When my husband and I prayerfully decided we would like to adopt, I was one of those people who read all the blogs, and did my best to “master” this journey in advance. We ultimately narrowed things down to foster adoption as the best fit for our family.
Fast forward through a home study, lots of education, certification, and waiting in matching for about 6 months for the right placement to come along, I suddenly became a mom to 4-year-old twins.
I say suddenly, because the wait feels agonizing, things just HAPPEN, all at once.
So “suddenly” I was meeting the twins first foster family in an Ikea parking lot, loading up all of their belongings, and driving them through a couple hours of traffic to our home, where my husband was nervously waiting. This was a little over a year ago, and we have finalized our adoption with the twins since that time. I am still on this journey of learning as an adoptive mom, but I have picked up some lessons along the way.
You will love them, in your own time, in the way that you love: Moment of honesty here, I don’t bond quickly with anyone. I signed up for adoption knowing that I would not be that person who saw a picture of a child and immediately feel “this is my child”. I hoped for it, none the less. All of the adoption stories I read or listened to had that moment. That time where an adopter walked into a room, or saw a picture, and felt to their core that everything they had done up to that point lead them to their child. I have so much appreciation for people who are able to have that moment. Also my heart hurts for the individuals that don’t, and think there is something… wrong.
Our twins came into our home, and it mainly felt like babysitting, which was not helped by the fact that I needed to record the exact minute of which I gave them a gummy vitamin, each day. Going through all of these mothering steps felt so off, because there was a mother out there grieving the loss of her children, and they were grieving the loss of her. I was grieving for both of their losses. I was in an incredibly tricky state of mind.
I didn’t feel like a parent when they came home, or even many months afterwards. This was not a failure on behalf of anyone; myself, my agency, the kids. There wasn’t something wrong with me. People just bond differently, and some more obviously and quickly than others.
This could be true for yourself, your spouse, or the child(ren) you bring into your home, and it is not a disaster when it happens. When it comes down to it, I made a choice to love these strangers as my children. I acted out what I knew love to look like, and I told myself (sometimes daily) my feelings will come. Not the feelings someone else experienced in their adoption story, but the ones that are true to me. This ended up serving me well, when things got hard, it did not change the fact that I was still simply acting out what I know love to look like. It kept my feet planted.
To keep it simple, don’t compare. Pray daily to love the children in your home just a little bit more than you loved them the day before, regardless of where you started. The feelings come, they continue to grow, sometimes they ebb and flow. Just like the ending of a story book, “happily ever after” in marriage is much more complicated than we once believed as kids. The same is true for adoption.
Love for kids is spelled “TIME” I feel like most parents probably know this. However, I was really surprised at the results that come from playing with my children individually for just 5 minutes a day. Play that involved letting them lead, and either complimenting, celebrating, or repeating back what they were doing during those 5 minutes. This is not naturally my personality, but I learned, and it worked. Not simply time next to them, but concentrated time loving on who they are at exactly that moment. Not who you want them to be some day, just letting them be them, in all their messy imperfect glory.
Also, that TIME can mean taking time to work on yourself. Parenting really puts you under the microscope and brings out some things that you may have never realized were there. Things like a child that reminds you of someone that caused emotional damage towards you in the past. Maybe it’s opposing personalities that you don’t know how to navigate, or a button that they really learned how to push. Let me be brutally honest with you when I say that taking time to work on your own stuff is one of the most effective ways to love your child.
Do not be afraid to get counseling, it’s worth the financial cost. Your house doesn’t need to be figuratively “on fire” for you to drag yourself to an office for therapy. I tell my kids that a therapist is simply a doctor for their emotions. If it’s normal to do a checkup with your physician, why not an emotional check up too?
Be intentional about relationships, they are key to success I’m not talking about with the kids, but your personal relationships, as they are the ones that will help hold your head up when things get HARD.
Adoption, especially fostering or international adoption, will be isolating. Not everyone will understand trauma, even when you try to educate them. They won’t understand cocooning, or therapeutic parenting strategies. If you are like me, and adoption is the way you first became a parent, people will assume you have no earthly clue what you are doing. To be honest, I didn’t! More specifically, I hadn’t mastered a lot of really basic things that parents normally learn through years of trial and error. We got judged harshly on our little mistakes, and that opened the door for strangers to make a lot of assumptions about our parenting in general. I’m not into oversharing my kids personal story for the benefit of a stranger, so taking criticism or ‘tips’ silently is often what makes adopters feel so isolated.
This may make you want to back away from relationships altogether, but in fact it is the reason they are so important. I found that the people who DID understand, listen, and learn with us, were my rocks in the hardest moments. They let me vent when some well-meaning ‘advice’ made me feel extra insecure. I also realized very quickly how vital it is to get to know other adopting families, and pursue relationships with them intentionally. We had none of those relationships to start, and had to start pursuing them when our lives were busy, crazy, and imperfect. The beauty was, those adoptive families were not fazed by imperfection. Life-giving relationships were so key to our journey, that I would recommend pursuing them with the same passion in which you may currently be pursuing an adopted child.
While this is not everything you could possibly need for your adoptive journey, I have found that being aware of each of these has provided the fuel we needed to get through our harder moments, and ultimately lead our family to overcome some tough times. They also made life a lot more fun in the good times.
–Deb Uber | Snowflakes Adopter Inquiry Specialist