Your Questions Answered: Dealing With Family

By: Jen Sloniger
Your Questions Answered is a blog series which addresses Project HOPEFUL blog readers’ most burning questions. Please submit your questions to:

QUESTION: How do you suggest I go about sharing news with family and friends that we plan to adopt a child with HIV? I shared with my sister (she has two kids) and she seemed very anxious about the idea.

People commonly wonder which approach is best for sharing the news that they plan to adopt a child with HIV/AIDS or other special needs. There is no formula to follow for guaranteed success. But there are some helpful things to consider.

In Person Is Best
This may seem like a given, but, believe me, some people have chosen to share their big news via email, or even had family members
stumble upon their announcement by visiting their blog. This definitely is not the way to go if you want to ensure feelings do not get hurt. If you
plan on disclosing your child’s status you’ll want to make sure the people closest to you know first. Just like you might for any big occasion in
your life, plan to share with your inner circle first, and in person. Sitting down for a talk will give you a sense of people’s initial reaction to your
news and help guide you in determining who might require a little more reassurance about your decision.

Adjust Your Expectations
Though it can be a real bummer, my best advice for parents adopting a child who is HIV+ is not to expect anyone to cheer them on in a big
celebration when they first reveal their plans. Experience tells me that most extended family and friends experience an initial bit of shock upon
hearing the news. Remember, most people haven’t learned anything new about HIV/AIDS since the late 80’s. Given the major lack of education
it’s common for people to have some serious misconceptions. If you enter the scenario confident of your own decision making and determine
to leave some space for your loved ones to digest the facts, and do not require immediate acceptance from them chances are you won’t
experience great disappointment in people’s initial reactions. Tempering your expectations can help you to stay calm when people express their fears and concerns. It’s vital to remember that it took you time to come to the decision to pursue your adoption. It is only fair to give your family the time they need to come around as well.

Ask Questions
It may seem strange, but, sometimes our family members feel insecure about their role in our adoptions. It’s a well known fact most people
don’t like change. When members of our family realize that decisions we are making will bring change to the family structure they sometimes
experience ”interesting” emotions. Not that your family will have the final say in what you decide, but it is important to remember that your
family members have to deal with their own thoughts and feelings on adoption, HIV/AIDS, and disclosure. They will need to consider stigma
and what that might look like for them personally if you do decide to disclose your child’s status.

You can help jump start your family’s consideration of these things by asking them questions. Do your family members have fears/concerns
about the reactions of people around them? How about how others might treat your child? Do they fear for your child being made fun of?
Do they feel insecure about their ability to keep stigma at bay? Are they concerned they won’t have answers to people’s questions? Do they
resent the idea of people being curious about your family and the idea of having to defend your choices to others?

Advocacy Begins Here
I’ve written before that once you decide to disclose you basically sign up to instantly become an advocate. I guarantee you your family will
have questions. By offering them your assistance in finding answers to those questions you have an opportunity to build up your relationship
with them.

Making an effort to provide your family with as much up-front information as possible not only allows you to be proactive but also
lets family members know how much you care about their needs. Family members appreciate knowing they can come any time for more information and that they won’t be resented for it. You don’t have to have all the answers; simply showing a willingness to help will speak volumes
to your loved ones.

After You’ve Done All You Can Do
When we made the decision to adopt a child with HIV, and it was met with some resistance, I made sure I offered my extended family
members as much education information as they needed. None of them had an excuse to be uneducated or remain ignorant. If they wanted
the facts I knew I had done everything within my power to make sure they were readily available to my family; that I’d even made it easy for
them. It paid off dividends. In the end, everyone came around to being supportive.

Unfortunately, it isn’t always the case that everyone comes around. It has been the experience of some Project HOPEFUL families that a few
in their family refuse to accept their adoption because of illogical fears and pure stigma. Flat out, these members of the family would rather
hold on to their fears and ignorance than embrace the child who will be coming home. These are heart-breaking scenarios where the facts
are rejected and adoptive parents’ efforts to educate and inform are shunned. It isn’t common, but if this should happen to you the best advice is to take comfort in the fact that you did all you could. The rest lies in the hands of another. In the end anyone who ignores these wonderful children is the one who misses out on the joy they bring into the lives of all they touch.

I hope these simple tips will help point you in the right direction. Project HOPEFUL is here to support and encourage families throughout their ENTIRE adoption process and beyond. Feel free to write us anytime at

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