How To Survive The First Few Years Of The Adoption Journey.

You got into this because you were passionate about loving children. But you soon found out, the journey is more difficult than you anticipated. How do you survive the first year or 2 of the adoption journey?

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It’s the early hours of a Monday morning when I open my laptop to check email. The glowing light of my screen is the only light in my quiet house. The sun hasn’t even begun its ascent over the treeline in our backyard.

After a long weekend, and mostly ignoring email or social media for a few days, I’ve got tons of new mail. I give my inbox a quick scan, selecting a multitude of Spam messages to feed my hungry Trash folder. There at the bottom of New Messages I spot it. A personal email with a Subject that says it all- “I need help!”

Her storyline is one I’ve heard a million times over the past 15 years of personally traveling the adoption journey:

…We decided to adopt.
…And got really, really excited.
…Filled out all of the paperwork.
…Chose foster-to-adopt to save money.
…Jumped in with a full heart.
…Brought home a beautiful baby girl…a sibling group.
…Realized pretty quickly how hard this journey is.
…At the end of my rope. Questioning my choice. Need help!

I get it. I really do. We were just 2 years into our journey when everything started to fall apart on us. We were head over heels in love with our children, but there were many things we weren’t prepared for, didn’t know, or didn’t do when we first began. Our hearts were full, but we quickly became tired. We too needed help.

The journey can be long, uphill, and filled with ups and downs that feel like a punch in the gut. I would love to tell you that all you need to do is focus on loving your child and everything will work out. But, that’s just not reality…for the adoption journey….or the parenting journey in general. You will never be fully prepared, but there are some key steps we’ve learned to help make the first few years of the adoption journey less stressful and more meaningful…

  1. Seek Community. You and I were never meant to travel this road alone. The adoption journey is beautiful, amazing, and adventurous. But it can also become extremely difficult. Most of the world won’t understand the unique trials and tribulations we go through. We need others around us who understand, are in the same trench as us, will never judge us regardless of the situation, and help us grow. When everything falls apart, your child is out of control, or you’re dealing with a foster care system that yanks you around like a bullwhip, a strong support community can get you through it.
  2. Grow in your knowledge of trauma and attachment. Your child has come from trauma, even if they were adopted privately and their birth mother took care of herself. There’s still deep loss. The person who carried them in her womb for 9 months is now gone. But imagine how deeper this loss is when your child has come from the foster care system or an orphanage in another country. This trauma can play out in their behavior, poor choices, refusal to attach themselves to you in a healthy manner, or more. If we could go back, 15 years in the past, and learn one thing, it would be how to parent children from traumatic places. Trauma-informed care and knowledge of attachment issues can be a game-changer in relating to your child, and helping them form healthy bonds with your family.
  3. Carve out time for you. I can’t stress the importance of this enough. Parenting takes the life out of you and consumes your time regardless of what type of parent you are, but the adoption journey can take extra out of you. When you bring children into your home who have come from difficult places, you will be in an uphill climb almost daily with their special needs. It can wear on you fast. If you want to survive the first few years and beyond, intentionally carve out an hour or two, or three each week (or each day, if you can) to be alone.
  4. Guard your child’s story. There will be a lot of people who ask a lot of questions, often in the first year of your adoption journey. When we first adopted, our daughter was black and we were white. This prompted a lot of questions. Most were appropriate but several were completely inappropriate. But, her adoption in general caused people to speculate because it was an adoption. There was an automatic assumption that her birth mother was in some sort of trouble, in prison, or in jail. Even though this wasn’t the case at all, we shared very few details on her adoption.We realized pretty quickly that most of the world around us did not understand adoption, or why people choose to adopt. My daughter’s story was her story, and ours. Bottom line! We didn’t owe any explanation to anyone and neither do you. The last thing you want is someone walking up to your child someday and sharing intimate details of his or her story. Guard their story!
  5. Invest in your relationships. It’s easy to feel isolated on the journey. Even more so, it’s easy to slowly fade into a place of isolation. Because of the unique nature of this journey, and especially if you’ve adopted children from traumatic pasts, it becomes easy to distance yourself from friendships, even your own marriage or partnership. The most important thing you can do during the first few years especially, is invest in key relationships. Carve out time for date night with your spouse, or significant other. Keep regular coffee or cocktail dates with your best friend.

Here’s what I want you to know, if you’re in your first year or two of the adoption journey….

It’s a beautiful and fulfilling journey! Your children are precious and they’re YOURS! Your family has been uniquely designed to do exactly what you’re doing. But, the journey will become difficult. Sometimes, it will be difficult for long periods of time. You can do this, however. You are strong enough. The way your family is designed is perfect. There’s no mistake. As you focus on the children you’ve been blessed with, be intentional about caring for yourself and investing in relationships that can keep you healthy on the journey!

Question: Are you in your first few years of the adoption journey? How are you holding up? Share with us in the comment section below. You can leave a comment by clicking here.

(This post originally appeared on Mike’s column on Babble.com)

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  • Priscilla Graham

    After 20 years of raising our three daughters we felt led to open up our home and our hearts to foster/adopt. We were all excited and then somewhat traumatized when we took on a 14 yr old BOY with ADHD and other issues. Fast forward 4 months and he is off all of his medications (mood stabilizers and anti-depressants) which he has been taking since he was around 6 years old.

    Now the work begins with school. Since most of his triggers happen in classroom situations and he was placed in a transitional school for children with behavioral issues, we decided to remove these obstacles and have a go at a more customized form of education by having him do most of his learning at home. With fear and trembling we will be starting tomorrow. This could be a complete failure, or it could be the best thing anyone has ever done for him. Only God knows.

    Thank you for writing and sharing your knowledge, experience and journey with us. I always feel encouraged and strengthened by your blog!!

    • Allisonm

      We have to start from where we are with our children. My adopted 7th-grader has severe PTSD, in-utero alcohol and drug exposure, and a host of other issues. The full-time school environment is overwhelming and he reacts with extreme behavior. He already knows how to fail academically and behaviorally in school and doesn’t need any more practice at being unsuccessful. Last year, after six IEP’s in three months, we brought him home for most of his day, sending him to school for only an hour during his easiest time of day. He worked one-on-one with his SpEd teacher on reading. Meanwhile, he was able to discontinue all of his meds but sleep meds (too much nighttime trauma in his past to sleep unassisted) without any deterioration in his ability to cope. At home and in therapy, we worked on coping and developing a more secure attachment. He went from throwing furniture to being able to use words to express himself. In summer school, we added math and gradually increased to two hours per session. He held it together and continued to learn how to cope successfully with school. Now, he goes two hours per day, including one small-group reading class and individual math instruction. He has had no problems at school and doesn’t avoid going. Next quarter, we may add a third hour for an elective like Art or something else my son would enjoy–just to increase his time and get him into more contact with other students.

      If we don’t start from where we are and practice success, we just continue to get better at failure. We opted not to go with a behavioral school because our son’s problem is not his behavior, but the underlying trauma and neurological damage that give rise to his behavior. We are working toward healing–despite that this puts us on a very non-traditional road. The proof is in the academic and emotional progress few people ever thought he would accomplish.

      I encourage you to keep an open mind as you begin this new path with your son. It may not go as you hope, but that won’t necessarily mean that it’s not working. I had a hard time trying to teach my son academics, despite that I have a professional degree. He was singularly uncooperative. Yet being at home with me allowed him to fill in gaps in his maturation process, many of which dated back to very early childhood. It was then that we started seeing academic progress and a rapid increase in social and coping skills. God bless you and your son on this journey.

    • We are so glad to hear that you are encouraged and strengthened!

  • Danielle Pugh

    We are a approaching 4 years. And after saying goodbye to 4 little ones and 28 months into placement we are preparing for another goodbye. Feels like we are standing at stop sign and you can either turn left or right. One way is turn right “it’s not gods plan for us to adopt” and the other “maybe he has many more children that we are meant to care for”. Currently my heart is not rebounding as quick as it did in the beginning.

    • Danielle, our hearts are breaking for you. This is so painful. If we could wrap our arms around you we would. Hang in there. You are not alone.

  • Teresa Bostwick

    Hi! I was referred here from our adoption worker. We are currently in the process of adopting a nine-year-old boy. He has been in our home for 10 months but I have known him for three years. I was his nurse case manager through Department of family services. After watching him blow placements and adoptive
    resources as well as be heavily medicated. I spoke with my family about bringing him home. I knew going into this it was not going to be easy. But what we have been dealing with continuously was not expected. I hoped for some improvement but have not gotten any. It seems that he is who he is and no amount of
    consistency, love, discipline can help him. We are beating ourselves up internally emotionally and even have thoughts as to follow through with the adoption or not.

    • Hey Teresa, welcome to Confessions! We are so glad you found us. Gosh, we totally understand the uphill climb you’re facing. Sometimes you won’t see the silver lining of this journey for years. Hang in there. You are not alone!

  • Natalie Mcbane

    Thank you for this article it reminds me that I am not the only person that has adopted a child to have these feelings when your feeling overwhelmed!! We adopted 2 babies about 3 weeks apart. Your right people don’t understand i get questions all the time…”how do you do it? I wouldn’t be able to do foster care id get to attatched” or because I have 3 birth children they ask, “why did you want to adopt more kids”?? It’s great to have support and other foster or adoption family’s who understand.

    • Natalie Mcbane

      Oh and the other question “were they drug babies”?

      • Oh man, we understand this. Thanks so much for sharing your heart here.

  • Michael cormier

    Hi there,
    My wife and I are in the middle of a situation right now where we too got into the foster care system to adopt. We are from Massachusetts and have found that the system feels like it’s stacked against us. Over a year ago we brought a little boy into our home and have loved and raised him like he was our own. We have now been told that the state will be taking him away because of his birth parents progress. Every time we turn around it seems like the department is working against what we feel is really in the child’s best interest. We have done everything we can to fight it, but our voices are being mostly ignored. I was wondering if there was anyone from Massachusetts who had started a support group for people like us? Our hearts are breaking but we are equally angry at the system and how it works. If anyone has any advice as to who we can talk to it would be greatly appreciated.

    • Hey Michael, thanks so much for reaching out. This is a tough road. I am sorry you’re going through this. While we wish we could point you in a solid direction, we unfortunately do not know of any support systems or groups in Massachusetts. I recommend doing a google search in your area for foster or adoptive support groups. You could also try a Facebook search. We are working over here to develop some resources that will help folks like you out but we won’t release it until after the New Year. However, if you email me I can give you a backdoor link into our online parenting series called The Resting Place. You’ll find my email up in the About Us tab at the top of this page. Hang in there.

    • Allisonm

      I am so sorry you are going through this. It is one of the most painful aspects of foster care. Best interests of the child is not the sole standard for determining whether parents get their children back. If it were, the government logically could take everyone’s children into care, then redistribute them to parents the government thought would meet each child’s best interests. Fortunately, all of us have a constitutional right to parent our biological and adopted children unless our parenting falls below a certain standard and we fail to remedy that within legal time frames. This is well-settled law and is unlikely to change. Yet for the foster family who has poured heart and soul into a foster child, there is a well of grief over losing a child they had hoped to adopt.

      We intended only to adopt and were willing only to take an adoptive placement. Despite that, we accepted our children as a legal risk placement, knowing that their parents still had rights and that though highly unlikely in our case (reunification services had been terminated years ago), we could lose our children until the ink was dry on the adoption decree. We determined that if our children were going to go back before then, that we would support their reunification with their parents in every way that we could out of love for our children. Their parents did nothing and we are now our children’s parents. But I don’t think I slept soundly for the whole sixteen months it took to finalize. Again, I’m so sorry that you are going through this painful situation and hope you find peace and community to walk through this with.