Ten Tips for Surviving the “Trenches” in Adoption


After about a year, I feel like my family is finally out of the adoption “trenches.” Sure, there are days when we’ve fallen back in, but for the most part we feel like we’ve made it up and out. There will continue to be many ups and downs, but my family survived, and so can yours! Here are a few ways that helped our family survive the “trenches,” which you might find helpful:Roller Coaster

  1. Food: Try to eat healthy and don’t skip meals! When we’re stressed and don’t feel like cooking, we tend to order out or go through a drive-thru, but then our bodies do not receive the nourishment that they need to sustain the energy level that adoptive parenting requires. Before leaving to travel to bring your child home, make healthy homemade freezer meals that will require minimal preparation to make – crockpot meals are great! Have your support team organize meals for the first few weeks home. Websites such as https://www.mealtrain.com/ can help arrange and organize those willing to provide your family with meals. Having food or meals delivered to your home can greatly help reduce the trips to the store in the early months so you can stay at home and focus on attachment. Some examples of services available for home delivery include GreenBean Delivery, Peapod, Blue Apron, Green Chef, and Amazon Prime Pantry. Eat meals together as a family. Providing food for your child is one of the best ways that you can build attachment by showing them that you are providing for their needs.
  2. Stay hydrated! Drink plenty of water and encourage your child to do so as well. Our bodies need water to function properly, especially under stress. If you’re dehydrated, your body isn’t functioning at its best. Adoption puts enough stress on parent’s bodies, so remember to drink plenty of water to avoid any more unnecessary stress.
  3. Accept help and support: Surround yourself with a community of friends and family that will get in the trenches with you and won’t give up on you till you’re out. Let your support team help you. That’s what friends and family are for! At some point you can repay the service, but let them serve you during your time of need. For example, let your friends or family members watch your kids so you can take a nap or go to the store, give them your dirty laundry to wash and fold, or ask them to buy you a few essentials when they go to the store. Connect with other adoptive families who are also going through the trenches, or have gone through the trenches and survived. You can share war stories and encourage each other in your adoptive journey. Adoptive parenting is not meant to be done alone; it truly does take a village. Thank you to the friends and family who supported, and continue to support us on our adoptive parenting journey.
  4. Self-care: Parents often are so focused on their children’s needs that they neglect their own. It is important to designate time every day to taking care of yourself. You heard me right, EVERY DAY! Daily care may include eating healthy, showering, brushing your teeth, doing your hair, having sex (I’m serious, this is important!), making time for friends, listening to music (that isn’t Kidz Bop!), or taking time to read that book you’ve been looking forward to reading. You may need to make a list of activities that you enjoy doing and try to incorporate them into your daily routine. It is also important to find activities to do on a weekly or monthly basis that help you unwind or relieve stress. Those activities may include playing golf, getting a massage or mani/pedi, going to see a movie, hanging out with friends, or having a date night. Don’t wait until your gas tank is nearly empty to fill it up again! Self-care also includes keeping your regular dental and doctor appointments.
  5. Counseling: Don’t be afraid to ask for help from professionals. If you adopt, chances are that your family will benefit from counseling. Children who join a family through adoption will have big emotions, and so will their adoptive parents. Before your child joins your family, research professionals in your area (who accept your insurance) who specialize in adoption and attachment. Pre-adoptive counseling can help families with issues that need to be resolved before the integration of a child. Post-adoptive counseling can help with issues such as attachment, grief, anxiety, identity formation, trauma, behaviors, or struggles with eating or sleeping. Find professionals that will be best for your family. Family therapy can be a great help in getting through the trenches. Instead of counseling or therapy, some families benefit from working with a parenting coach on how to handle their child’s behavioral issues. Don’t wait until your family is in crisis to seek help from a professional.
  6. Games: Families who play together, stay together. Whether you play a game of soccer, hide-and-go-seek or Jenga, you’re creating memories and sharing in their experiences. Playing games together also creates great opportunities to build attachment.
  7. Cleaning: If you can, plan ahead and designate money to pay someone else to clean your house in the first few months after adoption. This will relieve stress and free up time to focus on your child. If you don’t have the money, ask someone in your support group to help you with household chores while your family focuses on attachment.
  8. Take turns: If you are married, make sure to take turns with your spouse in dealing with the tough issues. One parent shouldn’t be responsible for all of the discipline, because then they become the “bad cop.” Back up your spouse and get in the ring together. Designate regular time for each parent to do one-on-one fun activities with each child. These activities may include taking a bike ride, going to the library, volunteering at the humane society, or getting ice cream together. If you are a single parent, it is important to identify those people in your support system that you can “tag in” and help you when you need it.
  9. Fake it till you make it: The best advice that an adoptive parent gave me while I was in the trenches was to “fake it till we make it.” When I didn’t feel like hugging my child after a particularly rough meltdown, I did it anyway. It’s not about me, it’s about my child, and all the hugs she missed in the years she wasn’t with us. It is not always “love at first sight” in adoption. Attachment doesn’t develop without time, effort and a little bit of faking it along the way. Talk with other adoptive parents, trade tips on how to fake it when you don’t feel like it, and support each other. Bringing a child from a hard place into your home and committing to take care of them and love them cannot happen overnight. The time your family spends in the trenches will look much different from another family’s experience. It may feel like you’re in the trenches for three months, or maybe it’s more like two years. Keep at it and don’t give up. You are a good parent and you can do this!
  10. Education: There is a reason that adoption agencies require hours and hours of education to adopt. But learning about how to parent your adopted child shouldn’t stop at the ten hours of required Hague training. Continue to read books, blogs, and research during your adoption wait, and even after your child has joined your family. There will always be something more to learn. Learn from fellow adoptive parents. Also, learn from your child. Your child is unique and will require a unique approach that is specific to them.

Let’s just be real, the trenches can be hard, I mean really hard. But once you make it out of the trenches, what comes next is great and totally worth it. Through all of the really difficult moments, I would encourage you to stick with it. Your child will eventually sleep through the night, stop wetting the bed, eat a meal without all the drama, and show you affection. You will work hard and come out the other side!


Angela Simpson is an adoptive parent, social worker and adoption advocate. Angela is MLJ Adoptions’ Support Services Specialist and works with families throughout their adoption process. Angela and her husband have two sons and have just recently added a daughter to their family through adoption.