My husband and I entered the world of foster-adopt with
a narrow no frame of reference to prepare us. We only wanted to be parents.
After infertility and a failed infant adoption, we thought foster-adopt would be the quickest path toward our desire. We knew foster care would be difficult, but we had no idea... no idea just how difficult it would be.
There seems to be an overall lack of knowledge in the general public regarding foster care and foster-adopt. This can cause misunderstandings that may seem insignificant to those outside the world of foster-adopt, but to those living in this world, these misunderstandings can be isolating.
I’ve heard many foster-adopt parents begin sentences with, “If people only knew…”
In an attempt to educate, I asked foster-adoptive parents from one of my state’s local support groups what they wish others knew about foster-adopt. Here are six themes that emerged:
1. Adopted children were first loved and wanted by another family; their biological family were simply not in a position to raise and parent their kids. Our adopted children were not “given up” the way one discards a sweater that has become stretched and faded. Our children were placed with us to become their forever family, and we said yes even though we were scared and unsure and may have had little information.
2. Our kids adopted from foster care are like refugees living in conflict zones, torn from their homes, adjusting to an unfamiliar life, wishing they were back home. Our kids may come to us unaccustomed to appropriate physical affection, full plates at mealtimes, freedom to play and boundaries. In many ways, our adopted kids are starting over no matter how old they may be.
3. Our kids are wise beyond their years while at the same time lacking age-appropriate skills. Older teens from foster care may be able to care for young kids and whip up a meal for everyone but may not understand that their actions have consequences. Likewise, 7-year-olds may be able to tell you where the closest gas station is but may not remember to brush their teeth each day. We have to help our kids with even basic skills like learning how to relax their minds and bodies and how to identify their emotions.
4. Our children likely won’t “get over” or “grow out of” their trauma. Their trauma is a part of who they are, and no matter how young they were when they came to us, their trauma will continue to manifest itself in new ways as they age. We will teach them how to cope and adjust. We will take them to therapists and work to educate their teachers and coaches about how trauma impacts kids’ brain development. And many times, we’ll be climbing an uphill battle as we try and convince people that our kid isn’t naughty, disrespectful, or that medication won’t solve all our issues.
5. Parenting an adopted child looks different than parenting biological children. Our kids’ behaviors can’t be fixed with a spanking or even a stone-cold mom stare. Their behaviors require us to make difficult choices, like allowing our 10-year-old to finish a tantrum in the middle of the condiment aisle at a crowded grocery store. We make parenting choices that aren’t intuitive and seem odd to others, and with nearly every decision we make, we question our judgement and effectiveness.
6. We need support. Parenting is tough; parenting kids from hard places is even harder. Support us when we make those strange parenting decisions. Understand that we will change ― our fundamental values, beliefs about the world, and our personalities will be altered as we struggle alongside our kids. Stick with us when we withdraw from relationships; it’s not you, it’s us... we’re busy putting out fires, trying to survive. In our gig parenting kids from tough places, we’ll be Atlas, carrying the weight of our kids’ world on our shoulders so life may be lighter for them. Give our aching backs a break and offer to carry that weight for a little while. We may not be able to give you all the details of what’s going on with our kids, and while we may initially resist the help, know that we will be grateful for your offer.
Before I became a parent to my two littles, I wish I would’ve known that parenting children adopted from foster care is different than parenting biological children.
At its core, adoption is grounded in loss. I think before I was in the thick of parenting my two kids, I knew of this difference, but I didn’t understand it. Now... three years in, I get it.
I understand that children adopted from foster care will grieve their biological families, and adoptive parents will grieve what could have been in their kids’ lives. If you know someone who is parenting kids adopted from foster care, would you consider these six things? Would you consider how growing your knowledge about trauma’s impact on kids could help this family? If you’re considering becoming a foster-adoptive parent yourself, don’t let this list scare you away. Every kid deserves a forever home. May the experience be scary for us so it doesn’t have to be scary for them. Let this list prepare you for what it is to come.