5 Emotions Every Adoptive Parent Goes Through

And how to overcome the bad ones

The adoption process can bring about a roller coaster ride of emotions. Over the past 13 years we’ve experienced more than we can count. From the excitement of beginning the journey, to the trails you face later. It’s real and can be all consuming. How do you ride this wild ride and keep your sanity?

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In the winter of 2002 we sat in the empty choir room of a large church on the north side of Indianapolis, listening to a woman talk about adoption. The idea both excited and terrified us. At a friend’s advice we showed up for the meeting. After some time to process all we had heard, we began filling out the lengthy paperwork. That was also the beginning of the roller coaster of emotions we would ride for the next several years.

Our first adoption took place in April, 2002. I’ll never forget driving away from the hospital, the day our daughter was born. She had rested in our arms just a couple of hours earlier. I was the first person to feed her and together we changed her first diaper. But now, she was back in her birth mother’s room for the night and we were told to go home. Kristin cried in the passenger seat. I just peered down the road before me as I drove to the north side of Indianapolis. We were terrified that she was going to change her mind and keep our baby. Neither of us slept that night. Fortunately, our worst fears were not confirmed. Our daughter’s birth mother did not change her mind, and 2 days later we drove home with our brand new baby feeling relieved.

Two years later our family had grown again as we welcomed a sibling group into our home through foster care. After several months it became clear that they would be staying with us permanently. And again, we were excited. One afternoon the excitement came to a screeching halt when we received a phone call from our case manager, telling us that an aunt in Virginia was able to take them.

The stress we went through was overwhelming. The emotion I felt that sunny afternoon was nothing short of desperation. If you’ve ever been in a life situation where you felt as though you were spinning out of control and couldn’t stop yourself, that’s how I felt. Thankfully, that also did not happen and today they are permanently part of our family.

The Roller-Coaster Ride Of Your Life.

There’s no question the adoption process brings many different emotions. Every parent knows there will be a measure of stress. Most of us are just not prepared for the abundance of conflicting emotions. It’s like getting on a roller coaster you’ve never ridden before. You’ve been told that it’s a wild ride, with a lot of twists and turns, drops and loops, but you’re still walking into the unknown.

And there you are, bouncing between happiness, fear, grief, frustration, and joy. They come in and out of your journey unexpectedly and can leave you breathless.

  1. Happiness. Adoption is one of the most fulfilling experiences you can go through in life. When you decide to do this, your heart is full. When you bring your child home for the first time, your heart goes from full to overflowing. This is the emotion you have to remember when the days get dark.
  2. Fear. This emotion comes in many different forms. It’s a fear of the system (if you are fostering to adopt), fear that birth parents will change their minds, fear that your child will grow up to resent you and want their “other” parent, or fear of the unknown.
  3. Grief. Believe it or not, many post-adoptive parents go through grief. We experienced this after our first daughter’s adoption was final. In the months following her birth we found ourselves feeling sad for her birth mother. The deeper we fell in love with this precious baby, the more we realized the level of loss that her birth mother must have been feeling. We grieved for her.
  4. Frustration. If I had a dollar for every time I have been frustrated with the adoption and foster care process, I’d be writing this post from my beach house in the Caribbean! All parents experience frustration to some degree.
  5. Joy. This is different from happiness. It’s easy get the two mixed up. Joy is not an abundance of happiness. Rather, it’s a confidence that, even through the storms of life, things are going to be okay. Our joy comes from our trust in Jesus. We know that He’s holding on to our family so, even when we are walking through the darkness, we know He’s in control.

Working Through The Emotion.

How do you overcome emotions such as frustration, fear and grief? It would be nice to only experience happiness on the adoption journey but that’s not realistic. While there’s really no way to completely escape negative emotions, there are ways to overcome them and keep on living.

  • Accept it as normal. Fear, grief, frustration..they’re all normal. No where is it written that life will go completely according to plan. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Accept this as part of life. While you can never fully escape them, you can learn to manage and live with these emotions. We’ve learned this- Fear and frustration are only as powerful as you allow them to be in your life.
  • Be vocal with trusted people. Open up the mouth God gave you and speak. Find a few friends that you can sit down with and dump your negative emotions. Make sure they can be trusted. The last thing you, or your family, needs is someone gossiping about you or spreading your family’s personal business.
  • Find community. It is vital to find community. In this adoption-popular era, most cities and towns across the US have post-adoptive services, support groups and classes you can take part in. Check out your local churches, adoption agencies or ask at your child’s school.

Finally, let me say this- don’t be discouraged. Hang in there. Trust me, if we can weather the emotions of the last 13 years, you can too! It’s not easy, but as the old saying goes… nothing worth doing is. Adoption is worth every emotion you go through

If you’re an adoptive parent we would love to hear from you. Share your story with us and some of the emotions you’ve gone through on your journey.

Question: What are some emotions you’ve faced on this journey and how have you overcome? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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  • Arlen Miller

    Congrats. I’m delighted to see your new website. I’m listening to your story on Platform U. We adopted our first son this year. It has been wonderful. Thanks for writing and putting yourself out there.

    • Thanks so much Arien. Glad you like it and glad you are learning from Platform U. So cool to hear that you adopted. So awesome.

  • AcadiaM

    Thank you so much for writing this. I just found your website and when I saw the heading “Offering Hope for Families in the Trenches” tears welled up in my eyes. We are so in the trenches right now and I am struggling to cope with the roller-coaster emotions. We have been fostering a little boy for 15 months and his brother for 6 months. We have almost lost them a couple of times, yet they have remained with us as we began to prepare for adoption. TPR paperwork was about to be filed when birth mom suddenly popped back into the picture after her second long absence and wants the kids. Now we are basically starting over. We have no idea how long this will drag out, how long the mom will stay in the picture, or if she will actually do enough to get the kids. We feel like our whole life is on hold in a never-ending wait for either adoption or to say goodbye to the kids we love so much. This is our first foster placement and such an eye-opener to the whole foster care system.

    • Ahhh, you are most welcome! So glad you found us. We know exactly how you feel. We’ve been there. Hang in there. We’re in your corner.

  • Amber S

    We have been fostering for 7 years…our adopted son came at 3 months old with a left femur fracture and 9 broken ribs from infant abuse by drug addicted dad and mom. I had to do visits with bio-mom the first 4 months and my emotions were a mess. God gave me the grace and love to show her…I certainly didn’t want to give her this. Thankfully she surrendered rights. I still struggle with emotions of fear, frustration, anger, guilt, many days as he has many developmental delays, high sensory issues, ADHD, And possible autism at 4years old. He is a joy but very difficult. My emotions of taking care and loving him are full hearted love and joy. But I struggle with frustration as I am dealing daily with issues because of choices bio-mom made. It makes me sad for my son…he struggles in so many ways because of drug exposure, abuse, neglect of food, etc. Learning to control my emotions has been the hardest part of fostering and adoption…but Surrenduring myself daily is part of walking in Christ.

    • Hey Amber, wow…what an unbelievable story. We completely understand being frustrated with behavior stemming from bad choices that a birth mother made. We have two sons who have FASD. I have dealt with serious anger in the past over this- anger with birth mom. Hang in there. You’re not alone!