Good things come to those who wait! Patience is a virtue! We’ve all heard these pithy little statements and they always seem good for other people. But it can be a humbling experience, indeed, when it comes to applying it to our own lives. Especially when it comes to waiting for a child to be placed for adoption, the wait can be excruciating! The paperwork process is bad enough, but now that that part is over, waiting for a little one to become a part of your forever family seems like a cruel and inhuman punishment. So, how can you survive the wait to be placed with a child? Let’s take a look.
Get a fresh perspective
When we were kids, we always looked forward to things during the year. Christmas, New Year’s Eve, taking that road trip to your favorite theme park were all things we said we “can’t wait for.” As a younger child, we did not have a good perspective on time, hence the constant nagging, “Are we there yet?” As an adolescent, perhaps we couldn’t wait to see our best friend, the newest video game, or a favorite movie! But when we got older and started “adulting” there were very few things that held our interest or that brought us joy. Adding a new child to your family is one of the few things in our adult life that we look forward to like Christmas! So, the question is, what did you do as a child while you were marking off days toward that special event? Who helped you during that time? What perspective did you have?
– Waiting can be good. As a child, we were made to wait for our dessert after our dinner was complete. TV and playtime came after homework was done. This discipline taught me perseverance and delayed gratification. If I got everything I wanted, whenever I wanted, I would have turned into a spoiled brat! Waiting during the adoption period is no different. We grow while we wait. We learn more about ourselves while we wait.
– Waiting prepares us. Even obtaining children “the natural way” takes nine months! Why should we expect anything less during the adoption process? During that time, women go through the beautiful process of caring for their bodies and caring for the body within their body. Young parents prepare the baby’s room, have baby showers, gender-reveal parties, and chart their path to the hospital!
– Waiting builds character. If you are childless or have never adopted before, waiting can be a humbling experience. We learn more about ourselves during this time. Just like a single person who is looking for “the One,” perhaps they should spend much of that time becoming “the Right One,” rather than looking for “the Right One.” Believe me, a new child or any child will test your patience, push limits, and make you question your goal of wanting to be an adoptive parent in the first place. You need to work on those things in your life that will make you a good parent. Remember, great parents aren’t born, they are made! Work on your inner self, and your outer self will take care of itself.
The best way to survive the wait is to educate yourself. Whether this is your first child or not, you are entering new territory. Shouldn’t you chart out the land first? Every new journey begins with the first step, and that first step should be carefully mapped out. So, what areas do you need more information on? Here are some suggestions.
1. Trauma. Regardless of who you adopt or where they came from, every adopted child comes with some form of trauma. If you adopted overseas, they may have experienced war, poverty, human trafficking, or the death of a parent. If you are adopting domestically, they may have experienced abuse, neglect, or abandonment. Even if you adopt an infant, that child has experienced the trauma of being separated from his biological mother. This trauma manifests itself in many ways in adopted children through their behaviors, from temper tantrums to night terrors to aggressive behavior—adopted children will have different behaviors from those you are used to seeing. We cannot compare our biological children with our adopted children because our biological children have not suffered trauma, for the most part. You need to be prepared for these behaviors and identify solutions for handling them. Adopted children do not leave their past trauma behind simply due to a change in residence. Educate yourself!
2. Disabilities. Many adopted children have disabilities, whether physical, emotional, or behavioral. Adopted parents need to be prepared and learn all they can about developmental disabilities such as autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, and fetal alcohol syndrome, just to name a few. Many physical disabilities are lifelong conditions and therefore, your knowledge of what a child’s disabilities are ahead of time will go a long way in caring for his well-being.
Adoptive parents will also need to have information on behavioral disabilities such as reactive attachment disorder, conduct disorder, and oppositional defiant disorder. Kiddos who have not experienced trauma do not usually have such behavioral issues, so you may not have a frame of reference for it if you are not prepared.
If you do your research on your child’s biological family and you notice mental illness, you would do well to research that as well. Illnesses such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder may not present themselves until adolescence. So, what may seem like a pleasant childhood may turn on a dime once they turn into a teenager. Be prepared for the warning signs!
3. Other cultures. If you are adopting from overseas, you must come to terms with the fact that you are adopting cross-culturally. Even if you are white and are adopting from a European country, it is still a cross-cultural adoption! As such, you must educate yourself with that country’s language, food, religions, and values. As that child grows, you must share these things with the child so that they are proud of their heritage. If you are going to pursue transracial adoption, you must be sensitive to the child’s race. Learn their customs, beliefs, history, hairstyle, clothing, and religions. Don’t ignore it; don’t think things will be normal just because they are adopted.
4. Substance exposed newborns. One of the most heartbreaking parts of child welfare is caring for a substance exposed newborn, also known as SEN. An SEN is an infant who was exposed to drugs in utero. This is a result of their mothers using drugs such as heroin or methamphetamines during pregnancy, sometimes up until the ninth month. These children have feeding issues, digestive issues, sleeping issues, and other cognitive and physical delays because of this. Adoptive parents may need to know how to use equipment such as feeding tubes and oxygen machines. Obtaining training ahead of time is a good idea while you wait.
Where do I go for more education?
1. Books. Reading is a lost art. There is no substitute for curling up with a good book! Authors such as Dr. Bruce Perry, Karyn Purvis, and Nancy Thomas are experts in the field of trauma in foster children. You may not be able to get a one-on-one consultation with one of these experts but arming yourself with the knowledge they present is invaluable!
2. Veteran adoptive parents. The best people to learn from are other adoptive parents. They will tell you the truth, good or bad, about adoption and won’t leave out one word. You can also learn through observation how they interact with their own children without asking a question. Adoptive parents are leaders by example.
3. Podcasts. The world of the internet has afforded the opportunity to download podcasts on nearly any subject, including foster care and adoption. Podcasts such as “The Forgotten Podcast,” “Foster Movement,” or the “Honestly Adoption Podcast” give great education and insight into the trends in adoption. Listening to a podcast while in the car or while jogging or while getting ready for work gives you motivation and direction! Take advantage of it!
So, what should you expect when you are expecting an adopted child? Just like you would have to prepare for a change in the family dynamics when you’re expecting a baby, preparing for the arrival of an adopting is as much of a change, if not more. Here are some things you will need to do to prepare your family and household, while you are waiting.
– Sleeping arrangements. Where will everyone sleep? If you are adopting an infant, having a crib in your bedroom is a valid option. But what about if you adopt twins or a large sibling group? And if you already have your own children, will they be willing to share their bedroom with a newly adopted child? All of this needs to be discussed as a family while waiting.
– Seating arrangements. In many households, where everyone sits is important. Adding a new child upsets those expectations. Where will the new child sit at the dinner table? Where will the new child sit in the car? Where will the new child sit in the family room during movie night? If you already have children, this can be quite unnerving for them. They may re-think the whole “new brother” or “new sister” plan of their parents. It could cause jealousy. These types of things are best discussed beforehand.
– School. If you are adopting a school-aged child, you will have to decide which school to enroll him/her in. Whether you choose a public school, a charter school, a private school, an online school, or homeschool, the options will vary according to your school district. Each child is different, so the decision will have to be made according to that child’s needs and how that school can meet the child’s needs. If you do decide to enroll your newly adopted child in public school, the school doesn’t necessarily need to know they are adopted, they just need to know about any learning disabilities the child may have or any other barriers the child may have to learning. It is strictly on a need to know basis.
– Babysitting/respite. Who will be your babysitter? Who will provide your respite if you need to go out of town without your new little one? Do they understand any disability your child may have? Are they prepared for any behavior your child may have? It is probably best to have the same babysitter early on or as few caregivers as possible, in order to promote attachment.
1. Provide Respite. The biggest opportunity for experience is to provide respite or babysitting. Respite is providing time off for another family who also provides foster care or adoption. You can learn a lot about adopted kids by spending time with them. In a short period of time, they can be warm, charming, and endearing. After a few weeks or a few months, after they are comfortable with you, you could learn a lot. Their hopes, their dreams, their fears. After a while, you will also see their small little behaviors come out, like withdrawal or manipulation. If they are younger, you may see temper tantrums or food hoarding.
2. Youth Programs. Getting involved in a youth program in your area is a great way to get experience. Volunteering in programs like Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, Boys and Girls Clubs of America, or the YMCA is a great way to meet kids and some of those kids are in the foster care system.
Unlike waiting for a certain special day, like graduation or prom, waiting for a child to be placed with you is very uncertain. It’s an emotional roller coaster ride. In the foster/adopt process, there may be many ups and downs and many unforeseen challenges, but we need to take these challenges in stride and realize they may have a purpose. Be patient and realize that all good things come to those who wait!
Visit Adoption.com’s photolisting page for children who are ready and waiting to find their forever families. For adoptive parents, please visit our Parent Profiles page where you can create an incredible adoption profile and connect directly with potential birth parents.
Derek Williams is an adoption social worker and has been in the field of child welfare and behavioral health since 2006, where he has assisted families in their adoption journey. He and his wife started their adoption journey in 1993 and have eight children, six of whom are adopted. His adopted children are all different ethnicities including East Indian, Jamaican and Native American. He loves traveling with his family, especially to the East Coast and to the West Coast and is an avid NY Mets fan! Foster care and adoption are his passions and callings for Derek, and he is pleased to share his experiences with others who are like-minded.