10 Things You Need to Know About Adopting from Foster Care
Before adopting two awesome kids who came into my life through foster care, I had this idea in my mind that the whole ordeal would be kind of like what happened in Annie. We would just be handed a precocious, well-adjusted child that we would rescue from their dire straits through love and perseverance and possibly a few well-timed choreographic musical numbers. The truth is that it’s infinitely more complicated than that, although it is equally thrilling and wonderful—minus the giant mansion and, sadly, Punjab. We could all use a little Punjab in our lives.
So, if there is someone you know (maybe you?) who is going through—or considering going through—this glorious insanity, here are some things to keep in mind.
1. I am my children’s “real” mother. My husband is their “real” father. People, I know what you mean when you ask who their “real” mother is. I get it. In the minds of a non-adoptive parent, especially a woman who has birthed babies out of her own loins, motherhood means that your ovaries made an egg, which fertilized and grew within your own womb, and then pushed out of your nether regions. But please understand that biology isn’t the trump card in motherhood. I didn’t give birth to my kids, although not a day goes by that I didn’t wish I could have had that experience. Instead, I met my children when they were toddlers. I worked at my relationship with them—not through biology, but through sheer determination. I became their “real” mother, and even though it didn’t happen at birth, it happened. I am real, we are real, this is real. Really.
2. Their lives and their circumstances are private. A lot of adoptive kids have stories that aren’t easy to tell. I may choose to share some of the details, in broad strokes, but this is their story to tell—if and when they choose to. Most of our close friends and family know the quick and dirty about what our kids’ lives were like before coming to live with us. We’re not ashamed of them and we don’t pretend they grew up in a golden castle with a snow leopard as a pet and had nothing but loving, magical experiences. On the contrary, we accept and recognize their past. We just don’t want to explain it to everyone we meet.
3. Sometimes, we need to do things a little differently. There is no such thing as one size fits all parenting; we all know that. What works for one kid or one family might not work for others. But, sometimes, kids who have come from really shitty experiences may need things that kids who don’t come from really shitty experiences may not. It’s that simple.
Yeah, you don’t let your kids graze for snacks between meals. That’s awesome, and I’m glad it worked for you. But my kids? Food wasn’t always a constant in their lives, and so providing it is a form of trust. Letting them know it’s always there is important. You put your kid to bed at a certain time and then don’t let them leave their rooms? Okay. But my daughter needs to know that someone is there, because she was left alone so much as a baby. She needs me to lie with her and rub her hair until she falls asleep, even if it takes an hour. And, so, that’s what I do. You would make a point to punish your son when he hits his sister? I know that my son saw plenty of violence, that in his first home hurting another person was normal. So instead of sending him to a time out, I talk to him about how we treat people we love with kindness, not pain. When our kids first came to live with us they sometimes wanted chicken for breakfast. And they got it, because that’s how important comfort is when you’re young and confused. Chicken first, healthy breakfast later.
At the end of the day, we all want our kids to feel happy and healthy and safe. Adoptive parents sometimes take a different path to get there.
4. Kids adopted from foster care aren’t messed up kids. An idea exists about kids in foster care—that they’re completely and totally damaged. They’ll steal from you. They’ll hurt you. They’ll reject your love and ruin your life because they’re just rotten to the core. Someone messed them up, and now they’ll be that way. Forever.
Let’s get real for a moment here: A lot of foster children have come from extremely difficult circumstances. Abuse of all kinds, neglect, exposure to drugs both in utero and during their daily lives, squalid conditions—it happened. And those sort of things have a profound effect on kids, even if they were very young when it occurred. Their minds may or may not have memories of what happened, but their bodies always do. Sometimes these circumstances lead to difficulties in their lives—difficulties in forming relationships, difficulties with trust, and, yes, as a result there are sometimes difficulties with behavior.
That being said, there is no such thing as messed up kids; there are just kids that come from messed up places. And that’s where we come in—their adoptive families, friends, communities, schools, churches, neighborhoods. We come in and we love them and we care for them and we do everything we can to make this part of their lives as amazing as we can. We show them their worth, help them learn to trust, and provide the stability that serves as a foundation for healing.
Love works, but not by itself. These kids with messed up circumstances needs support, guidance, stability. Sometimes therapy. The road there isn’t always paved with gold and lined with daisies, but the road exists. They just need someone to follow them down it.