So your dream of being a parent has finally been realized. You’ve been waiting for this for months, maybe years. You’ve dreamt of playing catch with your little boy, or attending your daughter’s first dance recital. You’ve gone through the emotional ups and downs of paperwork, home studies, waiting, matching, and placement. Now your dream has come true. You love the child you have.

But what if it’s not what you expected? Maybe the little boy you dreamed of playing catch with really wants to try out for the school play instead? What if the idea of going to dance recitals is replaced by baseball practice? Maybe your child will be different than you had imagined, or go through phases where she is surly and rebellious rather than the devoted child you thought you’d have? Be honest with yourself. Will you be disappointed?

Emma (name has been changed), who was adopted as an infant, shared with me an issue that she—and many other adoptees—have struggled with. “Because I was adopted, I felt that I was expected to be grateful to my parents. To show my gratitude, I felt that I had to fit the mold they had in mind for me. I had to be the perfect child: well behaved, good grades, the daughter they had dreamed of having for so long. I know they didn’t intend to, but I felt so pressured to be what they wanted since they put so much time and money into adopting me.” She is not the only adoptee who has ever felt pressured to live up to an impossible standard.

Oh, I would never do that, you think to yourself. And you wouldn’t—not on purpose. But dig a little deeper. To some extent, all parents have expectations of their ideal child. It’s natural to idealize the future and to be disappointed if it doesn’t work out how we had envisioned. However, in adoptive parenting, sometimes it happens a little more often. In order to get through the adoption process, many parents hang on to dreams or fantasies of the child they will one day have. That’s okay. But it’s not okay to project those expectations onto your child.

Some hopeful adoptive couples are only open to adopting a child of a specific gender. Each family has their own reasons for doing so, and there’s nothing wrong with that. However, hopeful adoptive parents in this situation should be especially careful to avoid the mistake Emma’s parents made. In her own words, “I grew up being told that I was the precious little girl that my parents had prayed for. All they wanted was to have a daughter, and I fulfilled that wish for them. On my sixth birthday, I remember having a princess party. I wore a pink dress and a tiara, and we had a tea party in the backyard. I remember being glad that my mom was so happy, but what I really wanted was a dinosaur party.” If you are adopting gender-specifically, remember that ultrasounds are not always accurate. And even if they are, your child may not fit perfectly into the girly-girl or all-boy mold.

So love the child you have, not the child you want. Projecting unrealistic ideas of the “perfect child” onto your adopted child isn’t fair. If you catch yourself doing it, it’s okay. Just turn it around, no parent is perfect. The best gift you can give your children is to love them just the way they are.

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