Trevor and Jamie were a young married couple in their early 30s. They had two biological children (aged six and eight) and were starting to discuss the possibility of adding to their family through adoption. Knowing very little about the process of adoption, they were at a bit of a loss in terms of where to begin. They searched “adoption” on Google, which delivered to them more related websites than they could comprehend. They needed help—they needed advice. How could they begin filtering through all the information about adoption in a way that was helpful to them? There are varying answers to that question, but for purposes of this article, I might suggest to Trevor and Jamie that they think through the following ten concepts that will help them prepare to bring their next son or daughter into their home. Going through these steps will help prepare a pre-adoptive parent for the complex process of adoption.
1. Understand Your Motivation to Adopt
As author Simon Sinek is known to say, “Start with why.” That’s exactly what I would encourage any pre-adoptive parent to do before they start down the complex road toward adoption. Why do you want to adopt? What are your motivations? Some choose to adopt due to infertility issues—others adopt due to a passion for taking care of orphaned and vulnerable children. Others feel a spiritual calling to do so. There are countless reasons someone may consider adopting—most are great reasons—occasionally some adopt for less than honorable reasons. What are your specific reasons? Do you know them? If not, you will definitely want to fully understand your motivations to adopt before you head down this road. Knowing why will help you make practical and logistical decisions in the adoption process. When you hit a wall—when you don’t know which way to go or what decision to make—go back to why. Why do you want to adopt? Know that answer inside and out.
2. Make Sure You and Your Partner Are on the Same Page
Believe it or not, I know of couples who have made the decision to adopt but are on completely different pages as to why, what, and how. If you are planning to adopt with your partner, you must take the time to share your innermost feelings. Even if you and your partner are in agreement that you both want to adopt, there are still so many different things you can disagree on regarding the actual process of adoption. For example, are you open to a child with special needs? Do you want to adopt domestically or internationally? What age child do you want to adopt? What about a sibling group? What about bio-parent involvement with your adopted child? Take the time to talk through the various choices and try to be on the same page as your partner every step of the way. If you are not, you may want to think about temporarily delaying the process until you can be unified.
3. Solicit the Opinion of Your Children
Do you currently have children? If you do, it’s very important to bring them into the adoption conversation early on. You will need to help them at their age level to understand what adoption is and how it could potentially affect the family dynamic. They need time to process the idea and ask questions. As a parent, you will need to guide them through this journey, just as you will need someone to guide you through the journey. Ultimately you want to get the opinion of your child as it relates to a potential adoption. The child does not get to make the final decision—as the parent, that’s your responsibility—but it is important to consider your child’s opinion as you make decisions. So, be willing to answer any questions, and depending on the age of your child, the questions might be quite funny, like: “Do I have to share my toys with him?” or “What if she has the same name as me?” or “Will he look like me?”
4. Research the Various Types of Adoption
There are several different types of adoption for you to consider before you head down this road. Are you thinking about domestic adoption, international adoption, foster to adopt, kinship adoption, etcetera? It will be to your benefit to thoroughly research each type of adoption to help you decide what the best method is for your family. One of the best ways to do that is to simply attend informational classes from your local adoption agency. Among other things, they will take the time to go through each type of adoption and detail the pros and cons of each. By the end of that class, you will leave with a great foundation that will allow you to begin deciding on the type of adoption that will work best for you.
5. Determine How Adoption Will Impact Your Family Finances
Depending on the type of adoption you select, adoption can be quite expensive—costing tens of thousands of dollars in many cases. Thankfully through fundraising, scholarships, grants, tax breaks, and loans, you can begin to lessen your out-of-pocket expenses. Even after the adoption process is completed, you will have the ongoing expenses of having another child in your home—and those regular expenses can be much higher if your adopted child has special needs that need to be addressed. Incidentally, if money is a concern, foster to adopt is the least expensive method and costs almost nothing. In most cases, the parents will receive a daily stipend during the foster care period and even after the child has been adopted. So what does it look like, financially, for you to bring a child into your home? You will want to think through this carefully as you decide what is right for you.
6. Educate Yourself on Parenting Kids from Hard Places
Children who are in need of adoption typically have some type of trauma in their background. I would argue that any child that is no longer able to live with their biological parents (for whatever reason) has experienced trauma. This is important to know because children who have been traumatized typically develop some type of mental, emotional, or behavioral issues that you, as a parent, will need to understand to parent them. Thankfully there are countless resources designed to help adoptive parents to parent their children. Take the time to read books and articles, listen to adoption podcasts, watch training videos, or attend parenting seminars. In most cases, your adoption agency will also have a series of training materials you will be required to go through to proceed with an adoption. Take advantage of these materials. Your goal is not to become an expert on adoption and trauma issues but rather to be educated enough to recognize certain behaviors in your child and know how to respond appropriately. Thankfully you are not called on to be the therapist of your child but rather to be a safe, loving, and informed parent.
7. Create a Family Support Structure for Adoption
Don’t try to pursue adoption alone. You and your family need a group of people that can support you in a number of important ways. Do you have friends or family members who have adopted? If so, use them as a resource. Do you have people who will babysit for you, pray for you, or even cook for you during specific busy times of your adoption journey? Do you have a trusted person you can confide in about your concerns and your frustrations? Your adoption agency will provide a certain level of support that will be very helpful to you, but beyond that, you will need some close family members and friends that can walk this adoption road with you. Don’t be afraid to ask them. Create a support team for your family. It will be so helpful as you move forward. Again, don’t try to pursue this alone.
8. Create a Method for Keeping Adoption Paperwork Organized
Regardless of the type of adoption you pursue there is a ton of paperwork and documentation. Let me repeat that … there is a ton of paperwork involved in adopting—a ton! I’m a fairly organized person, and there have been times when the amount of foster care and adoption paperwork I’ve had to keep straight has been almost overwhelming. If you are adopting with a partner, who is the more organized between the two of you? Let that person be the paperwork person. Early on, you will want to create a usable method for staying organized. You will need to track a lot of documentation—documentation that will need to be signed, notarized, and, in the case of international adoptions, even apostilled. Adoption paperwork is not for the weak of heart. I don’t tell you that to scare you, but to prepare you ahead of time so that you can have a system in place as the paperwork begins falling from the sky. (Pro tip: If you don’t already have one, make sure you purchase a 3-in-1 printer, copier, and scanner. You will need all three of these functions.)
9. Engage in Frequent, Intentional Prayer Times
Are you a person of faith? If so, you are going to need to call upon God constantly during this process. Countless things can go wrong, countless things need to get done, and countless decisions need to be made. Your faith will be challenged during this journey—your faith may even be hurt—so let me encourage you to remain in a frequent state of intentional prayer. You will need to lean on God during the hard times of this journey and praise him during the times of great joy. Don’t underestimate the power of prayer.
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10. Mentally Prepare Yourself for Potential Disappointment
I don’t want to be a Debbie Downer here. Adoption can be an amazing journey for you and your family. You may see incredible blessings along the way. You may receive and give love in ways that you never dreamed of. You may provide for a child who desperately needs you. I hope all of those things happen for you—and they very well could—but that’s not always the case. Adoption is hard—harder than you might think right now. The pre-adoption journey is tough and there can be many disappointments along the way. And then when you do adopt, you may also have significant issues related to the parenting and care of your adopted son or daughter. In many cases, adoptions can even completely fall through after the presumed adoptive parents have fallen in love with the child they thought was going to be part of their forever family. This is a heartbreaking scenario (trust me, I know). So, as best as you can, mentally prepare yourself for hardship, disappointment, and even potential heartbreak. How do you do that? I’m not completely sure, but just know that no adoption is final until it is final. Anything can happen, so guard your heart.
So as I think about Trevor and Jamie and what advice I could give them as they consider adoption, these are the things that I would encourage them to think through. The better prepared they are in advance, the more smoothly their adoption journey will go. There is no right or wrong way to adopt. It’s really up to you to determine what is right for your family and for the child that you are considering adopting. Don’t rush the journey—take the time to think, educate yourself, pray, and prepare yourself as best as you can as you begin this journey of adoption. May God bless you and your family in this adoption journey.Do you feel there is a hole in your heart that can only be filled by a child? We’ve helped complete 32,000+ adoptions. We would love to help you through your adoption journey. Visit Adoption.org or call 1-800-ADOPT-98.