Entering into the adoption process is challenging, overwhelming, and frustrating. However, there are ways to come alongside a family during the process to help, to support, and to encourage them along the journey.

1. Don’t Be Afraid to Get Down and Dirty

By down and dirty, I mean scrub the tub, bleach the sink, and clean everything with your dusting spray and rubber glove weapons to leave the house cleaner. The home study is a daunting multi-faceted process, and one of the key components is a complete home inspection. For our family, that included feeling that we needed to do a deep cleaning of every room in the house, including painting (what on earth was I thinking?) Even though we realized (a few home studies later) it wasn’t necessary; though when we first started, we were frantic trying to scour and scrub. My sister came over and washed all of the baseboards in my house. An extra set of hands to help in this process was especially helpful.

Rake some leaves, cut the grass, watch the other kids, bake a casserole. These gifts of service are real practical ways for you to get involved and show love and support.

Just after our daughter was born, she and I stayed in a hotel waiting on paperwork to process before we could take her home. My husband had to travel back and forth between states so he could go to work and take care of our dogs while visiting us each evening. Our three-day visit was extended to 14 when our papers got lost in transit between states. A few families from our church sent us restaurant gift cards so I wouldn’t have to worry about making dinner in a hotel kitchenette, and a dear friend not only traveled to see us to treat us to dinner, she sent us a barrel of treats (yes, it was that big). To this day, we will never be able to say thank you enough to the beloved family member who quietly visited the front desk one day and paid for our extra week in the hotel.

2. Don’t Be Afraid to Whip Out the Pom-poms and Be a Cheerleader

There are so many moments during the adoption process that are lonely. You are expecting parents, but not in the traditional way. During the first weeks and months after we announced we were adopting, the topic often hovered like a white elephant in the room with us. There are so many variables and ambiguities and uncertainties when it comes to adopting. Not many were brave enough to sit and listen to the story because there is much that is unknown and answers can be tough. Consequently, many shied away from asking questions about anything related to adoption because they didn’t know what to ask or when to ask or how to ask. Fortunately, we had a small but strong inner circle and a few brave souls who lovingly elbowed their way in and pushed past those fears. They were willing to walk with us down some uncomfortable passageways, holding our hands along the way. Having confidants during the various stages and turns was cathartic and made us feel like we could tackle each phase.

3. Don’t Be Afraid to Make Casual Conversation

My piles of paperwork had their piles. I had background checks done so many times the FBI still knows exactly when I sneeze and what I eat for breakfast on Tuesdays. My kitchen floor was so clean you could’ve eaten off of it—I would’ve hurt you seriously if you tried, but I wouldn’t have been able to do anything about it because they took my fingerprints no less than seven times. So, when my high school friends asked me if I wanted to go out for dinner and laugh at the same jokes we’ve laughed at for 20 years, or my mom and I went shopping for shower curtains, or the girls at work gathered in the library to talk about grading research papers and our crazy 3rd block classes, I breathed. Truly breathed, recognizing that my life was not merely what I had to write down for our dossier, but I was still living it. I needed to enjoy it and the people with whom I live it.

There are countless ways to support a family during the adoption process. The most important and valuable method, though, is by reaching out to them, letting them know you are there for them in real, tangible ways that extend beyond the moment into the life and family they are working hard to build.