Adopting a child is a life-changing decision that requires careful consideration and a lot of preparation. It can be (and usually is) a long and emotional journey. But the rewards can be (and usually are) immeasurable.

Whether or not adoption was always in your plan or just recently became part of your family plan, the unknown can feel overwhelming at times. On top of that, the landscape is always changing and what adoption was 10 years ago may not be what it looks like today or will look like 10 years from now.

It’s so important for anybody thinking about adoption to really do a deep dive into what adoption is, your reasons for considering it, and your expectations. Thinking that adoption is simply a step-by-step process or some sort of checklist to work down is not the right way to approach what is truly a lifetime commitment.

The Adoption Process

The first step in the adoption process is to determine which type of adoption is best suited for your family. There are several options for you to choose from, including domestic adoption, international adoption, foster care adoption, and private adoption.

Each type of adoption (and of course, there are more) has its own set of requirements, costs, and timeframes.

Once you’ve decided on what kind of adoption is right for you, you will need to complete a home study. This process involves a social worker visiting your home, interviewing your family members, and assessing (essentially) if you’re capable of adopting a child. The home study process is there to make sure that you can provide a safe and nurturing environment for a child.

After completing your home study, you will begin the process of searching for a child to adopt. This may involve working with an adoption agency or attorney to identify a child who is available for adoption. You may also be matched with a child through a foster care program.

An Emotional Journey

Adopting a child usually proves to be an emotional rollercoaster for adoptive parents. It is important to be prepared for the ups and downs that will occur during the process itself and long after you’ve crossed the last t and dotted the last i.

It’s common for adoptive parents to experience a whole range of feelings from anxiety, frustration, and disappointment to incredible joy and satisfaction when they finally bring their child home. But remember that beyond the adoption process, the job of parenting a child of any age is no easy feat.

That’s why you need to have a support system in place to help you navigate the emotional journey that is adoption. This may include trusted family members, close friends, or a support group for adoptive parents. It is also helpful to have open and honest communication with your partner about your feelings and concerns from (and before) Day 1.

But forget about yourself for a moment (or for the rest of your life), you’re going to need to think about your child’s emotions as well: before, during, and after the adoption process has ended. Your adopted child is going to need you to be strong for them. As their parent, that should be a given, but as an adoptive parent, you’re going to need to take things up a notch to ensure their needs are being met above and beyond your own.

While you are fully entitled to feel all the feels on your adoption journey (parenting is not for the weak), when it gets to feel like it’s too much, try and remember that your little one is most likely feeling the same way for different reasons. But, they may not know how to express what they’re feeling. They may not know if it’s safe or okay to express what they’re feeling. It’s up to you to make sure they see you as a resource for whatever emotions they need to work through.

The Financial Costs

Adopting a child can be expensive (depending on what type of adoption you choose). So, it’s important to be prepared for the myriad of financial costs involved. These costs can vary a lot depending on the type of adoption, the adoption agency or attorney you choose to work with, and the country of origin if you’re adopting internationally.

Some of the fees associated with adoption include application fees, home study fees, legal fees, travel expenses, and the cost of providing for the child before and after the adoption is finalized. Some adoptive parents may also choose to work with a financial planner or seek out grants or loans to help cover the costs of adoption.

In a perfect world, a child would find a forever home at no cost—whether that means remaining with their biological family with the help of a financial or emotional net necessary, or with an adoptive family—every child deserves a safe and loving home.

The Legal Process

The legal process of adopting a child can be complex and time-consuming, too. It is important to work with an experienced adoption attorney you trust who can guide you through the process and ensure that all legal requirements are met.

Don’t just Google, point, and click. Make sure to do some thorough research when choosing an attorney or agency to help you navigate your adoption journey.

The legal process of adoption may involve the termination of the parental rights of the birth parents (in cases of adoption from foster care), completing background checks, and obtaining court approval of the adoption. The process can take several months or even years, depending on the circumstances of the adoption. It’s important that this is done right—and legally—with the best interests of the child at heart.

The Adjustment Period

You should anticipate that bringing a new child into your home can and will be a major adjustment for everyone involved. It may take some time for a child to feel comfortable in their new surroundings and for everyone to establish a new routine.

Adoptive parents may also need to adjust to the demands of parenting a child who may have experienced trauma or neglect in the past.

It’s important to take a deep breath and remember to be patient and understanding during the adjustment period. It may take several months (or longer) for the child to feel fully integrated into your family. Adoptive parents may also benefit from seeking out resources such as parenting classes or counseling to help navigate the challenges of raising a child.

Forever After

Adopting a child is a life-changing decision that will require careful consideration and a lot of preparation. You can count on it being a long and emotional journey. Still, the outcomes are immeasurable.