When it comes to adoption, adoptive parents worry over a wide range of issues. It’s not just a process and paperwork thing, but a lifetime-of-being-a-forever-family-to-an-adopted-child thing. They want to be the best parent possible for a child in a situation beyond their control. They try to explain a choice to a society that many times still doesn’t understand. They hope to strike a balance that works. They understand that learning about adoption and being willing to grow is a crucial part of the adoption journey no matter what stage you’re in: pre- or post-adoption.
Here are five things adoptive parents worry about:
To a parent who has dreamed of and committed to adoption, hearing others criticize their choice can be gutting. From greedy to desperate to insincere, the names haters throw at adoptive parents can feel like a punch to the stomach to someone who simply loves a child and wants to make a go at being a good parent.
Having been on the receiving end of interrogations from both well-meaning and not-so-well-meaning folks who grilled me on my intentions for adopting a child, I can say that those conversations can leave a bad taste in your mouth. And, it can honestly make you wonder what’s wrong with people.
Don’t get me wrong, although adoption may feel perfectly normal to someone who has taken the time to learn about it, weigh it as a possibility, and commit to it, it’s still a non-traditional route to becoming a family in the eyes of many.
Consider this: nearly 60,000 children were adopted in 2020 with another 117,000 waiting in foster care for placement according to the Administration for Children and Families, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Children’s Bureau, and Adoption Foster Care submissions as of October 2021. Despite what anyone may think of adoption, for many children, adoption can be the best option (and, in some cases, the only option) for a child who needs a family.
Adoption is not perfect. I’ve yet to meet an adoptive parent who thinks it is. Adoption is a lifelong learning scenario and one that adoptive parents need to be patient through, not only with those who may not understand or agree, but also with themselves. The focus should remain on what’s in the best interest of the child. Always.
Many adoptive parents also worry about their child being judged for being adopted. Kids just want to fit in, and as parents, we want that for them, too. While there are never any guarantees, as long as you talk with your child–building them up and teaching them how to deal with their peers–you’re doing your job. The best thing you can do for your child is to provide them with an outlet ranging from resources at school, extracurriculars, and emotional support (such as a parent, a therapist, or someone else they trust). Let them know that you are in their corner no matter what.
Not Being Enough
Just like any parent, adoptive parents worry that they won’t be enough for their child. In addition to the normal parental worries that tend to keep moms and dads up at night, being an adoptive parent does come with an additional complementary set of “what ifs” to ponder about after your head hits the pillow. Whether they worry because they aren’t the child’s biological parent, they’re concerned about the circumstances from which their child has come, or issues related to the adoption process, anxiety weighs on parents who just want to be a rock for their child.
A couple of years ago, Massachusetts Adoption Resource Exchange released an ad campaign featuring funny and relatable situations with the message: “You don’t have to be perfect to be a perfect parent.”
How true a statement that is! No matter how hard we try, a perfect parent is just about as common as a mythical unicorn. However, that does not mean that you shouldn’t do all the necessary research well ahead of time, continue to educate yourself, and be open and flexible along your adoption journey.
There is no guarantee in life that you’re going to do everything just right or be able to fix, heal, or make right all of the hurt your child has experienced or will experience during their lifetime. As long as you are truly giving your best effort, you will be enough.
Imagine your child comes home from school looking sad and not wanting to talk. They suddenly stop speaking with a friend. Their grades start to tank. They don’t want to go to practice anymore and don’t seem to have an explanation.
On the one hand, most children and parents experience these sorts of things. Still, there’s that voice inside making you worry whether or not this time it’s because of something adoption-related.
Of course, you’re going to miss something. You’re not a fortune teller. You can’t read your child’s mind or see into the future. But if you are cognizant of the possibility that you may miss something, you are probably far less likely to do so. Understanding that your child’s adoption may bother them at some point during their life–or at many points during their life–goes along with the territory. And while it’s normal to worry that whatever it is that is impacting your child is related to adoption, making that the focal point of your relationship or their life is not healthy.
One way to make sure that you are aware–as much as any parent can be aware–of what is happening in your child’s life is to make the adoption conversation a normal part of life. Keeping your child’s adoption a secret or acting as if it never happened is never recommended.
Start early, and start young (or, if that wasn’t an option for your family, start now). Normalizing adoption as part of your family dynamic will not hurt your child or your relationship with them. Instead, adoption conversations can reassure them that you love them because of–or regardless of–adoption, and you embrace them for who they are, as they are.
You can’t stop the hurt that may come from outside of your home, but you can build a strong foundation from within.
Living Up to Expectations
“They’re so lucky to have you as their parent.”
This is a statement many adoptive parents hear from the first instant they become an adoptive family. It’s the sort of gold-star moment most adoptive parents don’t really expect or want. It’s awkward and clumsy, and while you understand the sentiment is genuine, in your heart and mind you know that luck has nothing to do with it. Adoption is the result of loss. It is a child’s need for a family. You have answered the call, or perhaps your calling, to become an adoptive parent. If anything, you feel lucky to have been chosen to be their parent.
It feels nothing less than heavy to have people constantly telling you what a saint you are or how wonderful you are for having adopted a child. Most adoptive parents don’t feel an ounce of the praise being poured out upon them, as they’re just trying to make sure they get through a busy day of raising a child like any other parent.
It’s okay to respond to this type of comment by letting the well-wisher know that you’re just a family like any other. It’s not healthy for others to hold you up on a pedestal upon which you don’t feel comfortable. It’s not realistic for your family to be viewed as some sort of “Hallmark happily-ever-after.”
Being a parent is not easy. Raising a family can be difficult. Trying to live up to this sort of praise can feel confusing, especially if and when your family goes through rough patches. Reaching out for help shouldn’t make you feel less-than or as if you somehow dropped the ball.
Something adoptive parents discuss far less than they should is the fear of not knowing: not knowing how their child was treated before they knew them, what circumstances they overcame, whether or not they felt loved before becoming part of their adoptive family, or if they are hurting because of who they have had to say goodbye to. Having quick answers to a child’s crucial health history questions can make such a big difference when it comes to doctor’s appointments, education, and even basic social interaction. Without them, those situations can feel frustrating and scary. Adoptive parents worry about whether or not they are being their child’s best advocate in these and other situations. In some cases, they’re having to make decisions based on best guesses. Even something as simple as connecting with relatives to find out whether or not certain diseases may run in the family is off the table when it comes to adoption. Biological families tend to take things like that for granted.
For many adoptive parents, there are still mysteries they won’t ever have the answers to, even if they receive a portion of their adoptive child’s health or social history. Make sure to speak with the people who will play an important part in your child’s life ahead of time w to make sure they understand this information handicap. With that in mind, those people may be able to make recommendations for tests or treatment plans based on what you do know so you can fill in some of the gaps or at least rule out what you don’t know for sure.