Adoption touched my life both professionally and personally, so you may wonder the right characteristics to have to adopt. My family was formed through the adoption of three amazingly ornery children. As a professional in the field of child welfare, a part of my role is to supervise a program that recruits, trains, and approves families to become foster and adoptive parents in my state. I have often heard people say things like, “I’m not sure I’m cut out to do that” when considering foster care and adoption. My response usually goes something like this, “You don’t have to be perfect to be a (foster) adoptive parent.” Keeping that thought in mind, below are a few characteristics that you should have or at least will help you survive the raising of children through adoption.
- Flexibility. No, I’m not talking about being able to still do the splits at 40-years-old; although, it would be nice! I’m talking about the ability to be flexible in your expectations, needs, and wishes. Children in need of adoption often come from difficult places—whether that is an orphanage in another country or through the foster care system. A prospective adoptive parent needs to understand that these children may not be able to meet high expectations, may be delayed in their development, may have significant trauma that affects everyday life, or may struggle with attachment issues (at times). The needs of the child must be primary to your own needs and wishes, and you may need to change up your parenting style and grow. Adoption definitely stretches you!
- Humor. Without a sense of humor, parenting can be quite hard. It is important to note when to take things seriously and when to laugh about it and say, “Oh, well!” There are things that your pre-parent self may have been appalled at, but your current “in the thick of it” parent self finds amusing. the humor and playfulness characteristics go a long way in helping to connect and nurture a child who is struggling. Sometimes, it is better to laugh than to cry.
- Patience. The process of adoption can take a long time —in a lot of cases, years. It can be tedious and put a strain on you and your relationships. For foster care adoptions, the legal aspects and court decisions can affect the timing of when a child becomes eligible for adoption. For domestic and international adoptions, the paperwork, approval, and matching process can also be lengthy. Consider this time of wait as practice for when a child is in your home. Children who are older may not adjust immediately to your home and your family. This is not something to be overly worried about, it is a normal part of the adoption process. Being patient with the child and taking things at his or her pace will help. Remember, it isn’t about you. It is about the child!
- Advocacy. I know many adoptive parents who never considered themselves to be advocates until they started parenting children with extra needs. I have also experienced this in my home. Advocating for the best interest of your child in regards to mental and medical health, social relationships, and education is a vital part of being a parent through adoption. With that being said, it is wise to know when to pick your battles and when to back off. Advocate for the things that truly matter and do not sweat the small stuff. As an adoptive parent, you will be shocked by the response you get from others. You may be dismayed by the stigma or perception that your family and child receives. Don’t get angry, instead, use your voice to educate and advocate for your child.
- Comfortable with grief and loss. Adoption is filled with loss. Children may grieve parents they have never met. They may miss family members, their community or other aspects of their lives prior to coming to your home. In times of frustration, sadness or anger, they may blurt out things like, “You are not my real mom!” or “Send me back to where I came from!” Although these things can be hurtful, it is imperative not to take them personally and to allow the child to express their feelings. I have heard these statements from my children. I have watched one of my children grieve upon finding out of the death of a biological parent, whom the child never lived with or knew. It can be very hard to know what to say or how to feel when children grieve. In many respects, adoptive parents are loss managers for the children. We also face our own sense of loss as the child ages and the struggles come to surface. Being comfortable with loss and acknowledging the grief involved is a crucial aspect of adoptive parenting characteristics.
- Resiliency. Oh, boy. Resilience is a must-have! There will be days that you literally don’t know what to do or how to handle a behavior and issue thrown at you. You do though. You handle it the best way you can and then you get up the next day with the same determination to meet each need that comes along. When we choose to walk along the path of adoption, we are faced with many unknowns that can seem overwhelming at times. It is during these times that you must dig your heels in deep and choose to overcome it.
These are just a few characteristics that will help you be a successful adoptive parent. The idea of adoption is beautiful and deeply meaningful, but the reality is that it won’t feel good all of the time. It is true, you don’t have to be perfect to be an adoptive parent. You just need to be present, intentional, and the embodiment of resilience. The kids in need of adoption absolutely deserve it. Your characteristics are enough; everyone can learn and improve parenting skills.
Caroline Bailey is a mother of three children through adoption and a strong advocate for the needs of children and families involved in the child welfare system in the United States. At the age of eleven (1983), she underwent an emergency hysterectomy in order to save her life. Caroline is the youngest person to have a hysterectomy. Her life has been profoundly affected by infertility. In 2006, Caroline and her husband, Bruce, became licensed foster parents. They were blessed to adopt two of their children through foster care in 2008 and 2010. Their youngest child is a relative of Caroline, and they celebrated his adoption in 2013. Caroline works for a Christian child welfare agency in Missouri. She has been a guest speaker at churches and conferences regarding adoption and is currently working on a memoir about the impact of illness, faith, foster care, and adoption in her life. Caroline is also an avid cyclist and enjoys cheering her children on in their various sporting activities. She shares her experience with foster care, adoption, barrenness, parenting, and faith in her blog. She would love to hear from you! Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.