By Mary Ostyn, author of
Forever Mom: What to Expect When You’re Adopting
If you're embarking on the great adventure that is adoptive parenting, chances are good that you wonder just how much you don't know at this point. Will it feel different than parenting a child born to you? Will your child love you? What new tools, if any, will you need? Here are just a few things I've learned in nearly two decades of parenting six children who came to us through adoption.
- The best reason to adopt is because you want to parent a child, not because you want to support the cause of adoption or to rescue someone. Kids don't need to feel like projects. They need to know they're precious members of the family.
- Yes, it is possible to love your adopted child every bit as much as if the two of you shared the same DNA. Think about your spouse, or your very best friend in the world. Our hearts are not limited by our genes.
- Don't be surprised, however, if falling in love with your adopted child takes some time. Sometimes you and your child will fall in love within days. Sometimes building attachment can take years. Either way, it's a blessed, worthwhile journey and a great adventure. These precious kids are worth every minute of time and work and love and attention you put into them.
- Also remember that adding a new family member changes your family in an irrevocable way. You won't ever get 'back to normal’. There will be a new normal, and it will look different, just as your family now looks different. But the new normal will be wonderful too.
- When kids are newly home, it's important to keep expectations low. The huge changes in their life right now leave them with fewer coping skills and less ability to meet your expectations. Keep everyone safe. Encourage kind interactions. Do lots of nurturing.
- In the first months, be sure that you're the one who gives your child goodies and treats. Not grandma. Not the aunties. Not the baby-sitter. You want to establish that the parents are the givers of good things.
- If your child expresses a longing to be with his first family or to know them better, remember this isn't a slight against you. This is about him and his lost relationship with his first family. Your child's expression of those feelings is actually a great vote of trust in you. Children may need to revisit their feelings about adoption repeatedly during their growing-up years as they become increasingly able to understand abstract concepts. Welcome these conversations, and ask gentle questions about their feelings when there are natural openings for such conversations.
- Many adopted children hide deep feelings of inadequacy. Deep down they often fear that their first relationship ruptured because of something they did, or because of who they were. Remind them often of how precious they are to you, and make sure they know that their preciousness is not dependent on their behavior.
- Not all children will show symptoms of loss, but as your child grows, it is important to be willing to explore your child's feelings and experience as a person who was adopted. Be gentle. Be curious. Be brave. And don't assume you already know how your child feels.
- Parents (even experienced ones) may need to learn new skills – skills that might be non-essential when parenting kids born into your family, but crucially important to the emotional success and healing of adopted children.
- Two concepts are hugely important in adoptive parenting: high structure, high nurture. Often parents are good at one or the other: adopted kids need both to feel safe and to thrive. It's wise to think about which of those concepts is easier for you, and work on getting stronger at the other
- You're going to need support on this adventure. Gather a team of people who understand the unique challenges of adoptive parenting or who are willing to listen and learn. Friends, family, therapists, internet support groups can all encourage you along this challenging journey.
- You will find that raising these precious children will grow you as much as it grows them. Keep being willing to learn. Keep your sense of humor, and your sense of wonder about the amazing gift that is your child.
- God is the one who brought you and your child together. He also is the best guide on the adventure of parenthood. Stay in the Word, and seek God's guidance as you parent your precious one, trusting that He loves that child even more than you do. He will carry on His good work in both your lives.
Mary Ostyn is the author of Forever Mom: What to Expect When You’re Adopting (Nelson Books, October 2014). Mary and her husband John live in Idaho where they are parents to ten children, including four daughters from Ethiopia and two sons from Korea. Mary blogs at www.owlhaven.net.
Visit www.ForeverMomBook.com for more information.