5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Adopting - Part One

SELF * Friends & Family * Adopted Child * Birth Family * Outside Factors

We’ve all heard someone say: “If only my younger self knew then what my older self knows now. Perhaps you’ve even been the one to say it! Well, this includes many parts of life and adoption is no different. I’ve interviewed a number of people who have walked the adoption journey (some more than once) and have gathered some choice pieces of wisdom to impart to all of you. Please comment below with any advice you think would be helpful as well as each topic is posted.

I’ve decided to first focus on you, the would-be adoptive parent. So often adoption is painted as a shiny beautiful act that should be aspired to. Many people walk into it with an abundance of hope and love and put everything else to the side. What I’ve learned, is you need to make sure you are taken care of first, and taken care of well. This is not to say that only near-perfect people should endeavor to adopt, but I am saying you need to not forget about your own wellbeing. If you’ve ever flown before, you know you are to put your oxygen mask on first, and then help your child put their mask on. So, here are the top five things you should know about adoption with YOU in mind.

1. Be honest with yourself.

As you start the adoption process, you’ll be asked a myriad of questions about what “type” of child you are interested in and/or willing to adopt. Immediately, your answers might be all-encompassing, because you just want a child to love and nurture and it doesn’t matter what they look like, their disabilities, or their family background. And initially, this is true. But adoption is forever, and you need to do the work to discover what you want, and what you are willing to sacrifice. Knowing your limits or boundaries will help you down the road when are confronted with crossing them. One parent confessed that after going down the road of adoption with one child, as they learned more and more about this child, they realized they were feeling overwhelmed, anxious, and scared. After finally voicing this to the adoption agency they were informed there was initially another family interested in this child and it would be better to let go now than adopt with this foundation. They let go, the child was adopted by another family, and they found a child that they felt more comfortable and confident about. And on that note, be graceful with yourself. Every. Step. Of. The. Way. You will learn things about yourself that you never thought you would. Surround yourself with loving and supportive people and do not be afraid, ashamed, or guilty about what you are learning. This is healthier for everyone involved.

2. Surround yourself with the right encouragement

Even though we want to believe our friends and family are exactly what we need, they will invariably come up short. (More on this in the next piece.) The right encouragement starts with the Bible. Steep yourself in the Word of God first. As one mom pointed out: “Satan hates adoption because it is a story about redemption and reconciliation.” Satan will mentally and emotionally attack you, causing you to doubt everything. Anything from if you responded to your child well, to if you are equipped to raise your child. You might even question if you “picked the right child”. Stop it. Shut Satan down by reading God’s Word and praying continually. The second step to finding the right encouragement is to fill your circle of friends with other’s who have adopted. This will give you a safe place to say things out loud that you might not want to say out loud to those who haven’t gone through what you are experiencing. Solidarity. It helps. Luckily, if you’ve found someone else who has adopted, you’ve most likely found someone who will be there for you. One mom started by saying: “I love encouraging people no matter where they are in the adoption spectrum. God could be planting seeds for people to adopt one day or maybe they will not adopt but they will have friends who adopt a child someday. Or maybe their children will choose to adopt and we will be supporting them through an adoption! We all can grow in understanding adoption-related issues!”

3. You are not a hero

This might seem harsh, but a savior-complex is often bundled along with the shiny aura given to adoption. You are not saving your child. Perhaps the child came from different circumstances than the ones you will be providing them, but Jesus alone is our Savior. Not you. Not me. Not the adoption agency. Noone but Jesus. Although everyone who brought this up during the interview process didn’t claim to come into adoption with this in mind - they did say that their friends and family often put this weight on their shoulders. Be clear (with yourself and others) that you are not rescuing this child, but merely building your family in an unconventional way. Positioning the adoptive parent as the hero can unintentionally position the birth parent as the villain. God’s plan is for good for all parties involved. In a later post, I’ll talk more about the birth family and how this is all entwined.

4. Secondary trauma is real

All adoption stems from loss, and this will show up in untold ways. As you watch and do what you can to help your child process this loss at various stages in their life, you can experience what is known as secondary trauma. Not only are you getting hurt as your child is sorting through their own pain, but over time you can internalize this pain as well. Moreover, this can lead to emotional burnout or “compassion fatigue”. There is a wealth of information about this and I don’t pretend to be a psychologist. I recommend doing your own research to help you guard against this. And above all, there is zero shame in getting a counselor for yourself. One parent said it was a revelation to realize their child wasn’t the only one who needed counseling. Remember, care for yourself so you can care for the child.

5. It’s hard. But it’s so worth it

Adoption presses you in every imaginable way. It will press your identity, your marriage, your friendships, your family relationships, your work, your finances, your children… everything. If your spouse isn’t on board, wait. Make sure the two of you are on the same page. Don’t add more stress and possible loss to your and your child’s future. If you don’t feel secure in your finances, wait. If your health isn’t where you want it, wait. I am not ever saying to not adopt if adoption has been placed on your heart. God is calling you for a reason. But part of His reason could be some preemptive healing for you: in your self-esteem, your marriage, your finances, and more. Not one person I spoke with said they wished they hadn’t adopted. Not one person I spoke with said they would discourage others from adopting. But everyone did say it was harder than they thought it would be. Worth it - 100% worth every moment, but hard too.

It is our hope in sharing these words of wisdom from those who have gone before you, to better equip this next generation of adoptive parents. The next post will be all about your family and friends: their intention to help and support might not always feel that way, and what to do. Until then, keep reading the Bible, praying for yourself, your child, and their birth family. God has big things in store for you!

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