Adoptive parents are challenged to bring a new perspective to the idea that blood is thicker than water. They’ve brought someone from another family into their own, loving and cherishing them every day. But adoption isn’t only hard to initiate, it also comes with its own unique challenges once your kid is officially part of your family.
Sometimes it’s hard as a parent not to romanticize adoption in a way that puts unrealistic expectations on the child and the adoption process. Not to say that adoption isn’t beautiful, fulfilling, and beneficial. But much like the birthing process, there are several pains in getting there and a lot to adjust to as you welcome a new member of your family. Perhaps one of the biggest adjustments in adoption is learning how to navigate these new challenges in a way that best benefits your child. In this post, we’ll talk through some of the challenges that come with being an adoptive parent, and offer tips on how to get through them.
Challenges adoptive parents face
To reach the best moments, you have to persevere through the tough ones. And this applies to all types of parenting. But with adoption, you’re bringing someone from a completely different background where other people have impacted them in ways that you may never fully understand. Acknowledging these challenges and uncertainties can help you understand how best to navigate them.
Before we jump into the challenges, it’s important to note that just because your kid is adopted doesn’t mean they’re more likely to have medical or behavioral issues. American Adoptions says: “While some adopted children do, of course, have certain special needs or medical conditions in their background, there is no evidence that they are more likely to experience medical issues than non-adopted children.”
The differences that come with raising an adopted child mostly stem from the complicated nature of integrating a child from a different background into your home. The misconception that an adopted child will have more issues than a biological child is something Axis doesn’t agree with. And acknowledging these challenges doesn't mean your adopted child is bound to have a harder life than other kids. With that being said, we hope that as you read this post, you will feel inspired and encouraged to tackle these issues head-first with your adopted child.
Recognizing your child’s background.
Exploring your kid’s background and heritage can be extremely influential in building their sense of identity. Who were their biological parents? Why did they decide to give them up for adoption? What is their culture like? Yes, their identity as a member of your family is very important, but the answers to these questions can help them understand their story in ways that might feel disconnected from how things are now. It can help them understand how they came to be where they are now, and find peace in being put up for adoption.
Coping with trauma.
“Often times these children were not given the opportunity to form a healthy bond with a stable and responsive caregiver, or an experience with a caregiver included abuse, trauma, or neglect. As a result, these children often crave love, but lack the skills and are terrified to form vulnerable bonds with others.” —Angelica Shiels, “8 Practical Tips for Adoptive Parents”
Sometimes your kid’s past lifestyle will leak into their current way of life. Depending on what age your kid was adopted and/or how they were treated before adoption, they may be struggling with trauma, mental health disorders, or attachment problems. They may not be responsive when you show love to them, or struggle to connect with others. Sometimes, being patient, loving, and supportive is all they need. And if your child is struggling with little hope of change, it’s not necessarily a reflection of your parenting or a fault of their own. If you’re struggling to help them with these issues, it’s important to remember for some situations, it takes more than just having good parents to get through trauma. It may take therapy and years of reflection and community support for them to finally find peace or to even take the first step toward healing.
Receiving outside criticism.
If your kid is from a different culture or race, has a disorder, or simply looks or acts differently from you, you may have some awkward interactions with others. They may feel entitled to tell you their opinions, ask inappropriate questions, or react in a way that makes your kid feel even more alienated from the rest of the family. With outside criticism, it can be hard to advocate for your kid and make them feel comfortable and accepted inside the home, even though you haven't personally done anything to make them disconnected in that way.
Feeling disconnected from the family.
Your kid may have trouble adjusting to a new household and a new way of parenting. If they come from toxic home environments, this transition into a new lifestyle can be beautiful and fulfilling. But sometimes, your kid may struggle to connect with their new family or your parenting style. Fitting in with the family may be even harder if you have biological children in addition to your adopted kids (though this can also have the opposite effect, and make them feel even more accepted).
How to support an adopted child
“Adoption has the dimension of connection—not only to your own tribe, but beyond, widening the scope of what constitutes love, ties and family. It is a larger embrace. By adopting, we stretch past our immediate circles and, by reaching out, find an unexpected sense of belonging with others.” —Isabella Rossellini
Now it’s time for some encouragement. Yes, there is a lot to be worried about when adopting a child and inviting them into your life. Luckily, there are many ways to overcome these challenges! There will be times when having an adopted kid feels completely natural, but other times you may need to be more intentional and attentive to what’s going on in your kid’s world. Here are just a few ways you can better connect with your kid and help them feel loved and supported as you face challenges together.
Find community support.
Being with like-minded friends and family who are encouraging, fun, and caring is one of the best ways to go through life. “It takes a village” is an understatement when it comes to raising a child well! Support from our churches, friends, support groups, and family can make all the difference in shaping how our kids see and deal with the world around them. So, plug into a community where your kid can be themselves and enjoy life.
Research their background.
We mentioned above that it’s important to recognize how your child’s background might have shaped them in some harmful ways. But also, helping them understand where they came from and helping them search for answers to their curiosities about their birth parents or birthplace can be a big part of forming their identity formation. Be active with them in researching their history or contacting their biological family. And, most importantly, help them through any emotions (positive or negative) that may surface during the process.
But what if the adoption agency doesn’t have this information? What if your kid’s heritage is mostly unknown and there’s no clear way to trace their roots? On top of that, what if your kid isn’t interested in exploring their background? What if they would rather acknowledge their adopted family and no other? Opening up this conversation with your kid is the first step in knowing exactly how to support them in the way they would most appreciate it. If their background isn’t important to them, then that could mean they’re happy and content with how things are. And maybe their curiosity will grow as they get older. But if it doesn’t, live presently with them and support their plans for the future.
Stand up for them.
When your kid is facing opposition from the family members, outsiders, or even themselves, it’s your job to advocate for them and make them feel valuable and vital to the family. They are 100% part of your family, and nothing anyone says or feels to the contrary will change that fact. So fight for them, be supportive of who they are, and make sure they know their place in your family is unconditional.
Establish consistent rules and reward systems.
It can be hard to be consistent with our kids, especially if they were adopted at an older age and weren't always raised under your rules. And if your adopted kid is in an adjustment period, they might struggle or be opposed to how you do things every day. So, work with them to find compromises and be consistent to better help them as they get used to their new life. Similarly, it may be hard as the parent to adjust to your kid and how they do things. So, when it comes to how you react to them, make sure you’re not overly attentive to their misbehavior. Even if you’re going through a rough patch and can’t seem to get along, recognize their successes and good behavior.
Revisit what they previously missed.
Depending on their age when they were adopted, your kid may have distinct memories of abuse or neglect that you can make up for (to a great extent) in their experience with their new chance at a family. Especially in cases of neglect, go out of your way to show them love, affection, praise, joy, attentiveness, and care on a normal basis. Show value for their opinion by attentively listening to them, giving them room to be themselves and supporting their self-discoveries. Even if your adopted kid is still an infant, you can make up for weeks or even months of neglect by holding them and spending time with them. And most importantly, remind them of their worth as your child and a child of God.
The beauty of adoption
According to Good Faith Media, Christians are twice as likely as the average adult to adopt a child—and there are a lot of reasons for this. The Bible speaks of the importance of helping those who are in need. Whether it’s the birth parents who were struggling to raise their child financially or emotionally, or the child who desperately needed a loving home, adoption is accepting a child who was in an unfortunate situation into a new situation of hope.
“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” —Romans 8:14-15
But ultimately, adoption is at the very core of who we are. We have been adopted by God, accepted as His children through Christ, and have a second chance at life. God loves us deeply and unconditionally. While loving our own adopted kids with a perfect love is impossible, we can strive to give them glimpses of God’s love by loving them wholly as our own.