Post Adoption: What to Expect When You’re Not Expecting

By Tanja Ragonesi

Before you read today’s post, be sure to catch up on Tanja’s post from last month about older child adoption here. And for more stories about adoption, visit our Adoption and Foster Parenting section here.

Isn’t pregnancy an amazing time? In nine months we get to experience incredible excitement and anticipation waiting for a new little human being to come into the world and take her place in your family.

Similarly, adoption took us nine months, from the time we met our daughter on a hosting program, to the date I stood up in court with her in Ukraine and she was declared “ours” for the rest of our lives.

The very beginning of the adoption process seems to drag on forever (a little like morning sickness…!) However, once you are home with your older adopted child, you soon realize that the real work has just begun….a little bit like bringing your tiny baby home from the hospital and instead of everything being text book perfect, you are thrown a curve ball when your little one develops a bad case of croup. As a mom, you feel helpless and at times, just completely spaz out.

I clearly remember how tired I was getting up every couple of hours with my babies in the first few months after birth, and similarly, there are times when adoptive parents of older children might feel like they are fighting a losing battle and would like nothing better than to be left alone in a quiet room to cry. Or sleep. Possibly both.

My intention with this blog is not to dissuade anyone from adopting, but rather to explain that adoption, while worthwhile and so life changing, can be the most difficult thing you will ever do.

Number One : Do not rush into adoption.
It’s so easy to get caught up in the romance of adoption. Have you seen the weekly segment called “A Place To Call Home” on WXII?  Have you read gut wrenching statistics about aging out orphans and the challenges they face when they are no longer the government’s responsibility? Have you watched the movie “Juno”? Don’t you just want to open your home to every child without a mommy to love them? I think anyone with a pulse would feel this way.

Remember that, sadly, adoption is big business for some people. While you should take your time and consider all of the available types of adoption and what the right fit might be for your family, many facilitators, law firms and adoption agencies will do their level best to persuade you to make a hasty decision and sign with them.

Number Two: Be a team.
Do not even think about pursuing adoption unless both husband AND wife are on the same page. You need to support each other. Often the wife wants to adopt first, and her husband is undecided, or completely against it. Women seem to be drawn toward babies and older children who need a mother. Please don’t push the issue with your partner though, and try to be patient.  Adoption is tough and it takes a strong, dedicated couple to be good parents for an adopted child. Wait until you are both one hundred percent in agreement that adoption is for you, you will need each other more than you ever will.

Number Three : The hard work starts when you get home.
Please read and inwardly digest : When you adopt an older child, you HAVE to expect a traumatic first year. For some adoptive families, the trauma spills into the second and third year.

In the beginning, when you finally bring your child home (the honeymoon period) everyone leads a bit of a fake life. You cannot believe she is here, the wait is over, she is so happy.. your family is complete! The, usually after about two to four months, your child will more than likely freak out, and freak you out. You will have to endure tantrums, sulking, completely over the top acting out. This is because she is grieving. It has hit her that she has lost EVERYTHING she ever knew, particularly if she has moved from another country and culture. Her life may not have been great, but it was all she knew. It’s made worse by the fact that she is unable to communicate this properly, as she speaks a foreign language.

This period is very stressful on your new child, you as parents, and also on your other children. It comes as a shock and you will probably doubt yourself, your decision to adopt, and your parenting skills.

Remember the days after you brought your first baby home from hospital? No sleep? Few showers? Feelings of inadequacy and terror about doing the wrong thing? It’s all back baby. This child, however, may also poop in her underwear… but then she hides them. She hurts pets. She hoards food. She is aggressive one minute, sulky the next and then tells you she loves you in a weird voice that reminds you of the “Chucky” movies…….You can’t put her down for a nap or give her a bottle, so you have to learn to deal, and fast. Adoptive children often have to deal with years of neglect and/or abuse, and over time you may have to deal with incredibly scary situations.

Number Five : That glass of wine at night will become your best friend.
Do the best you can each day. Don’t be embarrassed to get the support you (and your family) need from church or counseling, and at the end of the day cut yourself some slack. Have a glass of wine, run a bubble bath, or just take fifteen minutes to pray or meditate, and know that you are still a good parent. This is a crazy time, you are being stretched in a million different directions and your emotions are running wild. You cannot fix everything overnight.

Number Six: Breathe! Smile!
When you reach six or seven months, you realize that your new child seems happier, more content. She can cope with change better, she is not resisting rules and structure in her life, she is making friends, she can communicate in English and hugely stressful situations don’t happen as often! The craziness is going away and an interesting little girl is immerging.

Number Seven : You are not wired the same.
The biggest difference between parenting my biological children and my adoptive child, is that I often don’t “get” why Mia does things or reacts a certain way. When one of my bio kids has a problem or is acting out, I can almost always understand why – and I know how to fix the problem or how best to handle the situation. My adopted child is more often than not, a mystery. I can’t look inside Mia’s brain or feel her feelings. She often does not understand me when I try to reason with her. I have had to change my parenting style and try to find other solutions and ways to communicate to help her. It’s working, slowly but surely.

Number Eight: Older adopted children do not necessarily want to be PARENTED.
Yes, most of them would like a family to call their own. They want friends, comfort and security. However, rules, schedules, manners, respect, hygiene and studying are mostly foreign concepts and are often not well accepted. I have to teach my eleven year old basic hygiene, the importance of honesty (in some foreign countries, lying is widely accepted – whether you are an adult or child), and even how to follow a simple day to day schedule. Don’t beat yourself up if you feel that your efforts to be a good parent are not being appreciated by your child.

Number Nine: Don’t sweat the small stuff.
You also need coaching. Going back to why it’s so important that both parents be on the same page when adopting, my husband (bless him!) , taught me a valuable lesson. I was driving myself LOCO –and making everyone around me miserable – by getting overly frustrated when our daughter did not seem to want to make the effort I hoped she would. You will have so many adjustments in your life, don’t make the mistake I did and try to micro manage every single thing that your new child does or does not do. Pick your battles. When my daughter is making us late for school and emerges at the last minute dressed like a Christmas tree, I take a deep breath, pray for peace and understanding, grit my teeth and take her to school. When I see her joining her friends, who are all dressed similarly in matching Nike shorts and sneakers and she happily hugs them and laughs with them, I know she belongs anyway.

Number Ten: God’s Got This.
My dear friend Mary Beth says this all the time and it stuck with me. I also like “I can do all these things through Christ who strengthens me”(Philippians4:13). For what it’s worth, my advice to you would be throughout your adoption journey – the first time you find that you are interested in adoption, through your decision making, to your adoption, and post adoption issues, remember to pray, pray, pray, and trust that God has got this. You cannot do this alone.

I remember meeting my daughter when we took part in the orphan hosting program, and seeing a skinny, dirty little girl walk up to me and take my hand. I didn’t realize it at the time, but at that moment she basically put her sad little life in my hands and it was up to my husband and I to ‘fix’ it. Adoption is a huge responsibility, but that same little girl is growing into an intelligent, funny, smart young lady. She has learned to take pride in herself and her achievements. She feels like a valued part of our family – and she is! She is loved and treasured and she will never again have to sleep on a hard little bed next to twenty other children who are all staring at the ceiling wondering why they aren’t good enough for a family to love them.

Adoption works! If you have any interest in hosting a child for the holidays, or if you are thinking of taking the plunge into domestic or international adoption, please contact me at ragonesit@yahoo.com and I would be happy to share some information with you!

Photography by Andrea Bottin


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