Do you remember being in line for your very first roller coaster ride? Maybe your friend dragged you into line, saying it was the best thing ever. Your heart is racing, your palms are sweaty, you feel like you want to change your mind, but at the same time, you can’t bring yourself to leave the line? Finally, your time comes up and you get on and grip the bar with all you have. Suddenly the ride is off with a rush and leaves you crying at the giant drops, soaring through the exhilarating highs and taking deep breaths to get through the curves. Foster adoption is a little like that. It can look like a scary ride before you get on, but once you are on, it is possible to overcome the “scary” feeling and realize the beauty of it. Here are a few ways that you can take the “scary” out of foster adoption.
The first way to remove the “scary” factor from foster adoption is to really see your child. See their fear, their vulnerability, their needs, and their pain. You need to look past their behaviors and figure out what is driving their challenging behavior and difficult words. Look and see their potential, their need to be loved, and their need for stability.
The second way is to realize that a child who is adopted comes from a place of loss. In their life they have had at least one loss; potentially two or more. Sometimes foster children move around before they stay with their forever family. Sometimes children in the foster system have suffered physical or emotional abuse or trauma. More often than not, children who are adopted from the foster care system are dealing with a lot of baggage from where they’ve come. This baggage often causes behaviors that are difficult to understand. Sometimes these children have undiagnosed conditions such as FASD (Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders) or RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder). Those conditions may seem “scary” however, they are still children first, who need love and to be cared for. It’s not an easy job to parent a child with a disability, but these children need someone in their corner who is for them. Someone who is truly committed to them through the good and the bad. The bad will be bad, but the good moments will be amazingly beautiful.
The third way is to understand that in most cases it takes a team to raise a child. When raising a child who is adopted from foster care, it will likely involve more than just you. Children may be at various stages emotionally and physically and thus sometimes physical therapists, speech therapists, psychologists, behavioral therapists, psychiatrists, school teams, pediatricians, counselors and residential treatment centers may be essential to helping your precious child through life and in family life. As a parent, it is sometimes difficult to realize that our love for our child isn’t always enough, but it’s definitely needed, as it is the basis for why we advocate strongly for the additional assistance necessary to help our child succeed. These decisions can be extremely tough and stressful. As a parent, you advocate and you do what you need to do, to help your child; one step at a time.
The fourth way is to put plans in place for the safety of the family if your child should have a meltdown. It’s important to understand that the meltdown is a cause of some sort of overstimulation or traumatic memory, not a reflection of how the child really feels about their adoptive family. Coach your child on ways to de-escalate and help them find strategies that work for them.
The fifth way is to research, read, and learn all there is to know about trauma and attachment parenting. Find other families that have adopted from foster care to learn about what you can do to help grow that bond between you and your adopted child. Be your child’s biggest cheerleader. Whenever possible, exclaim over and reward the positive.
And lastly, use humor and self-care to keep yourself in a compassionate and caring mood. Your child has been through a lot. They will spend time testing you to see if you will leave them or hurt them as they have been in the past. It will not be easy, and you will have to develop a tough skin to let their words and actions roll off of you. If you can take care of yourself–enough nutrition, exercise and sleep and a little respite time here and there then you will be able to deal with your child who is hurting in a more compassionate way. Always remind yourself that they need your understanding, your compassion, and your grace more than your disapproval and anger. Use humor to lighten the mood whenever possible.
Parenting is scary. You never know what will happen tomorrow. We’d like to have control over everything, but unfortunately, we do not. So why not face your fears and step onto the roller coaster? Most likely it will leave you feeling amazed and the exhilarating highs will outweigh any of the lows that you felt. There are so many children in foster care just waiting for you to face your fears and say yes. They will change your life for the better and you, in turn, will hopefully, change their life for the better as well. It’s often not easy and can be very challenging, but if you work to take the “scary” out of it, then you will see just how a child can thrive when given the opportunity. Are you willing to say yes?