Its national adoption week this week.
Being an adoptive parent is something I am immensely grateful for. I have two adopted children, the eldest adopted at 13 months old now almost 16 (WOW, where did that go), a talented dancer, a gifted mathematician and a natural creative. And my youngest, adopted aged 5, now 13, a playful, innovative, and eternally curious ball of fidgety energy. I love then both with all my heart.
Adoption UK’s Adoption Barometer 2019 shows that four out of five adopters would recommend adoption.
That because adoptive parenting is incredibly rewarding.
And its incredibly challenging. Just like birth parenting, but not.
Adoptive parenting is not the same as birth parenting. And that is simply because adoption does not erase the past. Its one of those moments of acceptance that every adoptive family has to come to terms with, love in and of itself is often not enough. The scars of early childhood trauma can last a lifetime. Infact what we now understand about developmental trauma tends to suggest that the trauma experienced in the first year of life has the most prolonged effect.
So, if parenting in general is challenging and rewarding, adoption is challenging and rewarding squared.
Don’t argue with me on that one. Because I live this.
In this week of all weeks I wanted to share with you the advice I wish I could give to my 38-year-old self – the age I was when I started the adoption process.
- Your support network will be EVERYTHING. I treasure the community we have developed of other adoptive families and have a deep respect for them. They get it. In adoption we have to give up being like other families, and we have to grieve that loss and focus on what we have gained.
- You don’t need to be an expert on attachment theory and adoption but definitely gen up in this area. It’s a game changer to understand how infants develop, what they most need (attunement by the way) and how to respond in that way, especially in the early days when you don’t even know this child and they don’t know you. Start with the work of Dan Hughes http://www.danielhughes.org/ and anything by the wonderful sue Gerhardt there is a great interview here https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/babies-in-mind/0/steps/7797
- If you love your work, keep working. It will offer a balance to the challenges of being an adoptive parent, it will nourish your sense of identity, competency and confidence; and if you’re a boss, unlike children, you have a good chance that some people will listen to you and that feels good. If you don’t love your work find another path, parenting is hard enough.
- Understand your adoptive leave rights and take the full amount. I did this with our first adoption but not our second as he was older and school age at the time of adoption. I really regret this. Looking back, it was too much to ask of him and me – for me to return to work so quickly and him to start a brand-new school and have a brand-new family. If you’re in a two-parent relationship do take s much leave together as well. Lesson well and truly learnt. Learn from mistakes (always!)
- Shift your focus to one of commitment. Many adopted children have no reason to trust anyone and they don’t know what parental love feels like. Their experience tells them that the minute they let down their guard, everything is going to fall apart. Adoptive parents need to prove that this is a family forever. We have to be there for them again and again. What sometimes feels like your child’s inability to learn from her mistakes is really her need to be shown that you are rock steady. Even when we don’t like our children and they don’t love us; we must remain committed to their place in our family.
- Listen to yourself and adoption professionals and not normal ‘in quotes’ parenting laws. For example, it is fine to take opportunities to revisit developmental stages your child may have missed out on. Although it may seem odd that an older child wants to be rocked, sang-to, indulge these behaviours when everything in general parenting law says otherwise. It’s a wonderful acceleration in not worrying what others think.
- When in doubt, use humour and playfulness. Even if your child doesn’t crack a smile, singing badly, making a purposeful mess, dancing in the kitchen, anything to help the adoptive child connect and reach you.
- Practice SUPER SERIOUS SELF CARE. I cannot overestimate this enough, adoptive parenting with all its joys takes its toll. Secondary trauma is a real thing and needs serious consideration. Up your self care and then up it again.
- Enjoy and celebrate adoption days, I always take the day off work, we always have colin the caterpillar cake for breakfast and each of our children get to chose a way they want to celebrate the day as a family.
We have coached many adoptive parents, it’s a joy to do this work.