Adoption is a beautiful thing, but like most worthwhile endeavors, it is a stressful work as well. There are some stresses that you will face regardless of the age of the child you adopt. Other stresses are unique to infants or older children from foster care. There are also stresses that are unique to adopting children internationally. What extra stress should you expect when adopting a child?
Infants are much more sensitive and intelligent than they often let on. We often think that, because we cannot understand them, they cannot understand us or the situations around them. This is not true. While they may not understand our words, they recognize voices, textures, smells, and surrounding sounds. They are very attuned to the concepts of familiar and unfamiliar and have surprising levels of empathy that pick up on the anxiety levels of those around them.
What does that mean? Infants are not blank slates. Adopted infants will require a period of getting adjusted to their new home and their new parents. If their eating and sleeping routines have been disrupted, it may take some time to get new routines set in place. If they experienced trauma, some of it might come out at night in ways they cannot communicate, and you may not immediately be perceived as a source of love, comfort, and safety, no matter how hard you try. There may be things that just don’t make sense because you do not, and may never, understand the backstory.
Older children come to you with the experience of some form of parental guidance already. If that parenting was good, you will have a difficult period of grief, as they transition from those parents to you, hopefully, followed by many years of love and fulfillment in their new family. If that previous parenting was remarkably flawed though, they may carry emotional and behavioral baggage with them that could take years to unpack, and which they may struggle with their entire life.
In both circumstances, it is crucial for you to realize that your job is not to fix them. Your job is to love and provide for them. Giving them guidance is essential, but that guidance cannot be received in the same way birth children receive it. It often comes from a place that asks them to deny any previous teaching or life experiences they may have had… asking them to act as though the moment they stepped foot in your house they were “born again” to a new family, and that their old life is gone forever. That is easier said than done. The patience and steadfast love you must show them will cause you additional stress, especially when you do not understand their coping behavior or the perspective behind it.
Adoptions across national boundaries can be expensive and cause extra heartache when things do not go through. Your child may suffer from birth defects or dispositions that are not common in your own country, which may require special medical attention. Children old enough to speak may have difficulty learning your language or culture. Infants may take time adjusting to a new time zone for their sleeping and eating habits. Most of these international adoptions are closed adoptions, but if they are not, you could undergo a lot of stress dealing with family members across international lines.
If you are considering adoption, go into it with your eyes open, knowing that there will be stresses you will face beyond that of parents giving birth to children. However, those challenges provide unique rewards when your child grows old enough to realize they were not just dropped into your lap one day, but that you actively sought them out and chose them. No matter what stresses your family encounters, facing them as a family will always guarantee success.