The first time my husband and I seriously thought about adoption, our second child was a toddler. We sent (yes, through the mail) away for information from various adoption agencies, and then that information sat there. It sat there for about ten years before we re-gathered all of our adoption information and actually began the process. So I know firsthand, what a long and convoluted road it can be from first thoughts to signing the papers.
Research and education are so much easier these days with the internet. Even if you aren’t quite ready to move ahead, you can still use this time to prepare for a future adoption. Here’s what I wish I would have done in those intervening ten years.
1. Learn all you can about trauma and its effects on the brain. This information is pretty new, so wasn’t available during my pre-adoption years, but oh, how I wish it were. Read all you can about what trauma is, and what it does, and how it is addressed. In my opinion, starting with the writing and videos of the late Dr. Karyn Purvis is a great way to begin.
2. Find and get to know real-life adoptive families. Ask them questions, hang out with them, listen to them. This will give you a taste of what daily life is like, and also open your eyes to the issues that adoptive families face. Plus, you will then already have a built-in support system when you do bring home a child.
3. Become a political science junkie. If you are considering adopting internationally, learn about what the processes are like for various countries, and keep up to date on how adoption is or isn’t working in those countries. Being well-educated about the political aspects of adoption will make the process significantly easier, and could also save you a lot of heartache.
4. Study a language. If you have chosen a country to adopt from, take the time to learn about that country. Get to know people who are from that country and make them a part of your life now. Start to learn a bit of the language. Knowing some basic vocabulary can make the early days with your new child a lot easier. Learn what the cultural norms are, as that will make it easier to understand at least some of your new child’s behavior. But do this knowing there are no guarantees and that your chosen country could close before you start the adoption process.
5. Do some deep thinking. One of the most difficult parts of becoming an adoptive parent for me was the realization that what I thought I understood about parenting and families didn’t transfer to my traumatized adopted son. What is non-negotiable for you? Why are you adopting? What if your child isn’t who you expect? What if they have hidden needs you didn’t know about? What if you have to learn to parent differently than you always have? What part of your family’s culture are you willing to change for this new child? What if extended family do not support your decision? What if extended family are openly hostile to your child? Adoption can change everything. Are you flexible enough to withstand that change? Can you live with different and understand that different is not better or worse, just different? You cannot know the answers to these questions before you have a real live child in your house, but even by understanding and thinking some about these questions, you will be a step ahead of the game when they arise. Knowing that there are deep issues to wrestle with is sometimes more than half the battle.
6. Learn about special needs. Many adoptions involve children with special needs, particularly if you are adopting an older child and/or adopting internationally. Start to do your research now. Meet people who have different challenges. Meet parents who are parenting children who don’t fit the norm. Become comfortable with differences. When you are then confronted with the Medical Conditions Checklist, it won’t be quite so terrifying and intimidating.
7. Learn flexibility. This is true for any parenting. Children will always throw you curve balls, particularly when you think you have everything all figured out. It’s just how it is. The better you are at imagining many different scenarios of how something can go, the easier it is to roll with the punches, and enjoy the parenting journey. Things may not always go according to your plan, but that doesn’t meant that things are ruined or horrible. Letting go of rigid expectations will make everyone calmer and happier. It’s something that can be practiced at any stage of life, and if you don’t yet have children, it is never too early to start.
8. Take a look at yourself. It’s true that trauma triggers trauma. If you have a past which includes trauma, or if you come from a less-than-optimal family background, doing some work to address your own trauma first would be an extremely useful way to prepare to adopt a child. In order to help your child come to terms with their past, you need to come to terms with your own. Even an emotionally healthy person, with a very stable background can find triggers they didn’t know about when faced with a hurting child. Become a student of yourself and your emotional tendencies ahead of time.
All parenting has its ups and downs, joys and sorrows, fun and frustration. And sometimes parenting an adopted child has all of this, just magnified. Doing your thinking and research, as well as working on your own emotional health ahead of time, can go a long way to helping you enjoy and succeed at the job of parenting.