Adoption has been thrust into the spotlight as beloved celebrities such as Sandra Bullock, Angelina Jolie, and Hugh Jackson (just to name a few) have created happy homes for children who needed a family. It has been in mainstream media and been a theme in books, movies, and tv shows alike because of the media exposure. Now, more people than ever are considering adoption. Because of this and the sheer enormity of the need, it can be easy to get swept away by emotions.
I have surrendered hours of my life to daydreaming about nurseries, lullabies, and baby cuddles. I’ve read books where I have wanted nothing more than to step into the pages and rescue the protagonist from their predicaments, so often brought on by lacking a family, and bring them home with me. I am a sucker for movies like Meet the Robinsons, Instant Family, Annie, Big Hero 6, and Oliver!. There are fewer things that tug my heartstrings than the adoption storylines in the sitcoms “Parenthood” and “This Is Us”. I can get weepy thinking about the super bowl commercial with the woman who was adopted.
Because of my emotional draw to adoption, it is easy for me to get carried away. I have stated in less self-aware times that I’d love to have 20 children or as many children that need a family. This is clearly not an option, nor should it be. The five I have kept me busy and often I wish for five of me so they would all get the undivided mommy attention they crave. So how does someone go about deciding what makes adoption a good idea, either right now or in the future? How can you decide that despite your heart aching over a baby food commercial that you cannot have one more child in your care or you will lose all hope of sanity and peace in your home? Here are some ways that you can decide when adoption is the wrong choice.
Adoption is the wrong choice if you are not financially stable. Adoption can be expensive, even if you adopt through the state and the actual court proceedings cost nothing. You are making a commitment of at least 18 years to provide food, clothing, shelter, and love to a child. Also, the possibility of team sports, expensive hypoallergenic formula, medical testing, a bigger car, car seats, gymnastics leotards, dance lessons, therapy bills, the list could go on forever.
In my case, it seems to be several pages long for each child we have adopted. To us, it is worth every penny and then some. However, if we weren’t in an okay financial situation at the beginning, I’m not sure how we could have made it work. This is not to say you need to be wealthy or you need to provide for 1000 activities. It is just to say you should be prepared for there to be a long-term cost and if you can’t see that working then adoption may not be a good choice.
Think About Your Partner
Adoption is the wrong choice if your significant other is against it. I have seen marriages fall apart when adoption is involved. Primarily because one parent or another wasn’t really interested but was kind of along for the ride. That might be okay for a puppy but never okay for a child. A child can tell if they aren’t wanted. I have heard and seen such sad situations where the father didn’t really want kids but went along with the adoption to please his wife and other family members only to go on to resent the mother, the child, and anything having to do with the child. Nagging to get your way is not the way to go here.
Adopting for Ulterior Motives
Adoption is the wrong choice if you are hoping to adopt to get attention. I’m not saying this would be your primary reason, but it is important to really search yourself and see what your motivations are. Look, I get how sad it is to sit in on a baby shower and know you won’t ever be the center of attention for one. It can be gutting. That said, the people who will ooh and ahh over clothes at an adoption shower will not be the ones up for three a.m. feedings. Babies are exhausting. Children are exhausting. As soon as the new runs off and people stop visiting will you feel the same about the baby as you did when you were the center of attention? Think about it. I heard a story where the wife wanted a baby because that’s “what you do” after marriage and found out she hated being a mom. What a terrible situation for everyone involved.
Adoption is the wrong choice if you are impatient. Adoption can take a long time. If you cannot wait for things then this particular path to parenthood probably won’t work for you. Furthermore, being a parent takes an enormous amount of patience and if you lack that then parenthood is probably not a good fit. I’ve had my then two-year-old take half an hour putting on her shoes because she wanted to do it herself and would take them off if I put them on her. I thought I was a fairly patient person but it turns out I had to learn to be even more patient.
Adoption can be the wrong choice if you need love to be reciprocated 100% of the time. It is rare that your child will immediately love you the same way you love them. You will need to have enough love for the both of you while the child learns to trust you. It is a mostly unspoken hurt in the adoption world that sometimes children take a very long time to attach to their parents emotionally. Tread carefully if you are a sensitive person who takes things personally.
Birth Family Interaction
Adoption is absolutely the wrong choice if you cannot be compassionate and loving towards birth families. A child may grow up hearing slanderous things about their birth family and their only takeaway will be hatred for themselves and possibly for you. While it seems counterintuitive, children need to hear good things about their family of origin even if some facts need to be glossed over. A seven-year-old shouldn’t be told they were conceived in a bar bathroom. It is utterly unacceptable to tell a five-year-old that their birth mom went on a drinking binge and has no idea who her biological father is. However, children can and should be told that their birth mom loves them so much she decided since she couldn’t give him or her the best life then she would place them for adoption.
I adopted from foster care and my kids were removed for neglect and abuse. I still tell my kids I am thankful for their birth family because if it wasn’t for them we would have never met. I try to say kind things that are true to my daughter when she asks questions. I do not vilify birth parents even though it would be easy to. Furthermore, I have made efforts to find safe birth family members so my kids can have information about their history. Adopted children often struggle with a feeling of not belonging or not knowing who they are and where they came from. Birth family can provide some of that. You can’t provide that if in your heart, you are hateful, jealous, or angry towards those people. If you hate your child’s birth family you are running the risk of your birth child feeling that hate.
Adoption can be a bad choice if you feel you can’t be tied down to a place. Kids need stability. They need friends and family around. If you live a vagabond lifestyle then adoption won’t work well. My kids get upset if they don’t see their friends over the course of a few days. They need contact with people that aren’t me or my husband. It would be irresponsible to ignore that need even if I would be happiest in a one-room cabin in the middle of the woods away from all people.
Adoption and Learning
Adopting is a bad choice if you hate learning. I have had to learn so much about child development, psychology, attachment theory, behavioral disorders, and so much more. I do it for my kids, but I also enjoy learning new things. I cannot imagine what it would be like if that weren’t the case. I’m not saying you shouldn’t adopt if you have a learning disability. I gain the most from watching videos online and listening to audiobooks. My husband learns the best by reading. The point is you should be open to doing your own research to help your kids.
Living in Isolation
Adoption is the wrong choice if you live in isolation. I am an independent and introverted person. I love being away from the world and its noise. However, my kids need things they cannot get if I lock us all away and never come out. They need friends, doctors, teachers, and babysitters. They need school project supplies at eight o’clock the night before the project is due. They need medicine at two o’clock in the morning when their head hurts and you ran out of children’s pain medicine. We have never depended on our friends and family more than when one of my kids had a medical emergency. It would not be impossible to parent in isolation but it could be very, very difficult.
Adoption is the wrong choice if you find yourself unable to take constructive criticism. I may or may not cry when someone I care about criticizes me in any way. Not so much because I feel unloved but because I feel as if I’ve let them down. However, I do need constructive criticism to perform my tasks well. I’ve learned that I need to listen to people who have a vested interest in me and consider what they say. I don’t always change what they suggest, but I do take it into consideration. Sometimes I need an outside set of eyes to look at what I’m doing so I can fix what I’m doing wrong. This is essential in parenting and doubly so for adoption parenting. Don’t shy away from people who tell you uncomfortable truths. Those people want to see you grow and thrive most of the time and you will be better for having listened. Constructive criticism helps me parent the best that I can. I’d be lost without it, even though it is not my favorite thing.
Adoption is a Life-long Decision
Adoption is one of my favorite things in the world. I love the way God has built my family. I cannot imagine what my life would be like if I hadn’t adopted. That being said, we have had our fair share of struggles. Attachment disorders, medical emergencies, police calls, traumatic events. I wouldn’t trade my kids for anything but in some ways, I wish I had been warned beforehand, so at least I wasn’t going in blind. It does occur to me that some people may have warned me and I was too emotional to listen. Learn from my mistakes and take some time to consider the weight of the decision to add to your family through adoption. It will be worth it to make the best decision you can.
Christina Gochnauer is a foster and adoptive mom of 5. She has a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Letourneau University. She currently resides in Texas with her husband of 16 years, her children ages 3, 3.5, 4.5, 11, and 12, and her three dogs. She is passionate about using her voice to speak out for children from “hard places” in her church and community.