They say that hindsight is 20/20, and that is true in adoption. I think despite our best efforts and the efforts of others before us, we can approach adoption with rose-colored glasses. I can say with sincerity I had friends who were blunt and honest with me pre-adoption and somewhere in my mind I thought “well it worked out that way for them, but it won’t go that way for me.” Pride goeth before the fall and all that. I hope to impart my wisdom to you, but I acknowledge you might not be willing to receive this information yet. Still, think about it before you jump into the world of adopting kids.

1. Adoption is not babysitting

I went from zero children to three, the youngest an infant, and 8- and 9-year-old boys. I was full of starry-eyed optimism and the naivete that can only come from inexperience. I thought because I had been a caretaker, a group home mom, and a babysitter to kids most of my adult life, I would know what to do. It wasn’t until the last adult left my home when the baby started crying and the boys looked at me with expectation eyes wide wondering, “what next?” that it hit me. We were on our own: my husband, myself, and three small people who didn’t know us. 

At first, it was fine. The first six months they were with us are months I have only the vaguest recollection of. Between late-night feedings, court dates, counseling, parent-teacher conferences, and parent visits, it was hard to slow down and just feel my feelings. When we eventually adopted, things would get upended again as the boys adapted to the new normal of having our last name. It was an emotional time. The point being all of the knowledge I had before having kids was predicated on giving the children back to their parents at the end of the day. It is so different—which seems dumb to say now—but it hit me like a ton of bricks as I watched my support drive away that first day.

2. Love isn’t enough

I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating. Love is a lot. Love is important. But love cannot and will not conquer all in this situation. Therapy, prayer, community, and support will be what help change the child’s life for the better. 

Life isn’t a hallmark movie. Which frankly makes me mad. I so want the solution to just be opening my heart to whatever kid comes my way and having them accept me as their parent and be thankful for my love. It doesn’t work that way. Further, I need to be willing to accept the fact they may never love me back. I need to acknowledge it isn’t about me anyway. I so wish I’d absorbed this lesson earlier. It would have saved me such heartache. My kids may love me but that doesn’t mean they won’t make mistakes. 

3. No one is immune to trauma

I hate this. Because in a lot of ways it makes the whole thing feel futile. My youngest is precious to me. I am so glad I got to be the keeper of her baby years. However, she struggles more with some trauma-based issues than my bigger kids in some ways. She doesn’t remember her biological parents at all (we have pictures). However, the impact they had on her young life during the first few weeks before she came to us caused damage. 

Doctors are also discovering that prenatal stress can cause issues in brain development. Most kids don’t fully develop their pre-frontal cortex until their mid-20s anyway. Our kids will take longer and the progression is harder. We were told to expect our kids to act behaviorally half their age. This means to expect our school-aged children to act like toddlers. As difficult as that can be, it is actually really helpful. Mostly it’s just about keeping expectations to a minimum. I can’t give my one daughter more than one part of a task at a time or she cannot complete the task. She gets so overwhelmed and forgetful that she spirals emotionally out of control. When I remember to treat my expectations of her like she’s four, I remember to break up tasks into tiny pieces and give her one part at a time. It doesn’t always work, but it helps.

4. You might never know

You might never know if what you do for them now helps them to grow up to be functioning members of society. You can just do your best and hope for the best possible outcome. Relinquishing control is so freeing if you let it be. Accept that no one really has the power to make someone else do or think anything. Move forward with the expectation you are helping. 

5. Siblings are different

As the big sister to 5 younger brothers and sisters, this should not have surprised me, but gosh did it knock me on my butt when I realized it fully. What makes my one son enraged brings my other son joy. I have two extroverted little girls who really want to play and interact all day and one introvert who wants nothing more than to play video games and read books all day. Embrace the differences and your life will go more smoothly

6. You can’t save everyone

I am incapable of making anyone change. Even if I arm my kids with all the knowledge, wisdom, and love possible they are still probably going to make life choices I don’t love. That’s not on me. I can only do my best as mom and hope that’s enough.

Click here to learn more about the Savior Complex and adoption.

7. Sometimes kids lie

I really, really didn’t want to believe this. I always wanted to give my kids the benefit of the doubt when I asked “have you seen my wallet/keys/gum/laptop/videogame controller etc.” I didn’t want them to have taken something I needed or wanted at a specific time. I didn’t want to leave the room to go to the bathroom and anticipate there would be something broken or someone hurt if I didn’t get back quickly enough. 

For kids who were adopted, it is often simply a natural defense mechanism to lie and lie well. Expect innocence before guilt, but don’t be afraid to double-check.

8. Food hoarding is real

Look, I don’t know where I first learned it but I’ve known for a large part of my adult life that kids from hard places can potentially have an uncontrollable urge to hoard food. 

To navigate this, make them aware they can always have food and offer to buy them some shelf-stable things to keep in their room to feel secure about. My one kid keeps cans of ravioli in his room. I don’t love it, but I know it helps him feel secure so we let it happen. 

9. Consider installing cameras

I hate this so much. I want to be able to trust my kids. However, after a major upheaval in our lives, we discovered it was for everyone’s safety that we had a running recording of things going on in our home. All the common areas have a camera that links to my phone. It’s not a perfect system, but they help a whole lot in maintaining safety in our home. 

10. Don’t talk badly about biological families

Even agreeing with a statement your child says can hurt them. I make a point to never talk badly about biological families.