I've recently been impacted by a tragedy within our adoption community which resulted in the untimely death of a newly-adopted, 4-year-old child. She had been with her new family less than 100 days. It's been a devastating experience for me to witness given that I knew the family. A year later, I'm still left grappling with how in the world this could happen given the many post adoption resources that are available to all adoptive parents.
We all know that the time leading up to adoption is filled with many emotions. It is stressful, exciting, highly-anticipated, and often full of expectations; however, some of these expectations can set us up for failure. Though adoption is a wonderful blessing, it is not immune to its fair share of challenges. Adoptive parents are faced with situations that biological families will never encounter and, most likely, never understand. When you break it down, adoptive parents and their adopted child are strangers coming together. We initially work through the physical differences - appearance, our mannerisms, interests, and language, which are all new and foreign to each another. Then there's the emotional layer that we must begin to foster - namely, trust-building and bonding that has to take place on both sides, sometimes taking longer than expected. We also must address the disruption, trauma, fear, grief and loss that this fragile individual has experienced since the very start of his/her life and the many psychological, emotional, and physical complexities that go along with that, which many of us don't instinctively know how to approach.
So how do we prepare for this monumental change in our lives and in the newly adopted child's life? These are a few of my thoughts on the topic:
1). Be prepared for the worst, but hope for the best. Be prepared and realistic going into adoption. Know from the start that it's going to be challenging, possibly one of the most difficult things you've encountered. But also know that there are many resources out there to help with healing and provide hope as you and this child become a family.
2). Be proactive. Though many of us, read all that we can before adoption, post-adoption education is essential and must be ongoing for adoptive parents. In fact, after the adoption is really when education and hard work begins.
3). Stay connected to your social worker and to an adoption community, whether it's a local adoption support group, social networking groups, blogs, or on-line groups related to adoption parenting.
4). Seek out support and resources continually. Arm yourself with information by finding post adoption resources to add to your adoption parenting "toolbox". Books, on-line groups, websites, podcasts, and conferences all offer invaluable information on various adoption-related topics. Here are just a few of my favorite online resources:
Journey to Me to Me offers an extensive audio library and collection of articles.
Post Institute Bryan Post is an expert in the field of attachment and trauma.
Adoption Voices is a very resourceful adoption social network.
A 4ever Family is a great site for information regarding adoption attachment
Theraplay discusses treatment for trauma in adoption.
One of my favorite book regarding parenting an adoptive child or/and a child that has been through trauma is The Connected Child by Karyn Purvis.
5). Do not be afraid to ask for help. Reach out to your social worker or agency if you are struggling to parent your new child. Contrary to what you may think, seeking help is a sign of strength. You recognize your needs and are seeking a positive solution. No man is an island as the saying goes. We need support.
6). Most importantly, be willing to meet your child where he or she is, not where you want them to be. And remember that love is a choice, not a feeling.