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What Every Adoptive Parent Should Know


When people are unable to have a biological child, yet they still yearn to be a parent, adoption is the most common alternative. For a lot of families, international adoptions have become the most realistic option because there are fewer children available in the U.S. today.

First comes the decision to adopt a child. Then comes the search for the right place to adopt the child from. Then comes the paperwork and the home visits and all the red tape that's involved. And then, finally, there's the news that a baby or young child is available.

After going through the emotional highs and lows and the long, involved process that adoption entails, expectations can be extremely high. For most people, the adjustment from being childless to being a parent has its ups and downs but is generally joyous.

Take Linda and David, for example. Linda has what she describes as "mild lupus," but she has had several miscarriages and she and David finally decided to adopt. They now have three-year-old twin girls from China, and they couldn't be more delighted. "Sure, I was exhausted in the beginning," says Linda. "Before the girls came, we pretty much did what we wanted in our free time, and now we basically don't have any free time. But we love it this way. That's why we adopted-we knew we'd love being parents." They're loving it so much, in fact, that they're in the process of adopting another baby from China.

Most stories are similar to Linda and David's, with parents having some difficulty adjusting, but very happy with their situation overall.

Unfortunately, there are times, though probably rare, when adoption doesn't bring the joy that was expected. This is something people don't generally like to talk about, but it can happen.

Meredith (not her real name) was a single mother who longed to have a child. She had never married, and she reached an age where she knew that conceiving a child was probably not realistic. So she decided to adopt, and she began her search in Russia.

After going through the paperwork, and the trips to Russia, and the various meetings and all the rest of it, she finally learned that a young boy was available. His name was Yuri (not his real name), and he was five years old.

"People don't talk about this, but I will tell you right up front that adopting Yuri has been the hardest thing I've ever done," says Meredith. "There's your own expectation, that you're going to look at this child for the first time and finally experience that love you've been searching for. You expect that it will be instant. And there's the expectation of everyone around you."

Meredith explains that she is a minister, and her entire congregation knew about the adoption. "So there wasn't only an expectation among my friends and family, but from the whole congregation. I had imagined, so naively, that everything would go smoothly from the start. But I have to be honest here - I had to learn to love Yuri, and he had to learn to love me.

"It was awkward in the beginning," she continues. "Yuri acted out. I was in a relationship with someone who had a daughter, and the daughter and Yuri fought constantly. I even started to have second thoughts about the whole thing, wondering whether I should have adopted at all.

"And then of course there was horrible guilt and shame on my part. I didn't tell anybody how I was feeling. I put up a big front for my congregation."

"It was a very dark time," she says. "I couldn't feel connected to Yuri. I didn't enjoy being around him. So I pretended that I did. But I think he knew. He's a very smart boy, very intuitive. And so sensitive to what's going on with the adults around him. Most kids know what you're feeling, even if you don't tell them, and he was no different."

Several years of struggles went by. Yuri did well in school academically, but his problem behavior persisted. Meredith's relationship ended, and that, she says, was a relief, because it took some of the tension away. But finally, Meredith realized that she and Yuri had to see a therapist.

"I thought I had to be strong because I'm a minister. I thought it would be a mistake to let others see me having difficulty loving my son, not that I would ever have put it that way. But I wanted everybody to think my little family was perfect. And that was my biggest mistake, because I should have been addressing this problem from the start."

They saw a therapist who specializes in the issues surrounding adoption. Meredith learned that adoption can be complex, not only for the adopting parent, but for the child who's been adopted. Adopted children may feel a sense of loss (loss of their biological parent) and rejection. They may never have learned how to bond with another individual.

Adoptive parents, on the other hand, may feel a sense of inferiority before the adoption even takes place. They may wonder whether there's some deep reason why they were unable to conceive a child, and whether they deserve to have one at all. They may be hyper-vigilant when the child finally arrives, and if the child acts out as children will do, the parents may take it as a sign that the child is rejecting them.

"Finally hearing someone explain to me that adoption can be difficult and complex, and that it's not always instantly love at first sight, was so helpful," says Meredith. "And I realized I did such a disservice to Yuri and to me by pretending that everything was fine. People don't realize that this goes on all the time, because nobody wants to talk about it. But addressing this in therapy has helped me to learn what's going on with Yuri, and it's helped him to learn to express his feelings in an environment that's safe and accepting of him. We should have done this right at the beginning."

If you're considering adoption or you're in the process of adoption, remember that being realistic and honest will take you far in your long journey. After the adoption, if it seems like you could use some help dealing with difficult issues, don't hesitate to look for guidance. Navigating the complexities of adoption is sometimes too hard to do on your own. You owe it to your entire family to address the challenges right away.

For information about the details of international adoption, visit the U.S. Department of State's Web page

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