Three years ago, after manyMANY hours flying halfway across the world, Elizabeth landed on U.S. soil. We had waited years for that moment, and it was indeed glorious. Parasite-poop, intense jet-lag, and all.
As any parent can attest, all of the pre-kid preparation in the world cannot fully prepare you for the journey of parenthood. There are some moments for which books just can’t do justice. Adoption is no different. Prior to Elizabeth’s arrival home, Matt and I read and we talked and we did training after training, and still, it didn’t take long to realize how much we didn’t know.
I’m often asked by families considering adoption what they can do to prepare as they wait to bring their child home. I always warn them that I am still a work in progress and still have so far to go, but I offer up what I have learned thus far into the journey. Here we go…
Dearest Potential Adoptive Parent,
1. I know you may be starry-eyed and sweetly idealistic. You’ve always dreamed of adopting, and now’s your time! I get it, believe me. But, hear me out. As you get started, I can’t urge you strongly enough: OPEN YOUR EYES. Widely. Especially if you’re planning on adopting internationally. Ask hard questions of your agency. If there are red flags, RUN. Fast. Because let me just tell you: it gets infinitely harder to flee after you have seen the darling face of a waiting child. After you “fall in love” with that face and you start seeing that waiting child as your child.
The good news is that there are some excellent agencies out there doing good, reputable work for children who truly need families. And that there are some countries whose governments are well-poised to handle international adoptions. The bad news is that some countries, quite honestly, have no business processing adoptions. They just don’t. And some agencies are doing really shady, completely unethical things. They operate under the guise that they’re for the children when, in reality, they’re All About the Benjamins. There’s so much more that can be said about this, but suffice it to say- do your research and proceed with caution.
2. Read! Need a few books to get you started? Glad you asked:
The Connected Child by Karyn Purvis. A must-read for every adoptive parent. Cannot recommend highly enough.
The Whole-Brain Child by Daniel Siegel
No-Drama Discipline, also by Daniel Siegel
Parenting the Hurt Child, by Gregory Keck and Regina Kupecky
These are just a few that have been hugely helpful in our own experience. While you’re adding these to your Amazon cart, go ahead and pull up Karyn Purvis’ website and marvel at the treasure trove of free videos. So much goodness and wisdom, right there at your disposal. For free. Overwhelmed by all of this right now? Bookmark her website. The day will come when you’ll ask yourself WWKPD (What Would Karyn Purvis Do?), and the answer likely lies within her site.
3. Get thyself in community with other adoptive parents. I don’t care if it’s In Real Life friends or On Facebook friends, you need others who get you. Who understand the struggles with attachment. Who nod in solidarity when you say, “my kid just said for the tenth time today that they don’t want to be in our family anymore and that they’re packing their bags to move back to China/Haiti/Congo.” Because, guess what, THEY’VE BEEN THERE TOO.
4. Ask for help. Help from friends when you just. need. a. break. Help from professionals when you feel stuck and like you’ve exhausted all your options. Help from schools when you feel like your child isn’t being well-served. This isn’t the time or place to act like you’ve got it all together. Parents who are drowning aren’t going to be much help to kids from hard places. Go ahead and identify people and resources within your community that can serve as your lifeboats. Write them down. And use them when you need them.
5. Adopting transracially? Alright people, this is important. I see and hear so much naivety here that it makes me shudder. (P.S. do you know how I can sniff out this aforementioned naivety so quickly? Because I have been there. I have certainly not “arrived” and am no expert, but I’m learning.)
Anyway. Allow me to pose a few questions. Do you think we should “all just be colorblind” and that we live in a “post-racial America”? That raising a little black boy or girl is no different than raising a child of your own race? Do you balk at the notion of “white privilege”? Well. I’m gonna need you to take a step back and start listening. Intently. To voices within the black community and to adult adoptees.
Get yourself in diverse environments. Seek out friendships with people of other races. If we, as white adoptive parents, are raising black children in completely homogenous environments, I believe we are doing them a huge disservice. Race matters. It matters a lot.
6. Have realistic expectations. We should not project expectations onto our adopted children that are unreasonable. There will be times when we’ll need to pull back. Times in which we’ll need to parent our kids from hard places in ways that stand in contrast to how we parent our biological kids. Times when attachment seems shaky and we have to go back into “cocoon mode.” Again.
There have been many times I’ve had to pull out old pictures of Elizabeth in the orphanage where she first lived. I’ve done so to remind myself of her history. Because, quite frankly, there have been moments I’ve thrown my hands up in frustration. Hot tears stinging my eyes, I’ve wondered, “What am I doing wrong? Why all these issues? Why the epic tantrums every. single. time. I leave her? I thought we nipped this in the bud a long time ago!” And then. The pictures never cease to bring me back to reality. To remind me that it all makes sense. Without fail, I am always the one who needs an attitude adjustment and a realignment of my expectations. The fault lies within me, not my hurting child.
7. Receive grace. As adoptive parents, we’re going to mess up. There are going to be some really imperfect days. We’re going to make racially insensitive comments. We’re going to yell when we should be connecting. Some of us may look back on our adoption process and agency and wonder if we may have contributed to corruption.
But grace. There’s enough to go around. Accept it and move on, learning along the way with a moldable, humble heart.
I’ve only been at this adoptive parent thing for a few years, and it’s been a wild ride. It has been, hands down, the most sanctifying experience of my life. At times, really hard. Painful. Because, as I’ve said many times before, all adoption begins with tragedy and loss.
But the beauty is that our God is a redemptive God. He restores broken hearts and can redeem messy situations. In the lives of our adopted kids. And in our own.
Potential adoptive parent, I’m rooting for you. As my sweet Elizabeth repeats on a daily basis, “We can do hard things.”