Parenting Tips: Loving & Parenting After an Adoption, Even When It is Hard
As an ACT Coach, America World Post-Adoption Supervisor, and adoptive mom, I talk to lots of families about their adoption experiences. Many families have relatively smooth adoption adjustments and joy-filled parenting experiences, but there is a significant group who do not when it comes to parenting after adoption. For some, the adjustment is hard because their child is struggling, and for that, we often recommend tried and true TBRI techniques of connecting, correcting, and empowering. For other parents, the adjustment is hard because they are struggling with their own internal feelings of stress, grief, and unmet expectations for the child or their feelings about him/her.
For those in this latter group, I want to encourage you that much of what you are feeling is normal, and there are ways to overcome these feelings and find a place of peace and joy as you learn to parent your new child by adoption. Here are some key aspects in that process:
• Accept: Adopted kiddos come into our homes with so much history—their own personality, their own quirks, their own weird issues, fears, habits, even odors, etc. Often they don’t “feel” normal, like a part of your family. They may feel like strangers. Just accepting that fact is part of this process.
• Grieve: Following this recognition, sometimes adoptive parents have to grieve the loss of their “old family” and how things used to be, AND grieve the fact that this kiddo is different than you imagined her to be. There is some space and time in which it is okay, and important, to recognize these losses, and grieve, so that you can eventually move forward.
• Look At Him/Her Differently: After letting go of some of your frustrations and losses of how you hoped it would be different, it is important to begin to try to see him through a different lens. Try to see him as a kid who had it rough—no one to rock him, love him, teach him, meet his needs on a regular basis, and who had to come up with his own survival & coping skills. Of course he was not good at that because he was so little and deprived, and now those quirky things he does are his leftover coping skills because he does not know better, and his brain is wired that way. If you can see him through this lens, it may help you to have a little more patience for some of his behaviors, acceptance of who he is, and work to teach him new things just a little at a time.
• Change Expectations: As you accept and see her differently, it will help if you can change your expectations to a degree. Flexibility is key. If you expect her to play in these quirky ways, rather than hoping she won’t, then you will likely feel just a tad better. Her behavior may be the same, but your feeling about it may be different because your expectation was met rather than unmet. I know that sounds a bit odd, but it is part of accepting who she is. I don’t want to imply that you can never have higher expectations for her, or that we don’t need to work to help her do better, but keeping expectations set at a level that keeps all of you fairly content is really key right now.
• Connect: Find ways to connect with him, even if it is just 10 minutes a day. Lay on the floor and play with him in whatever way he plays. Go outside and stare at the clouds together and see what “animals” in the clouds you can find. Do the attachment ritual things of feeding him and letting him feed you, mutual back rubs, horseplay, etc. For some less “touchy-feely” or less playful parents, I know it might drive you nuts, but you will gain so much ground by doing a few things like that each day, both for you and for him I believe. I don’t think you would ever regret putting that time in together.
• Commit: Rely on the fact that God called you to parenting this child. It may be a hard thing you are walking through, but He has equipped you for this moment and for this journey. He will give you strength and patience when you feel like you are out of it. Know that this may all look different than you ever imagined, but somehow, God will make it BETTER in the long run than you ever imagined.
• Look for the Good & Express Gratitude: Finding bits of joy in the midst of this is important. It will likely be really helpful if you keep a journal or some other means of trying to find at least 2 or 3 things each day that you can be grateful for in this parenting journey. Just putting a little focused time into thinking about that, and writing it down, is helpful to many parents in many situations.
I certainly don’t mean to oversimplify anyone’s struggle by providing these tips. I know that it can be really hard, and these small pieces of advice may not even scratch the surface of what your family may be going through. But hopefully, these tips can help some families out there who may be feeling sad or stressed, maybe even approaching regret, as they adjust to their adoption.
Remember that we are here to walk beside you and help you through it. We want to pray and talk with you when you are hurting, and celebrate your successes as well! Feel free to reach out to us anytime!