The adoption journey is not an easy one. Is it exciting? Yes. Is it focused on love? Yes. Is it joyful? Yes. Is it stress-free and relaxed? No. As an adoptive parent-in-waiting, you will experience a myriad of emotions. As a parent whose child has arrived home, you will experience even more emotional reactions—some pleasant and some stressful—but these are completely normal and expected.
Most of the social workers you have encountered in your adoption preparation process or adoptive families you have met during your adoption journey have probably attempted to discuss this emotional and sometimes exhausting part of adoption with you. However, it is very typical for your joy, anticipation, excitement, and commitment to this adventure to push those discussions to the side, choosing instead to focus on the happier parts. I get that.
However, if you are willing to begin to discuss what you can do to preempt and prepare for those stressful times, I would like to share some options for self-care and ways to maintain your overall well-being during your adoption journey.
Know you will need to take time for yourself. This is not a selfish activity…it is a necessary one! Allowing time for yourself to re-group, restore and rejuvenate by doing whatever it is that provides you that benefit is crucial to being able to “weather the storms” that may lie ahead. You know that saying “If Mama ain’t happy, nobody’s happy.”? Well, it’s true. You have to be rested to continue the journey.
Explore the thoughts and expectations of your family members and your own as they relate to adoption. While you likely did this before even starting the adoption process, it is important to revisit it with everyone in the home, including yourself, at various points throughout the journey. As we grow and as time passes, our attitudes, passions, thoughts, and fears can change and surface. Knowing where each member of your household stands at each juncture of the process allows you to process any concerns or fears as they occur, keeping them from growing and festering. As a family, you are all in this together! Keep talking and discussing about what this adoption will mean to your family and how it will affect your entire household. This keeps your family mentally healthy and secure in the decision to adopt as well as to help everyone remain prepared for the new child.
Got support? If not, get it. You will need a supportive group of family and friends to help you navigate this journey. From those who may be supporting you financially to those supporting you emotionally and physically, a solid group of people on whom you can count is crucial. Some may be far away but helping you in remote ways by donating to your adoption fees. Others may be within your social circle who can offer to provide meals and household help when you are traveling or arrive home. Some adoptive families can help prepare you for what to expect by discussion and examples. Still others, likely those closest to you, will be there at a moment’s notice to offer you a hug, a listening ear or simply encouragement. Every single one of these supportive groups will be needed. If you need to build a stronger circle, start now while you are in the waiting process.
Check your expectations. Seriously, do this. They need to be realistic. It is very easy to romanticize the adoption process and to minimize the hard work ahead. Like any worthwhile endeavor, it is hard. You will need to know that while there are innumerable joys which come with adoption, there are also situations that will test your patience, your knowledge base, your understanding of child development, and your ability to parent. Be prepared for these and know that others have gone through this successfully and survived! You will need to be realistic and accept that adopted life as you may have anticipated it may be a bit different. For example, even if you have parented before, parenting an adopted child is different and requires a new set of parenting skills. Your new parenting lenses will need to be “tweeked” to accommodate trauma focused care, trust-based relationship building, developing bonds of attachment in a different way, consistency, and patience, patience, patience. This beautiful child whom you have adopted is now yours due to the trauma of birth family separation, life in substitute care, loss of their culture and language, and often after traveling thousands of miles to join your home. Be patient and know that they will need you to temper your expectations to adapt to their individual needs.
Prepare yourself for some negativity, unkind comments and a lack of understanding from others. If you are adopting transracially or transculturally, at various points in your journey, you will likely hear statements from others that are mean, stupid and even sad because some people don’t know when their comments are hurtful. This is where you get to be an advocate, educator, model, and mentor…a diversity superhero of sorts. Learn all you can about your child’s history and culture before he or she comes home. Educate yourself on the many ways you can prepare yourself and your family to be a diverse and accepting family, open to new experiences, customs, friendships, and activities. Meet and surround yourselves with neighbors, educators, medical personnel, community leaders, and friends who mirror your adopted child’s race and culture. Provide décor, books, art, toys, and movies in your home that can contribute to your child’s comfort level and help your family embrace his or her previous life. Teach respect for others. Be positive when discussing differences, Help your child foster pride in his homeland or race. Allow questions to be asked openly and honestly by others and be prepared to answer them with conviction and understanding. You will be the standard bearer; your actions too will speak louder than words. Preparing yourself now will allow you to be more comfortable with any future challenges.
Be open to seeking help. This is a sign of strength. Neither you nor your family are an island. You do not have to deal with stressful or challenging events alone. Talking with others for advice and assistance is a good thing! You are not weak or a failure nor should you be embarrassed by seeking help. The best way to tackle problems or challenges is by preparing a list of resources ahead of time, before your child comes home. Talk with the social workers who are helping you with your adoption, your physician, adoptive families, or even your existing child’s teacher to prepare a list of adoption competent community professionals who can step in and help your adopted child as they are needed. Find out where your closest International Adoption Clinic is located. Know how to access special education services through your school system. Locate a mental health therapist knowledgeable about adoption. Find and begin participating in a local adoption support group. Research any special needs or diagnoses your adopted child has once you receive a referral and locate local clinics, agencies and service providers who can deliver those special types of resources that may be needed. Preparing ahead of time can significantly minimize any crises that occur later and help you maintain your composure.
So how important is it to take care of you? VERY IMPORTANT. By taking the time to make some adjustments and prepare for potential needs, you will help yourself and your family become champions in becoming a successful adoptive family!