Adoption can feel beautiful. Adoption can feel like a dream come true. Adoption can also feel hard. Adoption can feel downright painful–wrapped up in what so many hopeful families and waiting children perceive to be the answer is a journey of ups and downs and in-betweens that most who take the path don’t fully recognize until they’re in the midst of it. Even then, it can be difficult to digest and understand as we try to make sense of adoption as more than just a verb to create a family rather than the adjective that describes living together as a forever family.

As an adoption advocate–or someone who believes in the good that adoption brings to the lives of so many people–birth mothers, adoptees, and adoptive families–I would be remiss to not acknowledge that not everything about adoption feels great.

1. The process is not easy. 

Learning about the adoption process–really doing your research–is no easy task. In my opinion, anyone who says otherwise is not telling the truth. It’s amazing to me how quickly the rules and regulations continue to change. Between our first adoption and second, I swear it felt as if someone had picked up and moved the goalpost way further downfield. It didn’t seem fair and it wasn’t fun to have to run the ball the entire length of the stadium knowing that we’d literally just completed the thing and all of our paperwork, blood, sweat, and tears were still in play. That said, it’s worth the work.

Taking the time to learn about adoption, about the process, about the resources, and about what adoption will mean for you and your family is an important step, though, so make sure you’re making the best decision for everyone involved. 

Before we adopted for the first time, I admit that I mainly viewed adoption through my own wants and needs as a prospective parent-to-be. The focus was on my expectations–mine and my husband’s (not intentionally). It’s not because I didn’t understand or acknowledge that there was a birth mother involved or a child involved who both also had a lot at stake, too. Moreso, it was because before you become a parent, before you become a family–you just don’t know what those two words really mean. And how could you?

Becoming someone’s mom made me quickly realize that the woman who had brought our daughter into the world–her birth mom, was very real. I realized that I loved this woman for her sacrifice and selflessness. I realized I mourned this woman’s loss as I held my baby–her baby–especially during those first few months. And then, ever since–especially on important days, and even though I thought I’d been prepared and was ready for it all–I realized that I was just beginning to learn about what adoption actually means.

With our second adoption, which came sort of out of the blue, the system had changed. We’d adopted internationally, and so between the first time and second, the Hague Convention had kicked in and nearly left our daughter-to-be trapped in the system. In the same breath, we were notified of her and were told we needed to commit to pursuing adoption almost immediately or risk her being caught up in a system that might prevent her from finding a forever family due to politics, red tape, and social pressure.

It’s impossible to sum up two adoptions across four years in one article or to fully share the highs and lows. What’s more important, though, is that the actual process of adoption is a drop in the bucket compared to the challenges and rewards that come with actual parenthood. 

So, while the adoption process can feel hard, know that if you take the time to learn about adoption, do your research, make good choices when it comes to what agency you work with, and understand that adoption is a lifelong commitment, you’re on the right track. When you fully embrace all that adoption is–the good and the bad–you are more likely to be able to go with the punches than assuming adopting a child is simply paperwork or simply red tape and waiting or simply expensive or simply confusing.

Check out this article on 8 ways to prepare for a future adoption.

2. Being an Adoptive Family Means Acknowledging Adoption

Over the years I’ve come to know many families created as a result of adoption–be it foster to adopt, domestic, or international. There are many similarities to the adoption process, and of course similarities to the forever family that happen from there on out.

Knowing how to support your adopted child(ren) is not always easy. Maybe you have biological children and were gifted What to Expect When You’re Expecting. Maybe some well-intended family member or friend gifted this book or another parenting book to you when you announced your decision to grow your family through adoption.

The truth is, being part of an adopted family may be different. And that’s okay. While you don’t have to run around with a sign telling everyone that you’re an adoptive family, it’s way more healthy to acknowledge that you are than to live as if you’re not.

Adoptive parenting is different from parenting a biological child. If you’re an adoptive parent, you are parenting an adopted child and need to consider things parents of biological children do not. That’s not to say that there is anything wrong or negative with being an adoptive family–it just looks different. And just like all biological families are unique, the same is true for adoptive families.

While you don’t need to walk around with a label, you should walk around confident in your decision so that your child can grow and feel confident in their life as an adopted child. While you don’t have to address your little one as your adopted child, making adoption the norm within your four walls will help them to feel more comfortable being a child who was adopted outside of your four walls.

 3. Being an Adoptive Parent is Not Always Easy

My children are teenagers now and I’m often accused (by them) of thinking that I know it all–not that that seems to hold much water with them as they think they know better anyway. Adoption aside, I’m learning that parenting teenagers is a vicious cycle of control versus independence versus challenging versus “say what?” Regardless of what my children may think, I’m a parent of teenagers and I can assure you that I do not know it all, nor do I pretend to know even most of it.

When it comes to parenting, adoption or not, I’m learning as I go and I’m fine with the realization that figuring out how to parent as an adoptive parent is a lifelong lesson in learning. It’s a good thing I enjoy learning new things. 

As an adoptive parent, I didn’t want to make a big deal of the whole “adoption thing.” I wanted to blend. I didn’t want to cause a stir or stand out for the wrong reasons in family, school, or social situations–not for my sake, but for my kids’ sake. I used to become angry reading labels like “adoptive parent.” Now, I’m more like, “Yeah, I’m an adoptive parent.”

Why? Reality, my friend.

I’m an adoptive mom. I am not like the mom down the street who birthed four children and has four beautiful stories to tell. I am the mom who grew her family via adoption, who faced a whole different set of rules and struggles, and has her own stories to tell. And you know what? There’s nothing wrong or weird about that.

Do I walk around town wearing an Adoptive Mom tee-shirt? I don’t choose to. But for my mental health, I’ve come to recognize that acknowledging the truth really does set you free. Even when confronted by stereotypes and myths and untruths, I’ve learned to own who I am and who we are as a family. I walk the line between choosing to respond to the weirdness when a family member, or acquaintance, or a complete stranger says something incorrect or off color. I choose to talk about adoption because I’d rather serve to share the truth than sit in an uncomfortable lie.

To my children (when they’re being nice) I’m Mom–sometimes nagging mom, and sometimes annoying mom. I’ve accepted my role as an adoptive mom and while that may sound like I’m settling for something not quite mom, that would be incorrect. I’m proud to be an adoptive mom. Having come to know so many other adoptive moms, I realize I’m in incredible company and am grateful to be able to be this person to my daughters. I know it’s not a role for the weak and I know that it’s propelled me to be a stronger person and a better mom than I ever thought possible.

 It’s not easy, not better than, and not perfect–but a caregiver looking to do her best.

 4. The Journey of Adoption is Lifelong

Here’s the thing, the happily ever after of adoption is a long and winding road. As stated above, the process doesn’t end on presentation day. Think of that as the prelude to your story.

It’s important to help your child transition no matter the age. And it’s important to understand that while you may become comfortable and settle into the routine of family, for adoptees, that transition may last a lifetime.

Not to be Captain Obvious, but an infant or toddler’s understanding of adoption is going to be different than that of a school-aged child, a teen, a young adult, or even a mature adult. As with anything else, a child’s understanding of adoption will change as that child changes.

Most adoption professionals agree that you should begin to talk about your child’s adoption story as early as possible. The decision to talk about adoption often is highly recommended by many adoptive families who discovered that holding back or holding out led to some serious issues down the road. No matter whether your adoption is open or closed, the fact remains that adoption is part of your family’s life and making sure to speak about it age-appropriately can help your family to bond and grow stronger together.

No matter where you are in the adoption process–thinking about it, filing paperwork, preparing for presentation day, a year in, 10 years in, it’s never too late to take a deep dive and evaluate how things are going for your family. Maybe things are wonderful–and that’s wonderful! Maybe your children are asking tougher questions and you’re not quite sure how to answer. Or maybe things have happened and your family is going through it.

Know that you are not alone. Know that adoption can feel hard–for small reasons and for big reasons. Maintaining a positive attitude and reaching out for help is what’s best for you and your family no matter the stage or the age.