Becoming a parent is an exciting, fulfilling, and life-changing adventure. The prospect of parenting can also be a bit frightening, especially if you are a first-time mom or dad. It is completely normal to have questions and concerns. A majority of parents do! Here you will find answers to some common questions about preparing to adopt and about parenting in general.
How Can I Prepare to Parent and Adopt?
If you are considering adoption, the following tips may be helpful:
- Research- Learn as much as you can about adoption. Your adoption agency, your attorney, and your local library are great resources for information. From learning about adoption costs and qualifications to exploring the rights of each party involved—the more educated you are, the more prepared and confident you will be. To make sure you are legally able to adopt, research the requirements in your specific state. Research home study requirements and prepare yourself for the process.
It can also be incredibly helpful to research adoption from all points of view. Speak with other adoptive parents as well as adopted persons and birth parents. Learn about the emotions and perspectives of each party involved. You may come away with a sense of enlightenment and understanding that will help you along your journey.
If you decide that adoption is right for you, research the different types of adoption. Would you prefer to adopt domestically or internationally? Are you hoping to adopt a newborn or an older child? Are you open to adopting sibling groups? What are the differences between adopting through a private agency versus adopting through the foster care system? Are you comfortable with an open adoption? If so, what level of openness are you willing to pursue? Letters, phone calls, visits? Reflect internally and discuss these options with your partner to decide what works best for your family.
Adoption can be costly. Research various ways to raise the money needed to complete the adoption process. Many couples hold fundraisers while others add to their savings a little at a time.
- Being Prepared Emotionally- Some parents who choose to adopt have struggled with infertility or miscarriages in the past. It is important to grieve not only the child(ren) you may have lost but also to grieve the loss of being able to parent a biological child. One in four women struggle with miscarriage or infertility. Never feel that you are alone. There are plenty of resources and support groups available to you, as well as many therapists who specialize in grief counseling.
Realize that there may be challenges. The adoption process isn’t always a speedy one. Patience is a virtue, but that doesn’t mean that it comes easy. Prepare yourself for the possibility of a long wait. It is also helpful to prepare yourself for a situation where you may be chosen only to have the birth parents change their minds. While this is not the norm, there are occasions when it happens. This is typically nothing personal, and it is not intentionally done to hurt you (though it may be very painful). When a birth mother makes an adoption plan for her child, it can be a very emotional and scary time. On occasion, she may decide that she can’t follow through with the adoption. If this happens to be the case, it’s okay to feel upset. However, it’s also important to know that good things come to those who wait. A child—YOUR CHILD—will join your family when the time comes.
Get excited! Along with challenges, there are many joys in the adoption process! This is a chance to grow your family and fulfill your dreams of becoming a parent. It doesn’t matter whether a child comes into your life biologically or through adoption, you are going to be a mom or a dad. You are going to love and provide for a child of your own. Be just as happy to start the adoption process as you would to conceive a child naturally.
Talk to your spouse. Make sure that you have the same goals when it comes to adoption. Because this can be an emotional process, it’s important that you both have similar ideas about what your adoption will look like. Communication is key in keeping you both happy and excited for your baby to be.
- Prepare for Your Child!- Whether you plan to adopt a baby or an older child, they will need their own space. Decorating a nursery or a bedroom can be tons of fun! You can express yourself creatively as well as embracing the feeling of “nesting” that many expectant parents enjoy. If you aren’t sure yet whether you will be having a boy or a girl, that’s okay! There are plenty of basics that you can start with such as a crib or bed, changing table, and dressers. Purchase items that you may need such as bottles, diapers, a car seat or booster seat, and perhaps even a few clothes.
If you are expecting your child to arrive soon, make sure that you are prepared as well. Will you be traveling to another city or state to meet your child or complete the legal process? Will you be staying at the hospital while waiting for your child to be born? Make sure to have your bags packed and ready with anything you feel you may need.
What’s the Difference Between Parenting a Biological Child vs. an Adopted Child?
For the most part, there is no difference. All parents are called to love, guide, encourage, discipline, and help their children to grow into successful, thriving adults. You will provide them with the basic necessities: food, shelter, clothing, education, etc. You will provide them with a sense of security. You will be a positive influence and you will lead by example whenever possible. Parenting has nothing to do with DNA, but everything to do with loving and caring for a child while keeping their best interests in mind.
With this being said, there are a few differences unique to adoptive parents:
- The Biological Family- Your child has two sets of parents. They may also have biological grandparents, aunts, uncles, and even siblings. It is important to prepare for and to know how the biological family will fit into your life. If you are involved in a closed adoption, you may have unanswered questions about the birth parents’ life circumstances, health histories, or what to do if/when your child has questions of their own. If you have an open adoption, you must consider your level of openness. What level of contact are you comfortable with? How often will you send letters or photos? How often will you schedule phone calls? If you have visits, how often and on what occasions will those occur? Will the biological family be invited to family events such as birthday parties?
Communicating your hopes and setting boundaries from the very beginning can be beneficial to everyone involved. This way, no one will have unrealistic expectations and will have a clear idea of what is appropriate and what’s not. It will also help to avoid hurt feelings in the event of a misunderstanding. Try to stick to your plan for openness, but understand that sometimes life happens, and that’s okay, too. If, for safety or other reasons, your plans need to change, be prepared to deal with that as well.
- Medical History & Prenatal Care- When you are adopting a child, this means that you don’t have control over the amount of prenatal care your child is receiving before birth. While many birth mothers attend doctor’s appointments regularly and have very healthy pregnancies, there are occasions where this is not the case. In some situations, a birth parent may not have received the appropriate medical care due to life circumstances or financial hardships. There are also some birth mothers who struggle with addiction, even during their pregnancy. This can be scary because you want what’s best for the health and well-being of the baby. Hopefully, you can rejoice about ultrasounds and encouraging updates throughout the pregnancy. If you are adopting a child with special needs or a child born to a mother battling addiction, you still have reason to rejoice! No parent ever really knows what their child will be like. Each one is unique and each one is worth loving and celebrating. If your child does have special needs, be sure to research ways to care for them and speak to your family doctor to learn any information that may be helpful to you.
When possible, it is also beneficial to get a complete health history from your child’s biological family. This may help to educate you about potential health concerns as well as being important information to share with your child’s pediatrician.
- Talking to Your Child About Adoption- It is never too early to think about how and when you will convey your child’s adoption story to them. Being open and honest from the very beginning is highly recommended. Use age-appropriate language and concepts that they can grasp. There are many children’s books available that help to explain this family dynamic. They may help you as you explain who their birth parents are and why they made an adoption plan as well as how you decided to become their forever parents.
As your child grows older, it is natural for them to have deeper questions. Don’t let this make you uncomfortable. If your child wants to explore their biological roots, it does not mean that they love you any less as a parent. It is a natural curiosity and it is something that you can explore together.
- Different Genetics- Not all children are the same race or ethnicity as their adoptive parents. While that has no bearing on the love the child receives, it may affect the care that needs to be given. If you are adopting a child who has a different cultural background than your own, do a bit of research to find out if they have any needs that are new to you. For example, hair care and skincare can vary among races and may require a bit of a learning curve on your part. It is also important for a child to learn about their heritage and culture so that they are able to form a strong sense of personal identity. If your child has a different race or culture than yours, help them to explore their roots and incorporate traditions that celebrate their heritage. Help them to find community and introduce them to role models from all types of backgrounds—theirs, yours, and others.
- Trauma History- If you are adopting through the foster care system, you may find that your child has been through some difficult situations. Some children are in the system due to abuse or neglect. This can create obstacles with trust, behavior, and forming connections. Be patient and reassure your child. Listen with an open mind and help them to know that your love for them is unconditional. During good times and difficult times, show them that you are there for them.
Separation from biological parents can also cause trauma. If children have been adopted at an older age, they may still have an emotional connection and love for their biological family (even if their living situation wasn’t ideal). They may even have feelings of guilt or betrayal when they consider bonding with a new family. Patience, understanding, and unconditional love are important in these situations as well.
Even when children are adopted at birth, there may still be some emotional trauma. While some children understand their adoption story quite well and don’t feel traumatized, some children struggle with the reason for placement. Why didn’t their biological parents want them? Do they love them? They may even doubt their worth and feel that they aren’t good enough. As adults, we understand that adoption placements are most often made with great love and great personal sacrifice. The birth parents often place children for adoption because they don’t feel that they are able to provide for their children’s needs. This is another reason that it is important to explain your child’s adoption story from the beginning. Remind them how much they are loved. Let them know that they have always been wanted. A healthy support system and working with a therapist can be very helpful.
- Dealing With Comments & Questions- Every new parent has to deal with unsolicited advice and comments from well-meaning friends (and even strangers). Those choosing to grow their families through adoption are no different. Sometimes this advice can be extremely helpful. Other times, people offer advice or give opinions that conflict with your own. This can cause a great deal of frustration when everyone seems to think they know what’s best for your family. Sometimes the best course of action is just to smile and nod and let it go. Other times you may feel the need to express your own personal views. Both of these are completely fine. When dealing with comments or questions that seem especially rude, don’t take it personally. Use those instances as an opportunity to educate others and share information that they may not have previously considered. Most people have good intentions, but some have poor delivery.
Commonly Asked Questions From New Parents
- How Can I Be Sure I Will Bond With My Child?
We have all heard the stories about bonding with babies while they are still in the womb and about falling in love at first sight once the child is born. Motherly instincts should just kick in automatically, right? While this can be the case, it isn’t always. Even biological parents sometimes worry that they won’t be able to bond with their babies in the beginning. Some do feel that instant connection, and some don’t. If you don’t feel an instant bond, it does not make you a bad parent. You may just need some time to get to know your newest addition. Hopefully, you will be completely smitten and overjoyed from the beginning. If you have concerns that you aren’t bonding or if you begin to feel depressed, do not be afraid to reach out to a medical professional or therapist for help.
- Will I Know HOW to Be a Parent?
Give yourself some credit. You probably already know more than you think. What’s important is that you are willing to love and provide for your child. The rest will take care of itself. In addition to taking care of your child, remember to take care of yourself! It’s important to rest and to do things that you enjoy. If you have a spouse or partner, make time for date night. Ask close friends or family members for help if you need it. They will likely be happy to assist you in any way they can. There are many good books available that can help you navigate parenting and childcare from birth all the way through college and beyond. All parents are basically winging it. Do your best. It will be good enough.
Having a child or children is a joyous occasion. Enjoy each moment because time flies by! Be present, be patient, and remember to laugh often. If you have specific parenting questions or advice, please feel free to comment below!