Adoption success for the long haul

Don’t be discouraged by short-term setbacks; the larger reward still lies ahead

By Debi A. Grebenik, PHD

As an adoptive parent, always have faith that you are doing the right thing. You may have to make choices that are best for your child in the face of what seemingly everyone else is telling you. Making these choices takes courage.

For example, suppose you bring home a baby you just adopted. Everyone wants to see, cuddle and touch your new adopted child. But one of the best things you can do for your child is to spend time with her with plenty of skin-on-skin cuddling in a calm and quiet environment with minimal distractions. These first days and weeks are paramount to the bonding that needs to occur. When the child's internal state of fear and stress is soothed, the child has an opportunity for healing.1

Friends and family can visit after you've invested this time with your child; you need not be overly concerned with what they think. Be brave enough to tell others what is best for you and your child. Discouragement is the opposite of courage – and courage will combat any discouragement you may face along the way.

Galatians 6:9 provides further direction, "Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up."

Hebrews 12:1 also encourages us to "run with perseverance the race marked out for us."

Still, many things can distract adoptive parents from success both short-term and over the long haul. The biggest distraction to many adoptive parents is their sense of isolation during the journey, perhaps due in part to the lack of understanding of the needs of the adopting family. Additionally, financial pressures or concerns may be distracting. Lack of progress toward goals or expectations may also prove to be challenging interruptions to the journey. Parents may become discouraged or off-track if their focus deviates from the planned journey.

To prevent losing sight of the journey's goal, a map is helpful. The adoption journey's road map is composed of training, agency support, tangible physical help and ongoing education. Make sure you consult your road map often. Don't be afraid to ask for help when needed, and don't be frozen in your fears of what others will think or say.

With a realistic road map, families can be flexible in their roles and responses and not take behaviours personally. These informed parents will listen to the child's behaviours because the behaviours will lead to the solution.

For example, traumatized children often cannot formulate the words to express their feelings and pain; their actions, however, scream out loudly. With this in mind, adoptive parents understand that children are not always purposefully trying to manipulate and be difficult. Indeed, these children's brains have been changed due to neglect, abuse or even attachment challenges. As a result, they must be parented lovingly and tenderly. Knowing this, focus on responsibility, not blame, in your interactions with your children. As children heal, you will be able to teach and guide them more effectively in the crucial areas of character and responsibility.

A realistic road map allows you to pack vital knowledge and understanding, particularly of a child's developmental stages and tasks. At whatever age the child experienced trauma, abuse or neglect, his development may be arrested. Some adoptive parents will bring their child into their family shortly after birth while others will adopt an older child, perhaps one with special needs. Awareness of the child's life before adoption helps the adoptive parents be prepared for the adoption journey.

For example, if a child experienced domestic violence in utero, that child may be hyper-vigilant to loud noises, touch or other sensory stimuli. Armed with this information, the adoptive parents can choose parenting responses that allow the child to express and process those difficult feelings and memories in an environment and relationship that is safe, loving and accepting, not one of fear.

The best journeys include opportunities for rest and relaxation. The journey of adoption requires more than the usual amount of self-care, something easily overlooked in the process of taking care of a child's vital needs. Even if you are thrilled to spend your best time and energy focused on the child and her needs, you still must make an effort to rejuvenate your own mind, body and spirit. Only when you are growing in health and strengthened in spirit can you provide the restorative relationship so desperately needed by your children.

Through this restorative relationship, you will find the Lord healing you as well. The journey, while arduous, provides blessings, hope and healing beyond measure to both you and your child. Remember, "Love never fails" (1 Corinthians 13:8).

First article in series: Traits of successful adoptive families

1.  Heather T. Forbes and B. Bryan Post, Beyond Consequences, Logic, and Control (Orlando: Beyond Consequences Institute, LLC, 2006)