Counseling can take on many different forms. Counseling can have a bad reputation, and people tend to think of it as a last resort. Counseling is a beautiful thing and can be used to thrive and improve, not just survive a traumatic event.
Adoption has a variety of layers. It has its ups and downs and joys and frustrations. There are sure to be seasons of stress throughout parenting and also during the adoption process. It is not unusual to face disappointment during adoption and being prepared to face those trials can help you and your family stick together. Talking with someone that knows you, the adoption process, or has specialized training can be beneficial for more than just you. Counseling may not provide a simple answer during the adoption process, but it can help navigate the range of emotions and events associated with the ongoing process. The emotional stamina does not end once a child is placed in your home. Look for someone to talk with before, during, and after the process.
You do not have to travel far to find someone to lend an ear. Look to your family and friends to discuss some ongoing issues. Of course, you can look to them to get parenting advice and how to prepare your home for a new child as well. Hopefully, they will be excited for you in this new chapter and want to celebrate every step of the way. Share some of your tears and smiles with them.
Choose a small group to confide in. These people will be your backbone when things do not go as planned, your patience is tested, and some frustration sets in. When you fall, they will pick you back up and remind you of the bigger picture. Sometimes they will physically help you get there too. You may also choose to share the story of your child with a few people.
Be careful who you choose to be completely open to. This is your child’s story, and you want to protect it! You will want to guard his or her birth mother or family from judgment and negativity. You are on the same team and want the best for the child. Do not let any part of his or her story become a weapon for the attack—even years down the road in the heat of an argument.
Let your child share his or her story as they are ready and with whom they want. No one ever wants someone else to air their dirty laundry. Carefully choosing the details with a friend or two is a privilege and should be protected. The best people to share this information with will understand your discernment and confidentiality. Find someone that will honor your child and his or her birth family with the utmost respect. When you approach them out of frustration, hurt, or anger, you want to know that they will not judge your child or his or her birth family and hold a grudge. It is important to have someone that can speak honestly and genuinely with you if you are being dramatic or not thinking completely clearly. Not only will they love you, but they will also love your child well and care for the birth family with sincere hearts. They are not afraid of having hard conversations with you and always have the best interest of your child in mind.
One of the most helpful conversations you can have is with other people that have gone through the process before you. If you are in the beginning phases of your adoption, reach out to friends and your community and find people that have adopted before. If you are considering more than one avenue of adoption, talk with people that have adopted through each.
Look for adults that were adopted and what that journey has been like for them. What are some of the things that were most difficult for them? What are some things they valued about how their family handled situations?
If you know of anyone that has placed a child for adoption, talk with them about their experience. How were they treated by the agency? What were some of their fears and disappointments? What information was helpful for them to know about the adoptive family?
Obviously, be upfront with all of these people to let them know you want to talk about adoption so they are not caught completely off guard. I have yet to come across someone that was not willing to talk with me and share their story. But I would assume they do exist. Be respectful and grateful.
If you find someone willing to share, ask them to share some of their frustrations and disappointments. Ask if there are things they wish would have been done differently, or if they were to adopt again would they go about it the same way.
If you realize that you do not have connections with other people in the adoption world, ask your friends and family, and neighbors for referrals. If you still come up empty-handed, start reading and try to connect with some authors of those articles and books. Social media can be a great introduction, and many people have created communities with things in common. Podcasts are another place to look for real-life examples. Be sure to search through Adoption.com and find articles as well.
The entire adoption process can be lengthy and most people encounter some surprises along the way. Having other people that have walked the road before you is beneficial in helping to understand what to expect. Many of these people are also willing to sit with you in your grief and disappointment.
You may also want to get specific with meeting others in a similar scenario. For example, if you are considering transracial adoption, meet with others that have transracially adopted. If you are adopting internationally, try and talk with others that have adopted internationally. Not only will these be good for your soul, but your children will also learn to value the relationship and having friends being raised in a similar situation.
Although this article is addressing counseling as a hopeful adoptive family, it is worth mentioning that all of these tips can also apply to your children. We want to remember their unique needs. It may be beneficial for them to have someone—other than you—who is emotionally and physically there to process information with.
Simply put, an advocate is someone who will support you emotionally, physically, and/or practically. It might look like respite care. This might be someone willing to look after your kids while you can nap or run some errands. Or it might be someone who will watch your other kids while you are adopting another one. They may be a friend, an acquaintance, or someone within your community that wants to serve you and your family and does not expect anything in return.
Advocates are usually people who have some kind of special proximity to adoption. They may have been adopted. They may have done foster care before. Or they may be adoptive parents themselves. They may interact with adoption vocationally in fields like social work, law, or healthcare. These are people that will have your back and help when speed bumps and challenges arise. It does take a village to raise a child and every adoption situation comes with unique challenges that are above and beyond the parenting of biological children. Advocates can help function as a sounding board or help carry the burden. They understand the complexities, surprises, and joys associated with adoption.
Depending on who you are working with for your adoption, some agencies provide you (and the birth family) with counseling. Many agencies do allow for some education or forums to discuss the process and possibly speak with other adoptive families. We have worked with an agency that has a question and answers time with birth mothers and adoptive families!
If having someone to talk with throughout the process is important to you, I would encourage you to look at agencies as opposed to attorneys. Agencies tend to provide more education and accessibility without billing us for every phone call or email. This was especially helpful for our first adoption experience. We still can discuss situations with the agency. As our relationship with the birth family has grown, we have also found ourselves in uncomfortable and awkward situations. Talking with the agency gave us insight on some language to use (or not use) and background that helped us better understand where the birth mother was coming from. If we have any concerns or questions, we know that the agency is just a phone call away, and if they do not have a solution, they can help direct us to someone that will.
Licensed mental health counselors often go unnoticed. We may not hesitate to take preventative measures for our children’s (or our own) physical health, but when it comes to emotional health, we do not make the same decisions. Professional counselors are utilized much more as last resort or in desperate situations. It can take years to sift through the trauma and emotions that put someone in such a difficult situation and many people are not willing or able to put in that time, money, and effort. Taking some time to be proactive and work with a professional early on can pay dividends in the future—for you and your entire family.
Expanding your family is sure to bring on stress. Finding ways to help your family adjust, manage, and thrive during the transition will make a big difference for years to come. Of course, adoption will add a whole other layer to the stress and a transracial adoption will add even another. Remember that a licensed mental health counselor is working WITH you. They are not there to judge you or fight with you; quite the contrary, they are on your team and cheering for you. They want more than to see you survive; they want you and your family to thrive.
Tips for Getting Counseling
With so many options, how do you find a counselor that is right for you?
Ask. Ask for referrals from your family, friends, physicians, community, clergy, etc. Keep in mind that these are professionals, and they are well-trained to help you navigate through life’s circumstances. Although it may be helpful to work with someone who can personally relate to your situation, it is not critical to find someone that can sympathize with each part of your circumstance. If there is a particular aspect that you find is causing you more stress or concern, then it may be worthwhile to look for someone that specializes or has experience with similar situations.
Likewise, if you will be bringing children into your sessions, you will want to ensure that the counselor will meet with the children. Most licensed mental health counselors are well-rounded and do not have narrow requirements so these considerations should not cause you more stress. These are simply tips if you are navigating unknown waters.
Meeting in person is ideal, but if your schedule does not allow for that, you can now get professional counseling online. If you are still unsure of where to start, determine your highest priority and find someone that meets that requirement. If you are a man or woman of faith, find someone of that faith. If you are mostly concerned about how your existing children will handle the transition, look for someone to meet with them first. If you are on the road a lot and making appointments is difficult for you, look for a counselor that offers appointments online. One more tip, try not to let finances deter you from making an appointment. The money you spend for the emotional health of your current and future family is one of the best investments you can make. You may not see a financial return on the investment, but your emotional state and those of your family (and friends) will all benefit from it.
Considering adoption? Let us help you on your journey to creating your forever family. Visit Adoption.org or call 1-800-ADOPT-98.