I’ve learned, in life, there are many hard things. There are circumstances, accidents, and medical diagnoses that I would never want to have to undergo. Even though I feel a bit guilty about it, sometimes I have felt relieved: “Thank goodness that isn’t happening to me.” So what do the places that no one wants to be in look like for foster and adoptive parents?

I truly believe that we are choice makers in this life, and that we reap the benefit—or not—of our decisions. I also know that sometimes life throws us a curveball….or maybe a meteorite. Sometimes other peoples’ actions and decisions cut us deeply, cost us huge, or severely impact our lives. While we like to believe that we are largely in control of our fate, we actually have very little say. Where you were born, your ethnicity, and who your parents are, for example. You have no say in these things, and these factors play an incredible role in what your life will look like. A child born in a war-torn country to impoverished, persecuted parents is going to have a life that looks very different than a child born into a First World country; even if this First World child is treated horrifically by their parents of origin, they arguably have a better chance of getting help and support than children living in the world’s largest slum in India. For all of the things we think we control in life, we can find ourselves in places that no one would want to be…just ask any child in the foster care system. No one comes into this world hoping their family of origin is unable or unwilling to care for them. 

The world of foster care and adoption is no stranger to pain. I feel like I’ve been preaching for years, “ADOPTION IS NOT A FAIRYTALE!” And some people still aren’t getting it. 

“You did it the easy way!” someone says of an adoption of a newborn. “You didn’t have to get stretch marks, or go through labor!” Except, you think, as your eye twitches, the pain you witnessed the birth mom go through as she handed you her baby for the first time. Her sorrow ripped you raw. I know that I’d rather go through labor than witness the soul-crushing pain many of our birth moms have gone through. 

“You get paid to be a foster parent, right?” is another one. Some people say foster parents do it for the money. Again, eye twitching. Watching kids come into your home with nothing but rags on their backs (and possibly lice in their hair), and there is no welcoming party. No baby shower for the newborn removed from her family and placed with you because of drug use and fear for her safety. Maybe, for the foster mom of a newborn, no one brings over meals and offers to help with laundry those first few weeks, like most moms of new babies get. The world of foster care and adoption is almost a different planet. Many people cannot fathom what it is like to watch kids cry after their birth parents have failed to come for a promised visit; most people will never parent a child that both loves their birth parent dearly, yet carries the scars of their abuse, neglect, and rage. And maybe, most people wouldn’t be able to. 

In foster care and adoption, there are many places you might find yourself in that no one else would want to be in. 

Severe Behavioral Issues 

It’s so draining. From sunup to sundown, your child from hard places rages and takes it out on you, even though you have been the only steady, loving place in their lives. In fact, they lash out BECAUSE of this. Timothy L. Sanford says it best in his book, Inside: Understanding How Reactive Attachment Disorder Thinks and Feels

In his jungle warfare analogy, we see how children can be the strong silent type, and yet explode all over everyone when some invisible trigger is hit; alternatively, they might be the explosive, “shoot first and ask questions later” type. I parent the latter, and although it has saddened me greatly to know that she lives her life as if everything is a danger that she needs to take out before it can harm her, at least I have a look inside at what things are like for her, so I can help effect change. 

Many, many foster and adoptive parents are living with behaviors others cannot understand. “Glad I don’t have to deal with that!” (or, “I would not deal with that, that kid would be out”) are things that I sadly hear often. Too many times, struggling foster and adoptive families have people run away from them rather than run to them in times of trouble. No one wants to be in that place where the behavior is so huge that it is hard to go out, hard to have fun, and hard to live a normal life. I’ve been there. Never forget: while you might be in a hard place you never thought you’d be in, the kid is probably thinking the same. 

Issues with Foster and Adoption Process

A stalled adoption. A failed adoption. A disrupted placement, or adoption. A dissolution. And you know, no matter what you do now, people will have an opinion. How could you do that? How could you let that happen? Were your papers not approved? I thought you were adopting, what happened? Was the kid too much? Glad you got out of that, you dodged a bullet! Except, that bullet has a heartbeat, and is going to continue in extreme emotional pain until some major healing happens. Let’s not forget that. This is such a hard position. You might not feel anyone sees your pain. You might not feel your pain is valid, because the child is in incredible pain. You may feel like a failure, and like you’ve let down a vulnerable child. You may also feel like now you’re safe again, if you or your children were victimized by a child, and others may never understand that. Adoption issues are a place no one wants to be.

Change of Consent

A birth mom revokes consent. It is the law, and her right. It is painful, and devastating, the death of a dream. And….all the agency or lawyer costs have been paid. Depending on your region, you may have parented this precious newborn baby for 30 days. The government protects birth mothers and their choices, and I support this. Others may say, “It’s ok, there will be other opportunities,” but this does nothing for the soul hemorrhage. Perhaps you had already waited many years. Perhaps this felt like a last chance. This is another place no one would trade you for.

Foster Child Returns Home

Your long-term foster placement goes home. Hooray! Except….your heart is bleeding. You had allowed yourself to think what it might be like to be their parent, forever. You had thought it might last forever, you had thought maybe you could adopt. You have years and years of memories….the birth parents have done the work, and they are so excited. Likely your child is torn. They love you, they want to go home. So, you are doing the bigger thing, and wholeheartedly supporting reunification, as mandated by foster law. 

But who the heck would want to be in your shoes? Handing back a child you have parented through heartaches at school, lost teeth, birthday parties, and holidays is about the worst thing your heart has been through. And you might have reservations. Will the parents relapse? Are they sincere? Have they really made a heart change, or just a small adjustment that will revert back? Will you lose touch with the child? Will you see them again? Will they be ok? This is one of the most common things I hear: “I could never foster, get that attached, and have the kid go home.” Guess what? The kid needs you to. Even though no one will envy this hard, hard place you have to work through now.

Problems in Your Open Adoption 

Everyone said this would happen. What were you thinking? You did what you thought was right and you followed your heart, no regrets. But, there is pain. And no one really wants to hear about it, because you asked for this. You took it on, don’t complain! It is difficult to be in a position that few in the general population will ever understand, and if things aren’t going right, it is even harder to find someone to talk to. “Cut them off! They lost their chance!”—except, that isn’t where your heart is. 

Or, if things are really bad and you know you do have to form a break for a while, that’s even harder! If you’ve grown to love the birth parents, or if it’s been a rough go, the seas will only get higher as you navigate boundaries. Because you can’t go back and redo things, forging ahead is the only way, and it might be HARD. Perhaps there have been harsh words. Perhaps unfortunate things happened. Maybe even some scary things have happened. No one in their right mind would want to trade places with you now.

Hard Places

Most likely, we will all find ourselves in positions we’d never like to be in, at some point in our lives. For adoptive and foster families, I think it is even more likely. It’s just a fact in this broken world, when you embrace the broken and enter into it with the goal of helping, healing, and caring. You get vulnerable. So just what do you do about it? What do you do when you’re in the place no one wants to be?

You keep going. Recently, one of my children of adoption was majorly stressed about a dentist appointment. Of course, this is fairly minor in the grand scheme of things, but to her it was major. Scary. Big. I said to her, ‘You can’t go under it. You can’t go over it. And, you can’t go around it. You’ll have to go through it.” I love this analogy, because most times in life, avoidance doesn’t really help. Maybe temporarily, but most times, especially as adults, we need to buckle up, hold on, and ride it out. Accepting this is a great start. 

Next, find some support. If no one in your circle can do that for you, or if your needs are greater than the support you can find, it might be time to call in a professional. A counselor skilled in adoption-related issues, an adoption social worker, or an adoption consultant are all great places to start. 

Lastly, ditch all but the essential. When you are in crisis, or even just a crunch, you don’t have the energy to deal with all the extra. Sometimes it can seem scary letting things go. Remember, this should be temporary. It shouldn’t last forever, so if you have to forgo a hobby for a while, don’t stress. You may have to let friends know that you are stepping back for a bit. If this offends them, this tells you more about their behavior than anything else. It is always, always fine to take care of your own needs and the needs of your children before attending to the needs of friends or extended family. Actually, I think it is essential. This also might be the time to break out the paper plates to cut back on dishes, to hire a teen to do some babysitting or light housework, or to hire a housekeeper. When you’re in a tough spot and you’re just trying to survive, whatever thing you think will help you, do it. 

Sometimes, people have a comment, or would like to criticize or judge. It’s so easy to be on that side of things—all it takes is an opinion and a voice. You are on the hard side, and you’re the one doing it. Don’t ever forget that. Maybe, with a big smile and a friendly voice, ask if they’d like to take over for you for a while—after all, you are tired and would love a break.

Friend, whoever you are, if you are doing a hard thing in the foster care and adoption world, I see you. I hear you, and I hold space for you. I’ve lived it, and I am sure that I will again. You’ll do what you can until you can’t anymore, and then you will change and adapt, because you are wild like that. That’s what adoptive and foster families are made of—grit and grace. We survive and even thrive where others wouldn’t stand a chance. Keep going, you’re almost there!

Are you ready to pursue adoption? Visit Adoption.org or call 1-800-ADOPT-98 to connect with compassionate, nonjudgmental adoption specialists who can help you get started on the journey of a lifetime.