It’s a story familiar to many adoptive moms but rarely talked about: You trek through mounds of paperwork, cash in your savings and clear space in your heart and home to welcome your bundle of joy…only to realize your uphill battle has just begun. While you’re thrilled to join the ranks of 135,000 other moms across the country in building your family through adoption, it’s hard to work out day-to-day issues in your home. Between the food hoarding, bed-wetting, back talking–and the list goes on and on…you love your child like crazy and you want the world to know you’re grateful for this parenting privilege! But you’re afraid they’ll think less of you and your children if you share your hardship.
If this is your story, you are not alone. Your journey might be unique but your struggles are not. Remembering these five things kept me in check along my own adoptive motherhood journey and I hope they’re a help to you:
Your gain is their grief.
When we adopt our children, we like to believe their stories start with us–with the “point of rescue”, so to speak. But that’s a lie. Kids who are adopted lose so much when they’re ripped away from their cultural heritage, the only people who cared for them in their formative years and taken to a foreign land where they have to quickly learn to adapt to a new language, new food, and new smells. The best way to earn your child’s trust is to meet them where they are. To this day, my daughter won’t eat a PB&J sandwich. So we crank up the rice cooker and serve her foods that remind her of home. It’s a culinary adventure for the whole family to create and eat interesting dishes from our child’s birth country! We celebrate Chinese New Year with a feast and we’re saving up money to take her on a tour of her homeland someday. Paying homage to your child’s heritage makes them feel connected to their roots and reminds the whole family that we’re all world citizens taking part in a global conversation.
Don’t take it personally.
When your kids come from a hard place, you need to know that sometimes they will spar with you because you’re a safe place for them to work out insecurities buried inside. Don’t give up. See a counselor who specializes in adoptive family dynamics. Manage your expectations. Consider it a badge of honor when your kids pick a fight over school work or curfew! I’ve got a girlfriend who welcomed two teenage boys into her home. Their birth mom spiraled down a pit of drug addiction and they had nowhere to turn. So she invited them in with open arms and threw her whole self into loving, educating and providing for these kids. One kid adapted quickly to the love and structure she offered. The other kid cursed her out, pushed away her hugs and stole money from her purse. Her heart broke in two but she pressed on. She realized, it’s not about me, it’s about them.
Dismiss conventional wisdom.
There’s no such thing as one-size-fits-all parenting advice. But especially as an adoptive parent, you need to be mindful that a different perspective needs to inform your parenting. When a child throws a fit, conventional wisdom says: “Put him or her in time-out.” But adoptive moms need to know that time-outs can reinforce feelings of isolation, rejection and lack of nurture.
Using “time-ins” in which a child sits next to you in a chair for a specified amount of time accomplishes the same thing as a “time-out” but communicates to your child that you’re not sending them away from your presence. Remember that your child has missed out on those newborn “mom on demand” years and maybe your child needs that. One adoptive mom of a five-year-old shared this bonding breakthrough with me: She held her 40-pound child in a rocking chair as though he was a baby and fed him juice through a sippy cup while gazing in his eyes. This looks ridiculous from the outside looking in, but studies show this can help form synapses in the brain that your child may have missed out on.
Don’t expect gratitude from your kids–but take time to honor gratitude in your journey.
Chances are, your child didn’t ask to be rescued from a hard place. You made the good-hearted choice to build your family through adoption. Your kids may never thank you for it but you can keep a catalog of your gratitude. Even during the hard times–perhaps especially during the hard times–this record of thanks will keep your perspective on track as you do your hard work. Studies show this practice is an easy way to release toxic emotions like stress and frustration as you hit roadblocks along your parenting journey. And as you focus on the progress you’re making, it encourages you to keep going in a forward direction, even when you feel like you’re falling behind.
Social media can work in your favor.
We’re not meant to mother in isolation. A solid support system can be found with the click of Facebook where adoptive moms are eager to share resources, swap stories and encourage each other. Every issue ranging from “Reactive Attachment Disorder” to “Open Adoption” to “Special Needs Overseas Adoption” can be found on Facebook. I’m a member of several groups that chat online and one that meets face-to-face. Entering a judgment-free zone whether on the web or in person allows moms to vent, ask questions and share their stories. It’s the greatest fuel I can access to fill my gas tank when it’s running on empty. Do yourself a favor and fill up your tank. You need to press on because your children need you.
Featured photo credit: Hadley’s Gotcha Day/Jeff Hopkins via facebook.com