“When I’m a parent, I’ll do it the right way!” Many of us have uttered this line in some shape or form, likely due to the flaws we’ve personally experienced in our own upbringings or in response to the poor parenting we’ve witnessed in our friends or in those we see going off on their kids in public places. We reason to ourselves that we’ve observed and mentally processed enough that when our time finally comes to nurture a young life, our parental instincts will kick in so seamlessly that nary an utterance of dissent or complaint will ever be found on the lips of our kids.
Oh, how bitter reality can taste. Not one of us is a perfect parent who does everything the “right way.” We will all make many, many mistakes along the way. Thankfully, as we find ourselves struggling with that “bad parent” inside us—in particular, those of us who’ve adopted—there are a number of key points to keep in mind.
Realize You Might Not Bond with Your Child Right Away
Before adopting my first child, I can’t tell you how many times I heard people gush about how they had an instant soul-connection with their baby the moment after the delivery. I was skeptical, and as my wife and I navigated the adoption process, the few people to whom I confessed my bonding concerns vehemently told me that once I looked into those precious newborn eyes, I’d fall hopelessly in love. And you know what? The moment I gazed into the face of my two-day-old daughter for the very first time—that didn’t happen. Sure, I was grateful and relieved and a whole bunch of other positive emotions, but I didn’t feel an immediate connection with her. What I mostly felt was guilt and confusion. Guilt because my wife and I were being crowned the new parents of a baby that a brave young girl was choosing to surrender to us, causing herself indescribable pain. Confusion because…well, wasn’t I supposed to feel that right-away connection everyone was talking about? It took a couple of months before I truly felt like the child I was caring for every moment of every day was my little girl. At that point, I did end up falling hopelessly in love the way people told me I would. Thankfully, I kept this in mind when we adopted our second child and didn’t guilt myself during those introductory months.
Recognize That Post-Adoption Depression is a Real Thing
Along with initial bonding issues, many adoptive parents feel depressed after bringing their son or daughter home for the first time. It seems almost counter-intuitive—after all, you’ve navigated the adoption process, been matched, and have finally been placed with your little bundle. Shouldn’t it be all warm fuzzies from here on out? Well, not necessarily. Just as many people experience postpartum depression, it’s not uncommon for adoptive parents to experience a deep sense of sadness or despair after placement. It can cause a tremendous amount of stress when your brain seems to be telling you that you should feel excited and grateful, but instead feel the exact opposite. The most important thing to remember is that this is normal. And just as counseling and psychiatric services are available to parents who’ve just had children biologically, it’s vital to your own mental health, as well that of your children, that you seek the advice and/or treatment of wise professionals.
Avoid Letting Fear Drive Your Relationship With Your Child
As your children mature and begin to process their place in the world, their interest in their birth family may grow and intensify. Some kids may desire to know more details about why they were placed and/or may want more direct contact with people to whom they share biological ties. Some adoptive parents encourage this curiosity in their kids, while others hurl criticisms and guilt trips centered around why they (the adoptive parents) aren’t good enough. I’d highly encourage you to steer away from the latter. It does your children, nor your relationship with them, no good whatsoever to cast blame for simply wanting to understand more about where they came from. Allowing them to do so will not harm your relationship. If anything, it will serve to strengthen it. While your feelings of inadequacy are natural and not inherently wrong, take them to the ears of a trusted counselor or friend. Your children deserve to know everything they wish to know about their origin story, and when they ask you questions, you are doing no less than being their faithful parent by helping to provide the answers.