It’s more than 10 years since we adopted our younger children, and we have come such a long way. Here are 10 things to think about before adopting:
The adopting stage is completely different now than when we adopted, but I think still some things are true. When thinking about adoption – try to find the most ethical solution you can find.
Having a child is always a selfish option, no matter how you have that child. You do it for you, not for the child’s sake. Having a child through adoption is even more selfish, because there is always – always – a tragedy behind the adoption. And some agencies are not as ethical as one would want them to be. Do you want to parent a child and one day find out that that child had a mother and a father who wanted the child, but were tricked into giving it away? Sometimes there is even child trafficking involved with people kidnapping children and selling them to orphanages.
The adoption industry is just that – a market with buyers and sellers. I still think there can be ethical adoptions – we are examples of just that. We chose a country with a reputable organization in the adoption country, with the possibility that a biological mother could choose us. We were fortunate to be chosen by both the parents, so in our case we have zero doubts as to whether everything went by the books. In many other cases things are not so clear. It definitely pays in the long run to really look into the organization that you’ll be using and to think about the ethics.
- Every child that is adopted has gone through loss
It’s best to assume the child your adopting will be having PTSD-symptoms and other symptoms of stress. No matter how young a child, the child will have been through a stressful event that can affect their whole life. A child’s brain is malleable to harmful influences already before birth, and chances are a mother who gives up their child for adoption is in a lot of stress which influences the child.
This can then take the form of attachment issues. Attachment issues often look like ADHD when the kids are a bit older. It is of utmost importance to seek help as soon as possible!
I’ve seen many parents not want to seek help when they think their child’s problems aren’t that big, but believe me – it is much better to seek help a little bit before you yourself are ready (and I’m 100% sure if you’re even considering if you should seek help, that yes, you should) than to wait until your child’s issues have spiraled out of control.
We’ve been in therapy for many years now, and I don’t regret starting so early! We would have gone earlier if that had been even possible, but we did it as fast as we could and now we get to reap the benefits in kids that are much more well adjusted than even their peers without a trauma background. Take a leap of faith and ignore all your miscomprehensions about therapy and just go for it. Your child will feel better and so will you, and all the judgmental people if they exist can just go suck it.
- It is so important to have all the facts
If you have any facts about your child’s adoption, write them down so that the child can read for themselves when they are old enough.
Write down everything using age-appropriate language. There are ready-made books you can use, but in my opinion Lifebooks that the parents make themselves are the best. In that way the book gets custom-made and not only that – by a loving parent. You show through your deeds how much you love the child, and the child will pick up on that.
I made Lifebooks for all our kids, and we’ve read them since they were little. But it’s only now that they are old enough to read them themselves, that the books are really significant. They look at pictures of their birthparents and can read all the words I wrote so long ago about how children get made, what adoption is and what we know about their parents and birth-country.
- Your attachment style will come into play
The way you were treated when you were little will affect how you treat your children.
Most people learn this the hard way. They can be calm and collected, look to be set to be perfect parents and then boom – when the kid is born the parent completely changes.
All those issues that you had with your parents, even those that you don’t remember will come out in situations where you lose control or lose your temper.
I’m fortunate to be securely attached, but Niklas was not and we have struggled a lot with his attachment issues. It is not easy to have kids with trauma, when you yourself have issues. The thing that has helped the most is of course 1. therapy, but also 2. mindfulness and 3. finding out the MBTI-type and learning how each of us in our family thinks and using that for meaningful engagement.
- Take care of yourself
This is much easier said than done. It is tough raising kids with trauma, and I myself haven’t always had the opportunity to even get to breathe easily for five minutes during certain days. But nowadays there are meditation apps to help you. If you can’t do anything else relaxing, you can at least breathe.
My favorite meditation app is Calm, which gives you guided meditation which I love.
- Get help
Get a therapist if you can. Get your family and friends to help you. Sometimes they won’t believe that there is anything wrong, because sometimes traumatized kids only show their symptoms at home (this is a good thing – you don’t want the other way around, when they show their symptoms at school or away from home, but are well-behaved at home). Sometimes the kids are just so exhausting that nobody wants to help you with them.
Look around and see if you can find someone who either understands your situation a little bit, or who you can trade favors with. It doesn’t have to be a relative – it can be a friend, or even an acquaintance who is sympathetic. We have a family who have supported us through thick and thin, who’ve taken the kids overnight once in a while just so we could get some time off. Later on we’ve done the same favor to them. The kids are by now so familiar with each other that they don’t get too stressed with spending time away from home, and both our families have been getting really close-knitted in the process.
- Collect memories
I’m not sentimental, and I find making photo books a chore, but my kids – they love the books! They love looking through old albums and seeing how happy they were when they were little. Making memories together as a family is so important when you all have different backgrounds.
When the kids were little I used to write down ”star-moments”. When we had a really good family moment I wrote it down on a paper star and glued it to the wall in the hallway. All these little things really make the kids feel safe and loved.
- Think about racism
If you are the sort of person who don’t want to adopt a child from Africa because you are afraid they will be exposed to racism – perhaps you should consider if you should adopt at all.
All internationally adopted children will be exposed to racism in one form or the other. If you as a parent are blind to it, you are harming your child.
You should instead try to be informed, no matter how awful it feels . It is even worse for the people experiencing racism, so think about that instead. (I’m assuming most people who read this blog post are white).
Your job as a parent is to be a shield and a warrior that fights for your child. It is your job to tell people to stop being idiots, to stop using racist words, to be kind to people.
It is your job to tell people not to touch your child’s hair. It is your job to be informed.
- Adoption is not like having a biological child
Yes, you love all your children, but adopting is different from giving birth to a child. All children need parents, but you can’t just go on and adopt because you want to save a child. You have to know how hard it is, and also think about the ethics (see point 1.).
But it definitely helps if you have a child beforehand. You have probably managed to work through some of your own issues, when you got the first child. You are more experienced and can tell what is normal and what is not. That can give you a heads up when you need to seek help.
- Is it worth it?
You can never know beforehand how much work having a child will be. Some kids are easier, because of their own predisposition and the parents. But most children – most people – have their own challenges. Nobody goes through life without meeting any hardships, so yes, it’s worth it.
It’s hard work, and you should know beforehand that it is hard work. If you feel you are not ready or you are not willing to have sleepless nights and to fight for your child – then forget about it. Do something else. Our world is overpopulated as it is, and not everyone needs to be a parent.
Every child needs a parent, but it doesn’t have to be you. It has to be someone who is willing to sacrifice their own health, their friendships (because sometimes people can be selfish, racist jerks), their beliefs of the world and their peace of mind (secondary trauma – it’s a thing). And then – then it’s worth it.