Post-Adoption Adjustment

Adjusting to your new family after the gavel comes down.

Hannah Moore February 15, 2014
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It doesn’t take long for you to go from longing to be a parent to the shock of actually being a parent. Some say it is a millisecond. My friend Kate heard the judge’s gavel come down hard just after she said those famous last words, “Yes, I want to be Alex’s mom”… Poof. My friend Dan thought he heard the gavel but wasn’t sure and said, “Is that it?” to his Russian translator. My friend Mike knew he heard the gavel and worried that he and his wife would not make it out of the court room, they were crying so hard.

For some, parenthood post-adoption is like slipping into a favorite pair of jeans. For others, it is a blast of cold water. And for some, it is almost as if the adoption part never happened and they were always the parent of their adopted child. For you, it will be and should be just exactly how you feel and think and react and cope with the new responsibility that is uniquely yours. Each adoption has its own character– its own flow.

Think for a minute about the time before your adoption. Did you, or do you, long for your child? Were you, or are you, anxious and nervous that it might not go through? How about this– did you, or do you, perceive this time as effortless? Most of us see the pre-adoption phase as a nightmare. With the paperwork, intrusive social workers (that would be people like me), mounting costs, looming deadlines, and unanswered questions, it’s all we can do to wait it out without blowing a gasket. Now how do you think that might set you up for the next phase of the adoption experience, the actual adoption? Maybe you were a little hopeful/worried/nervous/perplexed? And how about after the gavel comes down, then what?

In this phase, we see parents dashing around to tie up the loose ends of their adoption. In an international adoption, parents must gather more paperwork. In domestic adoption, there are the questions of an adoption retraction. More nerve-wracking, adrenalin-pumping excitement. Then…suddenly…it is truly…..all…over. And there you are. You and your child, or children. Or you, your significant other, your child or children, and of course maybe the other children you already had. Where oh where did those expectations go? You know the hugging of the new child, the eye contact, the bonding. It has been replaced by something decidedly worse: reality.

When I picked my daughter Emma up in Ukraine after a 30-day court-ordered wait, I thought she would cling to me and never let me out of her sight. In actuality, she arched her back while I picked her up and spit peas in my face. She even preferred the company, at her ripe old age of 17 months, of the waitress at our Warsaw hotel. And at night it was worse. She cried and cried and cried until I thought of that poster my Dad gave me when I wanted to drop out of college: Press on.

Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not. Nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb; education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are potent.

I put Emma down in her little portable crib. All alone, without me, poor thing. She stopped crying. That was when I started learning. I put my expectations down and started to “learn her” instead of doing what I thought was right. She took the lead. And slowly, through a combination of persistence and outright stupidity on my part, our relationship developed. And it was nothing like what I thought it would be.

It is hard for parents to unlearn and relearn. It is hard to let go of expectations and illusions. Parenting is, after all, an art. No book can really, truly prepare you for your unique experience. When you think about your own journey as an adoptive parent, how do you think it is going or will go?

Take a few minutes to complete this (totally no-cost) quiz:

1) Describe to yourself the story of how wonderful your adoption was (or is) going to be. What is the sales pitch in the story to yourself? If your adoption is completed, was that how it really went? (No smiling.)

2) What have been your major disappointments as a parent been since the adoption has been completed, or what do you think they could be?

3) Now remember all your illusions about your adoption have helped you get through that adoption. Don’t leave them! The problem with illusions is that they don’t mix well with reality.

Take a minute and think about the following: In the lull and hush that follows the busy adoption period, some parents develop feelings of depression or let-down. Professionals even created a name for a more lasting, extreme for of this: Post Adoption Depression Syndrome. This is so common that almost everyone can relate to it. Having these feelings does not mean that you made a bad decision!

Call or contact the post-adoption groups in your area. There are many, many organizations for you to join. Do a web search on “post adoption parent groups.” Join an adoption support group, if you have not done so already. Share your feelings with other parents– many adoptive parents try to keep the same pace they kept as before the adoption.

Now follow these two pieces of advice:

SLOW DOWN. You need down time, both with your feelings and to readjust to taking care of another human being. Allow yourself the same time frame to adjust as a birth parent. Take a sabbatical from many of your less-pressing responsibilities for six weeks and learn to love your child. Most of all, accept your feelings; try not to run from them. The ironic thing about acceptance is that once you relax, accept, and let go, these feelings change, and the real bonding with your child can begin.

BREATHE. Bringing your child home is one of the high points of your life. If you need help, learn to ask for it. Get a sitter.  Plan some time to be alone. We call that “processing time.” Being away from your new child allows you to reflect on what is going on. It is the space you need to move on to a productive, happy, life-long relationship. Press on! Be persistent in your dream, adjust the sails as needed, and remember that adoption is a life-long process– a journey, not a destination.

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Hannah Moore


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