Until you show up and start that new job, dip the brush into the paint and apply it to the wall, swing the bat and connect with the ball, fill the tub and wash the dog or–yikes–the cat, stir the sauce and add a pinch of something new, raise the hammer and land the nail, whack the puck and slide it by the goalie, or mix the concrete and lay the foundation–you’re just guessing at what “it” may be like based on what you have read about or heard about or seen someone else do. Becoming a parent to an adopted child is no different. And so I found myself after years of mental and emotional prep and then months of research, paperwork, nesting, and all the other things that go into planning an adoption–standing in wonder, somewhat wide eyed, as a tiny baby girl wearing a white bonnet and dress was placed into my waiting arms. And just like that, I became a parent to an adopted child and knew just what to do and just how to do it because clearly, the paperwork indicated that I was now and forevermore a mom. And we all lived happily ever after.

Not so fast!

Because in spite of all of the ground work and wishful thinking–nothing can prepare you for what it will take to parent a child like the act of actually parenting a child–adopted or not. My introduction to Parenting 101 started that very moment on that very day as yours will for you on your very day, but in the meantime–some food for thought to nourish you between now and then.

Three BIG Little Letters

Yes, they’re all adorable and in the early days, babies do a lot of the same things that everyone oohs and aahs over. But, very quickly, you will learn that children are unique individuals. Yours will be no exception and will have unique needs as a result–some of this may be a result of adoption, but all of this will be the result of DNA. And if your child is already toddler age or older, your child may come to you with a very set view of the world as he or she knows it and the differences between you will be well apparent. As an adoptive parent, you will share in just about everything that comes along with being a mom or a dad, other than your child’s DNA. Just like you, your adopted child has had no say in the matter of DNA, so you’re going to have to put your big person pants on and accept the fact that you are not biologically related. The apple of your eye may not care for apples at all. In fact, he or she may prefer something totally out of your comfort zone. But that’s also a great part about being a parent to an adopted child–you’re about to go on a big adventure, so long as you’re willing (and if you’re not, you may not have what it takes to parent an adopted child). So long as you’re willing to embrace the differences between you and your adopted child, you may find these differences may be the very things that bring you together.

Complementary is Complimentary

You’re white and she’s black. Or he’s white and you’re brown. You may not match so far as color schemes go, but that’s ok–you’re not decorating a house, you’re making a home. While you may not look alike, that doesn’t mean you won’t complement each other in other more important ways.

Make no mistake, if you look even the slightest bit different, someone somewhere is sure to bring this to your attention just in case you hadn’t already noticed. And some of the comments you may hear may not seem very complimentary, but rest assured–your story is rich with love and layers deep and anyone who decides to judge you and yours by your covers is not worth your time. That’s not to discount the fact that this is an issue your child may need help dealing with and as such, you should be prepared to set the tone and example so that your child is comfortable with his or her story.

My, What Big Ears You Have

All parents should be good listeners, but adoptive parents especially need to keep their ear to the ground. Adopted children oftentimes shoulder feelings and thoughts that they don’t know how to process or put into words. Let’s face it, adoption is a tricky subject! And so, as an adoptive parent, you need to make sure that you’re not just hearing the words coming out of your child’s mouth and assuming he or she is good with it, but truly listening–and ready to respond as needed to questions or concerns. Sometimes you’ll be ready and sometimes you’re going to be thrown a wicked curveball. If you’re not quite sure of the answer or what to say, there’s nothing wrong with, “That’s a good question, let me think about it.” It’s also perfectly okay to offer a hug or a snuggle if your child isn’t looking for a solid answer or advice, but just wants someone to vent to.

Special Needs

It takes a special kind of parent to parent a kid so special. Parents adopting special needs children should expect to do some extra work so far as being ready to handle the emotional, mental, physical, and/or logistical challenges that may come with the territory. Children labeled as special needs range from international (sometimes with an incomplete social or medical history) to sibling groups to behavioral disorders to physical disabilities to coming from abusive or neglectful living conditions to having been exposed prenatally to drugs or alcohol. You will need to take inventory of your life, your available support groups (professionals, family, friends) and your ability to be flexible to possible lifestyle changes.

Heart of the Matter

No matter the circumstances, if you’re planning to become a parent to an adopted child you need to be ready to open your heart up wider than you knew was possible to a child who needs more love than you’ll ever fully know and in ways you may never fully understand. You’ll have to sometimes think outside the normal parenting box and be ready to handle the unanticipated ups and downs. You’ll need to be ready to stand up for and protect your child from–we’ll call it ignorance–from those who either don’t approve of or don’t understand your/her situation. You’ll also need to be strong enough to teach your child how to stand up for and protect herself for when you’re not there. Not every child is bothered due to adoption, but by preparing your child and helping your child to feel comfortable in his or her own shoes, you are also readying your child to respond to a variety of the everyday challenges faced throughout life.

Mainly, though, what it takes to parent an adopted child is being the mom or dad your child deserves–so, like any other parent–not perfect, but perfectly willing to try!