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The Beautiful Mess of Adoption

June 10, 2018

Adoption: such a beautiful way to create or expand a family. It’s so wonderful that, aside from the endless amounts of paperwork and home visits, it’s really hard to see the difficult side of it.


I mean, what could not be beautiful about giving a loving home to a child or completing a family?

That’s what we all think and feel, and it’s what adoptive families believe society feels as well.  The truth is, it is this mindset that allows adoptive families to hide in the darkness when what they thought would be beautiful turns dark. This post is to call those families out of the darkness.


(Disclosure; a lot of this post is meant for adoptive parents of older children and not necessarily newborn adoptions, although it certainly can apply.)


I believe there’s a fear in the adoption community that if we talk about the hard stuff then less people would want to adopt. I’m not talking about the generic hard stuff, but the really hard, “Why did we do this!” stuff. I believe this fear is bogus, and that the opposite is true. I believe that couples WANT to know the hard stuff, and more than that, they NEED to know it. Having more knowledge is empowering, and those couples will pursue adoption all the more when they feel educated and better prepared.


The reality is that we have such a high divorce rate in our nation, and majority of those divorces come from irreconcilable differences, in other words, my expectations weren’t met!  What they thought marriage was going to be like isn’t reality, so they bail. We can’t afford to have this happen to adoptive families. For that reason alone, we HAVE to talk about the hard stuff. We have to help set appropriate expectations, and we have an obligation to prepare families for the entire journey of adoption, not just the fun highlight reel. When we do this and things get rocky, they will know they are not alone, and will begin to establish support systems to get them through, and they will no longer be feeling the shame that begs them to keep silent.


So, what are the hard things adoptive families face? Of course, I can’t even begin to name them all, but that isn’t what this post is about. I also don’t claim to be an expert on adoption.  I’m not even an adoptive parent, but, as a professional counselor, I see more than my fair share of these families and children, and I know that the struggle and shame is real. I am also confident that those of you who have adopted can add and take away to this list, and that is perfectly fine, if not encouraged. However, we have to start somewhere.

Depression. Close to 65% of adoptive moms end up with a bout of depression. Scary, I know, but also TREATABLE, and all things considered, a fairly normal response to the entire dynamics of your family changing. TALK ABOUT THIS, sweet moms. It’s okay. I promise there are resources for you and you’re not a failure as a mom. In fact, the opposite is true. Because you are a loving mom, the concerns over your family may be the very thing spiraling you into depression. If expectations can be altered, much of this depression can even be avoided.


AngerAdopting children changes things. This is especially true if you have more than one child. A new child can disrupt the flow of your current family. Siblings can feel left out and change their behavior. They may be resentful and angry themselves, thus making your parenting job a little more difficult. A new child may also form a better bond with one parent over the other. No matter how hard that parent works at bonding with their child, the child may still reject them, and that is frustrating and hurtful.  Just having the freedom to talk about such anger can provide much needed relief from it.


Unforeseen facts and problems. The child you go to pick up may not be the child you thought you were getting. You may have the same physical child, but not exactly the same emotional child that was once portrayed. Sometimes, details about their past or about specific behavioral warning signs are left out. You may get home to find out that your child has a disorder that you weren’t expecting.  This is where extra education can be very beneficial. This kind of blindside is not easy on a family or couple.  Knowing that this is a possibility can allow you to discuss it beforehand and already have a plan of action for resources.  You may never be fully prepared to handle this but you at least won’t feel alone.


Marital struggles. Your marriage will likely take a hit when adopting a child, especially if the child bonds better with one spouse. Think about it: potential depression, family adjustments, unmet expectations, and confused biological or other adoptive children can all equal stress on a marriage. Divorce rates dramatically increase, sometimes up to as much as twice the current rate, for parents of children with specific special needs or special needs such as adoption. This rate is especially high within the first couple of years. BUT, this can all be avoided with knowledge, more appropriate expectations, and some planning.


Emptiness and exhaustion. For some adoptive families, the hardest adjustment is potentially accepting that they may be in a difficult and demanding, one-sided relationship with their child for a very long time. Depending on the history of the child, they may never stop throwing fits or stop hiding emotions, they might always struggle in school, and they may never be able to love you back the way any parent would want. You may spend the majority of your time disciplining to no ends a child, who, by all appearances, is just misbehaving to frustrate you. Even this type of difficulty can turn out okay. Study up on attachment disorders and parenting children with them. A great resource, Dr. Karyn Purvis, can be found HERE. (Sadly, Dr. Purvis passed away the day after this was written, and we will miss her terribly. Her resources are still incredible.)


As I said, I can’t possibly fill in all the gaps, and the main reason I write here is in hopes that YOU will begin talking. That you will begin sharing ALL that adoption is.


In closing, allow me to complete the bigger picture. We are adopted by a perfect God through the gift of His Son, and He has given us such a beautiful example to follow of what being an adoptive parent is. We, as His children, were once all orphans and we are flawed. We kick, scream, and complain. We reject His love and sometimes question it, despite how many times He has proven, shown and written to us that it is free and genuine. We attempt to throw wrenches in all of His plans and do things our own way all the time. We dis-unify His family by fighting over denominational differences, colors of walls and carpets, and styles of music. We need constant forgiveness and discipline for the same things over and over again. We destroy marriages, too. Yet, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).

You see, knowing ALL OF IT, He adopted us anyway! I believe that if you are called to be an adoptive parent that you will do the same. Your adopted little one is no different than any of us, and although times may be difficult and not quite what you expected, they will always provide you with an opportunity to love and to be more like Christ, and that my sweet friends, is the very thing this world needs more!

Be educated, Be informed and ADOPT! 


“Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” 1 John 3:2.



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