Congratulations, and welcome to your adoption journey! Though every adoption is unique, this one is yours, and hopefully, this guide will give you insight and help you prepare without freaking out. Adopting an older child, like an 8-year-old, is a special journey. This guide is not a substitution for actual medical or psychological help and should not be taken as such. Not all scenarios are common, but they are common enough that they have been added, “just in case.”
The First Month
The paperwork is filled out. After a few weeks of waiting, praying, crying, and lamenting that “it’s taking too long!!!” you’ve been selected for the placement of an 8-year-old boy. He is just the cutest thing you can imagine. You’re not sure why the foster home he is in wouldn’t want to adopt him. You met the foster mom at the meeting where the caseworker decided you were a good fit. She seemed kind of strict, so maybe that was her problem? Kids will be kids, you know. Maybe that mom was just too uptight. You’re going to be a great mom.
You’ve hung a picture of your new precious one on the wall, and are telling all of your friends and family about him. He’s not moved in yet, but you are absolutely certain he will be the best son ever. You are probably going to tell your dog about him. He won’t understand, but you’ll probably still tell him anyway.
The Second Month
This is starting to feel real. You are now certain you will be the best mom, probably in history. You’ve read every book the adoption agency said to read. You’ve taken notes, gone to classes, watched videos, and prayed a lot about it. You are confident. You’re only a little bit nauseated at this point where before it was full-on weeping and nausea. Not because you were actually sick, but because you were certain you were going to die in the two weeks before the agency chose you. Bless your heart.
You’ve started to get “kid stuff” to add to your home. Balls, Legos, board games, kid movies. You are trying to be patient and not spend your whole salary on Fruity Pebbles and fruit snacks (that’s what kids eat, right?), but it is difficult. I’m kidding, about the Fruity Pebbles and fruit snacks. Don’t waste your money. Kids need nutritious things like broccoli, salmon, kale, sunflower seeds, and pure filtered water. They’ll thank you when they’re older for caring so much about their health.
The Third Month
You’ve begun visits with your little bundle of joy, and you’re anticipating them moving into your home forever. Perhaps you have already decorated their room with superheroes, dinosaurs, princesses, and unicorns. Maybe you’ve decided to go the safer route and wait until they move in before decorating. The good news is either way it will be destroyed more or less in a few weeks anyway so it shouldn’t matter.
What’s that you say? Little Maverick would never ever do something like that? Look, I want you to be optimistic, but I really can’t be okay with you being totally ill-informed. You’re going to need to lock up your sharpie markers, knives, paint, tools, and cleaning supplies. Basically anything dangerous or able to make a mess. I know he’s eight, but I guarantee that he’s going to wreck your stuff. Don’t believe me? Go ahead and leave out your favorite fragile porcelain that your great-grandma passed down to you. Just don’t anticipate being able to pass it down to anyone after you. You’ve been warned.
You’ll need to find a pediatrician, ASAP. First, your agency will probably want him to get a check-up as soon as he moves in. Secondly, kids are walking disasters and will likely need a doctor pretty early on into their residency with you. When you’re calling around, have a list of questions that you want to ask. You should find out if they have worked with adopted children before. You’d think there’s no difference, but there is. Your love may be no different than if he was biological, but his needs absolutely will be. Find a good pediatrician before you need one. Ask a million questions while there is no small person taking your life energy and distracting you from your thoughts. Take notes.
Ask every absurd question you can think of because I guarantee he/she has probably heard them all twice and will not judge you. If he/she does, you may want to reconsider choosing him/her. Ask his/her opinion on vaccinations, herbal supplements, and vitamins. How does he/she feel about adoption personally?
The Fourth Month
It is almost time. You’re far enough along that you should start telling people who aren’t in your inner circle. You’ve long since told family and close friends, but you might want to let other people know now. It is appropriate at this point, after having assessed what your child will need, what he likes, and his sizes, to throw an adoption shower. It’s like a baby shower but with fewer storks and obnoxious games involving diapers.
The agency is talking about his official move-in date. You are anxious. You want him moved in yesterday, but everyone is telling you to slow down and that he’ll be there soon. You don’t want to slow down. You are tired of waiting, and you’re pretty sure that Sarah and Abraham didn’t have it this hard because they didn’t actually have a picture of Isaac to stare at until he eventually showed up. (Bless your heart.)
You’ll want to have some firm rules established so you and your partner are both on the same page when he moves in. Things like no kicking the dog, you must shower at least once a week….things like that. I know, I know, he’s perfect but just in case, okay?
The house has been kid-proofed. Your family has been prepared. Your dog has been vaccinated, given a checkup, trimmed, and spiffed up. He still has no idea what is happening or what you mean when you tell him his brother is coming to live with him soon. If he did understand, he would probably be annoyed to find out a human 8-year-old boy was going to be his brother and not another dog. Come to think of it, your boy hasn’t moved in yet. You still have time to back out. You could just go get another dog and not adopt. Ha. Got you! I kid, I kid. Adoption is great and so are kids. What was I saying?
The Fifth Month
He is finally here! Welcome home, little man! This is the fifth month since you’ve started the adoption process with him but his first real month in your home. Keep your expectations low. No, lower than that. Keep going. Okay. The first few nights could be rough. He could need you to sleep in his room on the floor. Yes, he’s eight, but he needs emotional support like he’s four. Don’t be tempted to make him “tough it out” or “man up” (that phrase needs to be deleted from humanity). He doesn’t need to be tough, he needs his mama. Tag, Mama, you’re it.
That beautiful room you made up for him is probably still in okay condition. He’s getting used to living in a new place and he still feels like a stranger. This is what we call the “honeymoon period”. It can go on for a few weeks or a few months, but, rest assured, it will end. Just like Pinocchio, your son will become a “real boy” overnight and he’ll start acting…differently. Just remember all of those nights you were longing for him to be here. He’s here! Yay!
The Seventh Month
The honeymoon is over, friend. By now, you have probably experienced at least one conflict that did not end the way the book you read said it would. It might have happened in Walmart. That’s where most of mine happened. That place is a sensory overload. Anyway, look at you surviving your worst-case scenario. You need to broaden your imagination if that’s the worst you can imagine. Oh, I’m kidding. Don’t make a face like that. You’ve got this. You are probably exhausted from a few things. He may want to be carried everywhere and throws a fit when you refuse. He may have torn up that bedroom until it was unrecognizable. He might have peed on the mattress, the floor, the walls, the dog, and your carpet. Remember, this is him expressing his frustration, fear, and trauma. As much as it feels like it is about you (especially while he screams how much he hates you and how mean you are), it isn’t. If you don’t believe me about anything else, believe this. It is not about you. He’s 8 years old, and this is now the place he has lived the longest, ever. Families usually give up on him the first week or two. He’s trying to see if you’ll give him up. He doesn’t believe that you won’t. His brain won’t let him believe he can have good things like a mom who loves him. It’s not your fault. Invest in sound-dampening headphones. Trust me on this. You’ll feel better if you have them.
The Eighth Month
You’re starting to pick up the pieces of your life. It feels like it’s been forever since you slept through the night, or had a minute to yourself. People will not want to hear about your difficulties. I blame Disney and the Hallmark Channel. Don’t tell those people what is going on. Tell a counselor. Tell your best friend. Tell another adoptive mom. We get it. Truly. Now that he is settled into your home, school, and extracurriculars (his social schedule is somehow more packed than yours, what gives?), he is starting to express his needs in more “normal” ways. This may look different than you expect. Normal for him might be wetting the bed, hoarding food, and crying for an hour. What you need to do is be there for him and get him counseling. He is not–repeat is not–doing these things to torment you. It feels like torment. You’re pretty sure you’re going to die if you have to clean urine out of sheets one more night. I assure you, you won’t. Also, I’m sorry you had to rehome your dog. It was for his safety. No, not all kids are violent to animals, but your son had never lived with a dog and was … too rough. Maybe when he’s older, you can think about a cat or something that will run away if he gets violent.
The Ninth Month
If you were pregnant, now is when you would be bringing the baby home. Babies are the worst, am I right?
Just kidding. Babies are great. But you don’t have one. You have an 8-year-old with rage issues. So much better. I’m joking. I’m such a kidder. But for real, you’ve made it this far. You can do this. You’re a great parent. Sure you aren’t the parent you thought you would be but are we ever? Yes, I know you promised you’d stick to salmon and broccoli, but even if your son is eating Spaghetti-O’s and pizza bites, at least he’s eating. Remember, “fed is best”. All that fake tomato sauce, at least he won’t get scurvy. You’ve learned by now that your 8-year-old boy prefers pre-packaged, preservative-filled junk food to just about anything else. If it isn’t neon orange, he considers it highly suspect. It isn’t his fault. He was raised on gas station food, then a rotation of “the right foods” in six different homes before he met you. It is important he gets some healthy food, so I suggest having him help pick things at the grocery store. It will take twice as long but the chances are better of him at least tasting it if he had the chance to pick it out. Don’t be afraid to ask him to try new things but be prepared for him to say no and throw it on the floor.
You’ve got this, mama. You are parenting a little boy who has lived through some awful stuff, and you are the mama he needs. In a few years, you’ll be used to him and he’ll be used to you, and then he’ll hit puberty and change all over again. It isn’t fair, but it is what it is. It’s true what they say: “The days are long but the years are short.” One day in the future you will look at a picture of his babyface in his 2nd-grade school picture and cry as you put his graduation picture next to it. It will feel like it was just yesterday that you met for the first time. It is the corniest, but it is true.