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Emotional well-being for adoptive parents

Parenting brings joys and challenges. And parenting an adopted child brings tremendous joys and can also bring difficult challenges – physically, emotionally or cognitively. There may be situations adopted children face that are different from their peers. To help navigate this journey and do it effectively, it’s vital that adoptive parents take care of themselves and their emotional well-being.

Below are a list of things that other adoptive parents have dealt with:

Create bonds

Once your child is home, focus on your new family unit. It can help to establish joyous family rituals that you come back to again and again. Spend time to ensure the fabric of the entire family unit is strong and connected.

Post Adoption Depression

Much like postpartum depression, post-adoption syndrome refers to the stress, anxiety and depression felt by families (usually adoptive mothers) after bringing their child home. It can be caused by the stress of parenting and attempting to attach to a new member of the family, adjusting to the change in family dynamic and sheer exhaustion. There is also a feeling of ‘let down’ after the completion of the long, difficult adoption process. Symptoms include lack of interest and joy in activities, reduced or too much sleep, lack of attachment to the child, and feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness. This is a very real condition impacting a large percentage of adoptive mothers.  Please seek help from friends and family, as well as, professional experts. There are many resources to help – you don’t have to keep feeling this way.

Have reasonable expectations for your child

All kids have super powers. But they not be the ones you want, especially academically. Some perspective to consider is that raising a child who is built differently means there’s an opportunity to find a new path for the whole family. Parenting with constant fears that your child will not ‘make it’ will actually keep him/her from reaching his/her highest potential. Parents need to be aware of their own biases and refrain from putting unreasonable pressure on their children. As parents, we have to come to terms with the fact that our children (whether adopted or biological) will follow their own paths. And remember that many children take different paths and become fully functional, independent, healthy, happy adults.

How much to push your child academically

Related to the topic above, when your child has learning issues, it is a constant struggle to calibrate how much to push your child. It’s important to balance things so a child can work towards the satisfaction of mastering something and not giving up too easily with acknowledging that something is beyond their capability and trying to force them to learn it is counterproductive.

For example, if your high school child is struggling to read and comprehend at a middle school level, it is completely unreasonable to expect that child to take college level courses in high school.  However, it might be reasonable to expect the child to do additional reading at home, in order to improve their reading abilities.

Find or form a support group

If a face-to-face support group is not possible, join an one online. The ability to share your challenges with people who won’t judge you or your child is invaluable. Try to cultivate an activity that is your own, that you can pursue regularly to give you space to regenerate your energy.

Get as much help as possible

Getting help, be it understanding family members, a nanny, or tutors for children with learning challenges, is crucial to avoiding burnout and providing the best support for your children. You don’t have to do it all yourself and help comes from the most unexpected places. Be open to getting the help you all need.

How much can you blame adoption?

Adoption is undoubtedly a factor in many of the problems experienced by adoptees; however, it can also become a convenient crutch to lean on to excuse poor behavior. It is an ongoing challenge for parents to parse how much your child is manipulating you versus exhibiting behavior that is beyond his control. Is your toddler not sharing his toys because he had none in his orphanage? Is your teenager acting out because of adoption trauma or is it normal teenage rebellion?

Adoptive parents are usually hyper-alert and proactive about possible ramifications from adoption. You need to be sensitive to possible causes, but primarily, you should be working with the child on changing the behavior. It is also useful to focus on just one or two behaviors at a time and not try to address them all.

Do not expect linear improvement.

Child development is not linear. You may see periods of positive change, followed by plateaus. For every two steps forward, there might well be a step back. You may congratulate yourself that your 10-year old seems really attached to you and nonchalant about being adopted. But at 12, he suddenly starts becoming oppositional and stealing from others. You think you have found a good therapist to help your 16-year-old daughter, who has been cutting herself, but then you find that she has started drinking or smoking weed to self-medicate because she cannot handle her emotions.

This is quite normal, though you might despair at the setbacks. You need to find a way to get support for yourself – this is extreme parenting and you are in it for the long haul! It also helps to keep notes so that you can look back and see how far you have come.

Find the joy

Don’t get caught up in always “fixing” your child. Appreciate who they are. Enjoy those small moments of connection – a spontaneous hug, uproarious laughter at being tickled or a shared secret. Appreciate and recognize their character strengths, such as being inclusive of marginalized kids at school or wanting to help poor people. Each child comes with gifts in different areas. Recognize and encourage them in developing their strengths.

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