Five Places to Help You and Your Child Adjust Post-Adoption:
How I Learned to Survive and Thrive Beyond the Honeymoon Phase
When the lights go down, paperwork is signed, and you are a parent, so many millions of words fill your mind. Joy, peace, excitement, bliss, as all the beautiful feelings course through your bones. But if you’re at all like me, some days the words and emotion you feel may be fear and a complete understanding of the responsibility behind raising a child.
I have never forgotten the day it all overwhelmed me. In the middle of the biggest foster care storm I had ever seen, my mother (What would I do without her?) and I sat on the kitchen floor. We grieved the lack of resources we had to care for a child with a disability. An earth-shattering realization helped us accept that the little angel gracing my home needed far more medical care than we were trained to give or financially able to offer at the time.
Compounded with several other experiences, doubt gnawed at my dreams. How could I be part of an adoption and do it all on my own after the sparkle wore off and we were home? I did not feel qualified to care for myself, much less anyone else, after what felt like a failure of epic proportions. Consequently, I ran from my desire to love a child through adoption. The child would inevitably need medical care, therapy, a soccer team—all things I was not prepared to provide. Now in the sweet little girl’s case, court proceedings brought her a medical home where she thrived and eventually learned to speak, play, and attach to her caregivers in a healthy manner. But even with a happy ending, the fear stemming from my prior inadequacy paralyzed me for years to come. Although the foster care system is considered broken by many, there are checks and balances behind every step. I was never truly on my own. That fact acted like a security net—even if it was thin, at times unfair, and heartbreaking.
I felt like nobody would understand my fear of the unknown. Crazily enough, no matter how much it felt like I was on a solo mission to the end of the world, others were in the very same trenches. Although the shame and pain isolated me, a countless number of people all experienced similar emotions. A quick search in the forums at Adoption.com revealed pages and pages of people who were afraid of failure and every possible negative outcome. Men and women in every situation—whether they were expectant, waiting for court results, or meeting their child for the first time—all poured their hearts out.
But there were also parents of every kind who were full of courage and facing every terrifying element of fear with faith and genuine wisdom. They articulated the kind of bravery that didn’t necessarily slay a lion or develop an instantaneous immunity to fear but they were brave enough to step up and love. That bravery cured my original problem of summoning the necessary courage to venture into uncharted and unregulated territory. They scaled the mountains I so desperately wanted to climb.
After several years and changes, my family decided the world of adoption wasn’t so scary if we proceeded with a strong community. Yet the initial spark of courage was short-lived, because what happened when the initial walk-through of paperwork with countless signatures and approvals ended? I needed resources for after the dust settled and real life set in, full of dirty socks and possible tears. Once the adoption process for our three boys began, we sought out direction and a lot of preparation to settle our worries. If I could find ways to get help for my family as we grew, the unknown would not end up being quite so daunting. So without further ado, here are five steps you can take to get help with your child after an adoption:
1.) Check in with your agency for post-adoptive services.
Make sure you keep in touch with your agency about post-adoptive resources. If you adopted internationally, go through the enormous folder of plans the agency probably made you design, marvel in both the wisdom and innocence of pre-adoptive you, and try to apply some of those resources. Now, if life went perfectly along with the color-coded and bullet-pointed plan, it would be much less stressful. Yet, where would the fun in total order be? Orchestrating adoptions take a lot of grace, and agencies consequently navigate through referrals and recommendations for various support services with much more ease than any normal human. Needless to say, an agency’s help is invaluable.
2.) You can reach out to a local church with an adoption support group.
I have been completely shocked and filled with gratitude by the number of churches in the South that offer specially trained resources for child care, support groups, and attachment friendly services. Faith communities can offer so much hope that you aren’t doing this alone and can help you keep your sanity in crazy seasons. As the old quote goes, it certainly does take a village. But as much as your adopted and biological children are equal members of your family, parenting looks incredibly different for both. Parenting a child who has been adopted is a new and exciting experience! Don’t minimize its difficulty and differences from other adoptions, births, or needs you have seen before. Community is crucial to survival and development! Wherever you can find edifying, loving, and healthy relationships is a place worth connecting.
3.) Check out your city’s plans or programs for adoptive families.
It is super easy to use a database and find resources within your state. In the golden age of the internet, how could I get through an article without pointing toward the net’s accessibility? The Child Welfare Information Gateway supplies a list of options by state and necessity! If you’re looking for financial resources or options, they are a great place to check. Depending on your family’s ability to contribute and your child’s needs, try searching for specific grants or programs for their age range or need. You can also apply for programs and clubs within your city that are not specifically adoption related to build connections with other families with similar interests or limitations. There is strength in diversity but there is also camaraderie found in relating to parents and children in comparable situations.
4.) Find an adoption counselor who fits your child’s needs.
This point deserves some subsections of its own, please bear with me!
– First, if I could pay for each and every person across the world to receive therapy, I definitely would. Whether you are feeling completely overwhelmed every day, seeing concerning behaviors, or looking to improve relationships, I’d truly say counseling was transformational in my family’s dynamic. Therapy can help everyone process big emotions and feelings surrounding change, identity, and other topics.
– Secondly, because this point is so near and dear to my heart, the marks of a good counselor: ideally a counselor will help your child and yourself learn to process life as it comes. They may be able to help you honor the past as it is a crucial part of your child’s identity. Counseling offers another opportunity to construct boundaries to maintain and build healthy relationships with the present.
– Finally, if you had a bad experience with a counselor or didn’t feel like you clicked with one’s specific style, I’d encourage you to remember that a doctor-patient relationship is like a pair of good shoes. While some people may rock a specific style or pair, it doesn’t mean it’s a perfect fit for you. As Crystal Perkins wrote in an article to birth parents seeking counseling, “Not every counselor will be beneficial for you. Arrange a short meeting with each potential counselor or therapist. This will not only help you know if you feel comfortable with him or her, but you will see strategies and methods.” It’s always worth finding another size or fit for you and your child(ren). Try searching for a therapist who specializes in what your child deals with, whether it be grief, an attachment disorder, or another form of trauma.
5.) Build structure within your daily activities and take healthy steps to not burn out.
We’re going to talk about the big no-no words in adoption: disruption and dissolution. Privacy and closed court cases make statistics for both incredibly difficult to track, yet the Child Welfare Information Gateway statistics are staggering. A wiki page on Adoption.com determined one of the leading causes in family factors contributing to disruption was a lack of social support. Is your family united and surviving beyond today’s hurdle? If your family unit as a whole is suffering, your child will also suffer. It is truly in everyone’s best interest to create a sense of peace and stability within. Support keeps us accountable and sane before we make disastrous and heartbreaking decisions. Instead of running straight from conflict or working into a frenzy while trying to be the world’s best parent, try to:
– Be mindful of your mental state in daily tasks and consider how monotonous tasks can be turned into an oasis or energizing charge up for the day.
– Consider keeping a weekly date night with your partner by finding a personal care aide or respite certified babysitter.
– Attempt to take the rest of this article and breathe, in through the nose and out through the mouth. I use the free app Headspace for a couple of minutes each morning. As simple as breathing is, I have found it shifts my entire body language and perspective for the day, amidst what is sometimes complete chaos.
– Assess your needs and if taking care of at least one of them will help you be a better parent today. If that means finding a way to take a shower, meditating after the kids are in bed, or if cleaning your counters brings you peace then go for it, friend!)
We all fall prey to the busy monster: “I’m so busy trying to get help that I’m neglecting to nourish my body, marriage, and mind. I’m so busy I can’t possibly find the time to do anything besides survive the million appointments and check-ins while making sure nobody kills each other.” Friend, I have been there right with you. Although I am definitely an advocate for making time, if you can’t summon the energy today, that is okay. I’d love to give you a big cup of “you can do this.”
A Parting Word
You are a conqueror.
Although resources can only do so much and the days post-adoption may loom as both a joy and an abyss of the unknown, know there are thousands of families touched by adoption who are cheering you on.
The beautifully interwoven communities and connections found while searching for support are a wonderful gift. Other people in similar situations can empathize, refer, console, and uplift your family in ways a short article may not. I hope you find that hope and solidarity amidst whatever you may encounter throughout this crazy thing called life.
When the pre-adoption flurry of activity fades and the credits roll, you are the parent to an extraordinary and unique child. Every emotion has brought you straight to this connection and guided your journey. No matter the mountain you are facing today, there are resources continuing far beyond those provided in this article. When discouragement whispers that no service, counseling, or support group will ever understand, I beg you to remember how fear and isolation choked my dreams for years. Without overcoming fear, my family would not currently be in Colombia bringing the three youngest members of our household to the United States.
Occasionally, the busy monster gets the best of any of us. Holidays, summer camps, end-of-the-school-year parties—life can be overwhelming. Seeking help for your adopted child may not yet be a top priority. Today, I would encourage you to ask yourself and the adoptive families in your life some reflective questions, then use the answers to pursue resources. What do you and your child or children need to leave today better than you came into it? How can we reach out as a helpful and united community to efficiently love your adoptive family?
Katala Peterson is pursuing a career as a psychologist and has a passion for family of all kinds. She comes from a large adoptive family and has years of foster care experience. In her spare time, Katala enjoys hiking with her dog and experimenting with new recipes.