You just got one of the craziest phone calls of your life…you have a new child. Your heart skips a beat or two, your head is spinning with visions of love, and you are just a pinch scared to death. Okay, maybe more than a pinch. But mostly, you are in awe. You feel surreal. You suddenly realize that you have about a month before your new child comes home, so you begin extreme nesting (of course, you have already been nesting for the past several months-this is simply extreme nesting). You have one visit, and then you have another, and one more…and then the day finally comes. The day when your child comes home.
For me, the pre-adoptive stage was one of the most difficult stages of my life. Now that I’m on the other side of that, I am examining why that was the case for me. I know that God planned this for me because through our adoption, I have become a much more transparent, authentic person. I have seen the struggles of people that I previously chose to ignore. I have learned to choose love instead of fall into it. But honestly, I wish that I could have learned all of that without the hard times of the six months of pre-adoption. In that vein, I wanted to share some of my thoughts about the pre-adoptive stage with you, just in case that is where you are, where you’re about to be, or maybe adoption is still floating around in your mind, and you’re wondering if you can really do it. Are you strong enough? I know all those questions…maybe too well. So grab some coffee, and let’s chat about this not-so-sure stage of adoption.
Your feelings are okay….all of them. I am my own worst critic. Hands down. I will beat myself up in the same areas where I freely give others grace. One of the areas I struggled with were my feelings. Some days, I felt on top of the world and completely in control, and other days, I felt like I couldn’t do it and the world was falling apart around me. I felt like I had made the biggest mistake that was sure to tear my family apart. Some days, I felt alone. Some days, I felt like I didn’t like my life anymore. Some days, it was hard to choose love, and I felt guilty about that. I mourned losing our “normal” and I struggled embracing our new normal. What I would love to go back in time and say to myself is…”It’s okay. All of it. All of those feelings are okay and normal. You need to feel all those things to get to the other side of this. So, feel everything…all the good things and all the bad things, and don’t feel bad about it.”
Don’t be the best version of you…be the real you. I wanted to be the perfect family for James. I wanted to be WonderMom for him. But I’m not. And I couldn’t pretend to be. It just wasn’t me. Be yourself…mistakes and all. Allow yourself the freedom to get frustrated. Allow yourself the freedom to get up and hang out in your robe and messed up hair. Don’t shoot for June Cleaver. They don’t need her, they need you.
Trust God. I would imagine that adoption was something that you prayed about a lot, something you didn’t jump into, and something that you felt lead by God to do. But sometimes, it’s hard to remember that when life is hard. When I was struggling, I would wake up every day, and my first thought was, “I trust you God.” I knew that He lead us to adopt, and I knew that He wouldn’t leave us on our own, so I had to remind myself that I really did trust God to see us through the hard part.
Focus on bonding/attachment first. When James came home, I think that we were too eager to get him to blend into the family from a logistical standpoint. In other words, we were really concerned that he knew our schedule, knew our rules, knew how things worked, etc. But I feel like it took us a while to really begin to bond with him, especially me. Bonding came naturally to Tim, but it didn’t to me, and it really didn’t come naturally for Isaac either. In retrospect, I wish that we would have intently focused on bonding rather than rules and procedures. Although, for those of you who struggle like me, bonding doesn’t have a time frame, so if you’re a little late, it’s okay. Just be intentional about it.
Praise 10X more than you correct. There will be some behavior issues. Even if the child doesn’t have any serious issues, there will be a learning curve on how the family works. So, during the pre-adoptive stage, it’s beneficial to be strongly focused on the positive. And not just with your adopted child, but also your biological kids. Point out EVERYTHING good, play those things up, and correct the negative gently, in private. Again, this goes for everyone, including your biological kids. Remember, this is a fragile time for your whole family.
Don’t care. I care about a lot. I’m a controller. But this is one time in life when it pays to just not care. Don’t care about what other people think of you. Don’t care that your kids are acting out. They are in a major transition, give them grace. Don’t care that your house is dirty. Don’t care that you are feeding your family frozen pizza every night (trust me…they will love it!). There will come a day when you will have the time and energy to start caring about some of these things again. And you will reign in your food choices, your family rules, etc. But now, just don’t care for a while.
Find an outlet. For lots of parents, this comes in the form of date night. It didn’t for us. Tim works late hours, and dates just don’t come very often around here. So for me, my blog was my outlet. When I started it, adoption was still just a lingering thought in my mind, but now I see exactly why God urged me to write again. He knew that I would pour out my thoughts, my frustration, my sadness, my loneliness, my anger, my happiness, and my joy on the pages of this blog. I am so thankful. I credit this blog with being my therapy for the past six months. So, start a journal, start a blog, take up painting again…whatever brings you joy and helps you release emotions, do that.
Give it time. We are so impatient these days. When James came home, I wanted us to be an immediate Brady Bunch family. But, that isn’t exactly realistic. As we got to know James more and more, we started understanding him better, and he began understanding us better. Through the lengthy process of getting to know each other, we have become family in the truest sense of the word. So give it time, lots of time.
Know that you (and everyone in your family) will change. I am quite possibly the most habitual person in the history of the world. I love doing the same thing every day. When James came home, my habits were abruptly and completely thrown off, and I mourned the changes deeply. It’s taking me a while to get back on track. So, knowing that your family and your routines will change is helpful. Knowing that you can’t control how they change is also helpful. It’s another time when you just have to trust God.
Find people who understand you, and build community with them. Our CALL family has been amazing. We met two couples in particular who have become like family to us through this process. Because they were going through the same thing, we didn’t have to feel bad about our feelings or censor what we said. We could just be real with each other. We message each other when things are tough and we pray for each other and we lift each other up. I don’t know that I would have gotten through the pre-adoptive stage without these people. So find some people who get you, people who have been there and build community with them.
There is no Cupid. I have told my kids this truth on a regular basis for the past nine months. So many times, we expect God to sprinkle this love dust over us or for Cupid to hit us with one of his love arrows, but that’s not what love is. We don’t just see someone random and fall deeply in love with them. Love is a choice, it’s an action. Love grows over time. So, if you are struggling to feel love for your new child, just know that it’s okay. Love comes when you choose to let it…just water it and give it sunshine and watch it grow.
Know that it’s worth it. This may sound a little harsh to you. But the truth is that through our pre-adoptive stage, God revealed Himself to me in a BIG way. I am not the same. I am changed for the better. Not only that, but my family is changed, and James is changed…all for the better. God has taken brokenness, and made something absolutely beautiful in our life. So, all of this, the junk from Questions 1-12…it’s all totally worth it. If you are “on the fence” about adopting, I’ll leave you with one of my husband’s favorite phrases… “Anything worth doing isn’t easy.” It wasn’t easy, but adopting was absolutely worth it. If I had it to do over again, I would. And honestly, I hope that God sees fit to let us adopt or foster again at some point in the future.
I want you to know that if you are in this pre-adoptive stage, you’re not alone. It’s tough, but this season will pass. And if I had it to do all over, this is the advice that I would give myself to follow. I pray that it is helpful to you too. If you are interested in adoption or fostering, please visit the sites below for more information: