In order to officially become a family “hoping to adopt,” you have to pass a state mandated home study. What these home studies entail is different depending on the type of adoption you are pursuing: foster-to-adopt, international adoption, or domestic adoption. They also differ by the state in which you live. But, the basics are the same: background checks, medical clearance by your physician, income tax filings, financial approval, in-home visits, interviews, and lots of paperwork. For most people, the idea of a home study seems really intimidating. A social worker coming into your home to look at the details of your life and deem you “worthy” of parenthood is a big deal. What if you fail?

In 2011, I was that person feeling nervous about failing our home study. I wasn’t sure what the visit would be like. Was the social worker going to look in our cupboards and closets? If towels weren’t perfectly folded, or if I missed wiping a dirty hand print off a door frame, would I be immediately disqualified? What about my old diagnosis of postpartum depression and subsequent prescription for depression medication? Was that going to put an end to our hopes? What about the interviews with our children? What were they going to say? You can’t ever predict what will come out of a child’s mouth. What if they say something totally bizarre? What about our finances? Do we have to be seen as “wealthy?” Because we aren’t. Is that going to be a problem?

The reality is, we are a normal family. We aren’t perfect. Our home isn’t spotless due to the fact that we live in it. We have closets that are crammed full of junk which is held in place by closed doors. Though we have a happy marriage, my husband and I don’t always get along, and my kids fight like all siblings do. Did I have to portray something we weren’t in order to pass our home study? I felt serious pressure to appear like the “perfect family.” We did all the preliminary stuff. We collected our financial documents, we visited the doctor for our physicals, we completed our background checks, and we filled out the never-ending paperwork. I cleaned like a mad woman. I wiped out the inside of kitchen cupboards, I organized closets, I scrubbed every corner of my home out of fear that a speck of dust might cause the social worker to think twice about recommending our family for adoption. I talked with my children about being polite and respectful, and begged them to please not fight while the social worker was in our home.

When the big day finally came, we did a walk-through of our home, but the social worker didn’t open a single closet. She looked in the bathrooms, but didn’t bother to inspect the corners to make sure all hairballs were gone. She made sure our smoke detectors worked and that our medicines and cleaning products were kept safely out of reach, but she did not look inside my oven to make sure I had thoroughly cleaned up the burnt remains of any overflowing dinners. In most ways, I was relieved, but in a tiny way, I was disappointed that all my hard work was going unnoticed.

Then, she sat down with our family for our interviews. She asked lots of questions about us, some directed at me and my husband, and some directed towards our children. The kids were well-behaved and answered appropriately. Despite the fact that my four-year-old son proclaimed his life’s ambition was to become a professional wrestler (yep, that is written in a legal document) our social worker was kind and relaxed. A couple hours later, she left, and I felt confident that we had miraculously passed. After about a month, it was confirmed, we were cleared to become a hopeful adoptive family.

Two years later, we found ourselves renewing our home study in order to adopt again. That time around, I wasn’t as worried. I knew we would pass our physicals and background checks. I was still a little nervous about our finances since we had yet to strike gold, but I figured we were probably okay. I cleaned my house well, but left the closets and cupboards alone, and once again, I asked my children to be polite and not to fight in front of the social worker. Though it was not as stressful of an experience, I still breathed a sigh of relief when the final word came that we had qualified for renewal.

Of course, not everyone passes their home study. You can be disqualified due to criminal history, medical issues, or severe financial problems. But, you don’t need to worry about failing your home study because of a stain on your living room carpet, or due to your four-year-old wanting to be the next John Cena. Most families are able to pass a home study. So don’t stress too much. Ask your social worker what to expect from the home visit, and prepare accordingly. You don’t have to be perfect. Just be yourself and let your unique traits shine through. Once the home study process is complete, you will be officially hoping to adopt.

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