6 Adoption Do-Overs I’d Take If I Could.

We all wish we could go back in time and change something we did wrong, or didn’t do at all. While it’s not possible, we can certainly learn from past mistakes and grow as we move forward.

erasing past, hand written word on blackboard being erased concept

Oh how I wish time machines were real. Like, for real, real! I’m not even kidding. I’ll admit it openly here…I secretly watch Back To The Future with a bit of wishful thinking. I think through some of my royal screw-ups from the yester-years, shake my head, grit my teeth, and think, If only! If only I could hop into that glorious Delorean with Marty and bust a move back to that instance, that one moment, that day I said something I didn’t mean, or that traumatic fall out with one of our kids, and do things differently.

But alas…I can’t. The past is etched in eternal stone, never to be changed, reversed, or erased. As the saying goes, “It is what it is.” And there’s nothing I can do about it. There’s no such thing as a go-back-in-time-and-do-it-all-different button. It’s important for me to note right here that I would never call for a do-over on adoption itself. No way, no how. I love all of my precious kids deeply and am eternally grateful that I get to be their dad. I couldn’t imagine living life without any of them. Even the ones who’ve pushed us to the edge (or to consider binge-drinking).

But as I think about the past 15 years, all of our ups and downs, the desperate exhausting battles we’ve lived through, the secondary trauma we’ve endured, and the moments of enligtenment along the way, I realize, there are some do-overs I’d take if I could. I share these for one reason:

To speak hope and help into other’s adoption journey (especially if you’re just starting out)…

  1. I’d become trauma-informed. We’ve often said…becoming trauma informed is a game-changer. If I could give one piece of advice, above all, to folks just beginning the adoption, or foster care, journey it would be this: BECOME TRAUMA INFORMED. Understand the separation that every child goes through (whether privately adopted or adopted through the foster care system). Learn how that trauma manifests itself through behavior and how to handle it. Discover what children, who’ve come from difficult places, are really saying when they battle with you over the most minuscule thing. And, pay attention to how the trauma of one of your children is affecting your other children. If I could go back into time and whisper all of this to myself, all those years ago, when I was standing over my (then) 1-year old son as he raged on the floor for hours, I would. In a heartbeat!
  2. I’d press into veterans. We didn’t know many adoptive parents back in the day, but we did know a few who were older and wiser. If only I would have pressed into them more. If only I would have asked them to go for coffee or some lunch and taken the time to listen to their hearts and their perspectives on the journey. What exhausted them. What filled them up. You may have to choose cautiously on this one, but if you have the opportunity to sit down with an adoptive parent veteran and learn from them, do it. I wish I would have done more of this when we first began.
  3. I’d admit that I needed help much earlier on the journey. I spent the first several years “pulling myself up by my bootstraps,” and denying that we were in over our heads. Or that we were exhausted. It wasn’t until 8 years into the journey (yes, 8!) that we really discovered the power of a support community. There was a big part of me that was afraid to admit I needed help. I feared people saying things like, “We told you so,” or somehow accusing adoption of being bad, or me for choosing this path. We can fill ourselves up with a ton of fear that isn’t truth. They’re just lies disguised as truth.
  4. I’d be realistic about my role. When we first began the journey, I thought my role was two fold- rescuer and fixer. In my mind, these children were in desperate, dark, devastating places, and I, with all of my white suburban awesomeness, was called to swoop down (tear off my button down shirt and reveal my Superman emblem) and pull them out of certain annihilation. Complete with explosions, a cheering crowd, and a riveting score by an orchestra. Okay, okay, I’m exaggerating a bit, but I really saw myself as rescuer and fixer. And while some of my kids did come from some desperate places, I wasn’t their rescuer. I’ve discovered in the years since, that my role is not to fix and rescue. My role is to love unconditionally and lead.
  5. I’d focus more attention on self-care. Every now and then I look at pictures from the first 5-8 years of our journey. I was terribly out of shape and overweight. I had high cholesterol, and was tired all the time. We were up to our elbows in dealing with children from traumatic places, and lots of ups and downs from a foster care system that was a mess. But the truth is, when I’m really honest, I did a terrible job of taking care of me. Both of us did. We ate terribly, and never took advantage of respite care. I am such a big believer in self-care today, that I would not only go back in time and tell myself this, I’d probably slap myself around until I fully understood.
  6. I’d give way to compassion. It’s not that I wasn’t a compassionate person 15 years ago, it’s that I needed to give myself fully to it. I needed to respond with compassion when the child who was dropped off at our house in the middle of the night with just his PJ’s on and a garbage back full of smoke saturated belongings was screaming at 3 am. I know, that’s a hard thing to remember when you’re in the moment. But I wish I could go back in time, tap on my shoulder, and remind myself of how much of their situation I could never understand because I grew up in a relatively healthy family environment. If I could do it over again, I’d step fully to the side and allow compassion to lead the way.

No, you can’t change the past. But you can certainly learn from it, and change the way you do things moving forward. We can’t change all that we didn’t know and understand about our son’s trauma when he first came into our care. But we can change the way we relate to him, and parent him, today.

Do overs (even the wishful thinking ones) are only as good as the commitment you make to move forward a changed person. Remember that the next time you fantasize (like me) about jumping in the Delorean with Marty!

Question: Do you wish you could have an adoption do-over? Share your story with us in the comment section below. You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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  • Allisonm

    Great post and an important thing to talk about. In my experience, one of the biggest obstacles to moving forward can be the fear of facing the mistakes I’ve made before I’ve known better–or worse, after I’ve known better, but haven’t yet mastered the ability to do better consistently.

    There’s an old saying that goes, “Let’s not worry about how the donkey got into the ditch; let’s just get him out.” Sometimes I have to set aside self-recrimination long enough to get onto a better path. From there, I can constructively review my past and get prepared do better as those future do-over opportunities come along. I find that I do not do my best thinking and learning when I’m stuck in the mud at the bottom of the ditch. And those other people who help me get dislodged and back on solid ground are often amazing sources of insight and encouragement. Walking arm-in-arm with fellow travelers makes it much easier to stay out of ditches.

    • Fear is such an imposing force. You are not alone. Thanks for sharing here.

  • Jennifer Brown

    Love the article. We do wish we would’ve known more about how to handle behaviors that come from children from hard places. It has taken us 5 years to figure out that we need to connect more with people who are in the trenches with us or at least understand where we are coming from. We are also realizing that we need respite more than ever and self care.

    • So glad you liked the post. Respite can be such a hard thing sometimes but so needed.

  • Zazu22

    I have no idea why trauma training isn’t mandatory BEFORE we become foster parent. Many of us give up on placements because we just don’t know how to handle the child(ren) and non one offers any support. The children who don’t have homes are the ones who suffer.

    • We couldn’t agree with you more! 😉

  • MommaT

    oh my goodness. It feels like you are in my brain! 7 1/2 years in I wish that we were told, taught or even given any clue as to what trauma looked, and that we needed a larger support system and respite! As you wrote, it was apparent to everyone around us, but took us years of “pulling up our bootstraps” to realize just how badly this was affecting our mental and physical health. Respite is huge, as is the smallest acts of self-care. Thank you for writing this piece!