Answering questions about adoption: Since you asked…


When I invited you to send me your questions about adoption, I wasn’t sure what kind of response I’d receive. I wasn’t overwhelmed with questions, so perhaps the people who usually strike up conversation with me in public are not reading this blog.

Still, I received two particularly thoughtful questions that required more than a quick reply, and I am answering them here.

QUESTION: The adoption process seems to involve a lot of waiting. What was your experience with the timeframe? How long did it take to get from point A (formally committing to the process) to point B (bringing your children home)?

Waiting is almost always part of the adoption process. There are so many variables—which country you choose to adopt from, how organized you are about completing your paperwork, how competent your agency is, and how lucky you are. You could wait for years—the current wait to adopt an infant girl with no special needs from China is more than five years—or you might find you are meeting your child sooner than expected.

John and I were fortunate that our waits for our sons were not long.

For Leo, we went to our first information session about adoption on July 31, 2008, submitted our application with the agency to begin the process about a month later, were matched with our son in January 2009, and met him that December. So we waited about 15 months.

For Daniel, we submitted our initial application in July 2010, were matched with him in March 2011, and met him that August. So our journey to him took about 13 months.

Those are relatively short waits in the world of international adoption—especially since the options available to families are shrinking. There were two reasons our wait was shorter: we were open to adopting children with some special needs, and we were open to adopting a child of either gender.

At that very first information session we attended at Catholic Charities, one of the social workers said, “If families are open to boys anywhere in the world, we can match them very quickly,” and she didn’t just mean families adopting from China. Most adoptive families want to adopt girls.

The wait for a child will vary depending on which program a family chooses, whether they decide to adopt domestically or internationally—and from which country. As hard as it was for us to wait to meet our boys, and as long as the wait felt at the time, we actually did not wait long.

QUESTION: I’ve noticed that some Caucasian parents (including one of my relatives who adopted from China) choose to enroll their children in cultural immersion programs at a young age. What is your opinion of these programs? Are they useful/necessary, or should the children be allowed to decide for themselves when they’re older?

Even before we were matched with Leo, we talked about how we would integrate our child’s Chinese heritage into our family life. I have been pleasantly surprised that it has been fairly easy and fun to get to know more about Chinese culture and share that knowledge with our sons—though I do feel we are doing it in a cursory way.

While we were in China, we bought Chinese silks for the boys to wear, children’s books written in Mandarin and English, and decorations for our home.

Our children’s book collection includes other books about China or Chinese customs.

And we celebrate Chinese New Year with as much gusto as we acknowledge St. Patrick’s Day, which we take very seriously around here. 

We recognize the importance of helping our sons be proud of their Chinese heritage—and not just because we have twice stood in a government office in China and promised we would. We genuinely want them to appreciate Chinese culture.

However, we also recognize that—obviously—we are not Chinese ourselves. And that makes it a challenge. We also don’t want to force anything on them—and we want them to have some say in how much they embrace their Chinese heritage as they grow up.

And so we try to keep it light and fun. We incorporate Mandarin phrases and Chinese food and celebrations. We watch Big Bird in China and episodes of Ni Hao, Kai-lan. We play with Pleasant Goat toys and watch YouTube videos of children’s songs in Mandarin.

Then we participate in gatherings with our local Families with Children from China group—including their Boys Club. And those are invaluable connections for our sons, who have many friends who were also adopted from China.

More challenging is seeking out ways for our boys to rub shoulders not just with other children adopted from China, but with other Chinese-American families. After all, I can explain the significance of the shamrock or the origins of the Star-Spangled Banner, but when we delve into Chinese traditions, John and I are not much more familiar with them than our sons are. We are learning as we go.

There are Mandarin classes offered in the Baltimore area, but I don’t know whether we will enroll our boys. For one thing, we have such little time together as a family as it is, and weekend time is so precious. I also don’t want our boys to feel they are forced to learn Mandarin rather than playing soccer or going to friends’ birthday parties. And, I’m pretty sure as Daniel gets older, he’d be quick to point out that he is actually from a part of China where the people speak Cantonese.

Although it’s going to become increasingly obvious to our sons that they are different from their peers—both because they are adopted and because they were born in China—I am not really looking to enroll them in classes to highlight that difference. That said, if they want to learn Mandarin, we would enthusiastically support them. But they may decide they want to learn Spanish or Latin or Swahili, and that would be fun, too.

One hope we have for our sons is that they will join us for a heritage trip to China one day. Will they want to go? We don’t know. Right now Leo wants to go so he can ride a high-speed bullet train. We’ll see how they feel when they’re 10 or 11. And we’ll also have to see whether we can afford to take the trip.

For now, we’ll do what we can to make sure our sons know they were born in a country that is rich in tradition and culture. My hope is that if we plant a few seeds, they will want to learn even more as they get older.

How are we doing? I have no idea. 

Tonight our Great Wall of China bookend was used as a prop in a spy scenario involving a Hess truck and a teddy bear. And, as we wrapped Christmas gifts to ship to orphans in China this week, Leo asked me what the Chinese words for “China” and “Chinese” were.

And I was able to tell him–but not because I already knew. What did parents do before Google was invented?

Any other questions? Feel free to send them along to, and I’ll be happy to reply–even if it’s not during National Adoption Month. If you’d prefer that I answer them privately rather than on the blog, just let me know.

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.