choice.
Siblings, both birth children and children adopted from another country or domestically, also often travel with a brother or sister and Mom and Dad, even if they don't have personal ties to that particular country. We have also seen extended family members and special friends make the trip with adoptees and their parents.