This Isn’t What I Expected: Avoiding Common Pitfalls Of Parenting After Adoption

Adopting a child is a great gift, both to your family and to the child. It is also a time of great change, and with change comes stress. It isn't uncommon for new adoptive parents to find themselves in situations they didn't expect. Here are some of the most common difficulties faced by families completing adoption, and how to work through them in ways that strengthen your bond with your child.

Adopting a Baby

In some ways, adopting an infant is easier than adopting an older child. Babies won't remember the trials and tribulations of the process, and bonding between infants and their caregivers is, in many ways, automatic. Babies are programmed from birth to develop a strong bond with the people who meet their needs, and parents bond with children who are completely dependent. However, bonding is not immediate, and learning to care for an infant is a difficult process of trial and error. 

Many adoptive parents describe the same feelings and difficulties as biological parents. If you are adopting an infant, be aware of the following emotions, and ask for help if they seem overwhelming.

  • Frustration: Being unable to quiet a crying child is one of life's most challenging experiences. Children often bond best with their parents when their cries are met with calm, compassionate responses, but frustrated parents sometimes feel unable to do so.
  • Lack of parental love: Many parents, both biological and adoptive, experience a period of adjustment after the arrival of their baby, and do not experience immediate, overwhelming parental affection. If you experience this, fear not; you are not a bad parent. Do you best to avoid succumbing to the feeling that you will be unable to love your child.
  • Extreme sleep deprivation: It takes time for a baby's circadian rhythm to sync with the rest of the world. For nine months they lived in an environment devoid of day or night, and sometimes that means play time at midnight and waking frequently.

In any of these situations, the answer isn't to berate yourself and feel as if you are failing as a parent. Reaching out for help is absolutely essential. All new parents need a support system, so while you are waiting to bring you baby home, set up help with housework, someone to help relieve you if you are feeling overly frustrated or tired, and someone to talk to in times of difficult emotional situations.

Adopting an Older Child

Adopting an older child, especially one who is already verbal, can be incredibly rewarding. They are more able to more immediately express their needs, and their love and affection for you. It can also be more difficult than adopting an infant, and requires special considerations.

  • Older children who are placed for adoption are more likely to have already suffered abuse or neglect, which may make bonding with their new parents more difficult. 
  • Older children sometimes have more difficulty adjusting to new surroundings and experiences than babies. Because they have grown accustomed to the way things were done in their previous placement, their new home, parents and rules may seem overwhelming to them.
  • Because older children are not completely dependent, those parental feelings of attachment may take a little longer to develop.  

If you experience any of the above listed issues, it will be important for you to seek out professional advice and both individual and family counseling. Because most older children available for adoption have come from abusive homes, adopted children and their parents sometimes need extra help bonding as a family. That doesn't mean there is anything wrong with you or your child, only that the extraordinary circumstances that brought you together need to be addressed.

Adoption is a beautiful way to complete your family. It can also be one of the most challenging experiences of your life. Parenting isn't easy for anyone, but being prepared helps. Now that you know more about what to expect, are you ready to proceed with your adoption plans?

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