Thoughts of an adopter: Things I worry about

A new adoptive mum reflects on her experiences and the things that concern her.

We want to give a voice to adopters and adoptive families. This article was written by a new adoptive mum and we hope that her thoughts will help us all to better understand some of the concerns felt by adoptive families, so that we can be a better support to all who adopt.

Let’s not beat around the bush here... Parenting is hard.

However you come to care for children, it is a daily slog, a real challenge, an exhausting, relentless, whirlwind of constant activity, and it is absolutely rammed full of emotions.

Thankfully, for us so far, these emotions include joy, wonder and absolute adoration at the incredible little life that we have the privilege of parenting. But there is also worry, guilt, anxiety, fear… Sometimes just a trickle here or there, and sometimes a massive torrent of overwhelming terror that leaves me feeling breathless.

Of course, all parents will battle with these emotions – adoptive parents certainly don’t have the monopoly on worry – and I’m sure there are some fears that parents experience that haven’t had to cross my mind as yet, and perhaps never will. But there are a handful of things that often crop up for me as an adoptive mum.

And they’re scary. Both the trickle and the torrent type of scary.

I worry about answering the very common question that everyone asks.

My little boy is ridiculously super-cute and incredibly social. He’ll smile at anyone and everyone, from people at the supermarket to the neighbours down the street to the lifeguard at the swimming pool. And more often than not, they will kindly smile back and usually follow up their smile with a simple question.

“What’s his name?”

Never have three inane words held such power.

Let me be clear: I’m not embarrassed or ashamed by his name, I’m actually a big fan of it and for the most part I’m proud and happy to share it. But there’s always this moment, this prolonged pause that feels like a very long time, when I wonder if I should reveal it to this random stranger. I wonder why they’re asking and what they’re thinking and who they know and what they might do with this new piece of information.

When, in reality, they’re just being kind and making conversation about the cute kid that smiled at them in the queue at the check-out.

Every time he cries, I worry that it’s about more than whatever he’s crying about.

Is he remembering something? Is he anxious? Is he afraid that everything is about to change again? Or is it just that I wouldn’t let him have another biscuit?

Finding the balance between ‘it’s what every toddler does’ and filtering his behaviour through the trauma he’s experienced is a real challenge. Given that he’s not yet verbal makes this tricky, but I know that friends who have adopted or fostered older children struggle with this too, because even children with a wide vocabulary are unlikely to have the capacity to fully comprehend or communicate the complexities of their feelings.

Every parent plays the guessing game of ‘what’s bothering you today?’, and my hat is off to anyone who has ever navigated a toddler tantrum and emerged relatively unscathed. But what if it’s not just a tantrum? What if he’s afraid that the lack of biscuit means I don’t love him anymore, or the fact that I can’t pick him up while I’m mending his favourite toy means that someone else will be coming to look after him next week?

I know that my skills and experiences don’t match up with his.

I have been a parent for a lot less time than he’s been a child. He existed for many months before I became a part of his world. I worry that I’m missing something, I’m holding him back, I’m not enabling him as well as I should be. He had been with me for six weeks before I discovered he knew all the actions to a particular nursery rhyme.

Although his amazing foster carers told us as much as they could, there’s obviously going to be little pieces of information that got missed. I’m just really hopeful we covered all the big and important things, and I’m really thankful they don’t mind us texting when we think of bits we missed.

I know that missing out on a few actions for a few weeks isn’t exactly a grave concern, and we’ve more than made up for this lack in the weeks since our discovery. But it’s what this represents: I love him so much and there was something I didn’t know about him.

I naively hadn’t realised how much and how swiftly I would love him. This is different for everyone and I was prepared for it to take a while – and if it had done for me or it has done for you, that’s ok. In the same way that it takes different amounts of time for parents who give birth to their children.

But I wasn’t prepared for the depth of this emotion. I wasn’t prepared for the intensity of it, the feeling that I will do anything to protect him, anything to keep him safe, anything to ensure that he is able to flourish.

Which is why I’m terrified of your mobile phone.

I’m scared of your Instagram feed. I’m anxious every time you tweet. When you go live on Facebook I want to run a mile in the opposite direction (and I hate running).

For reasons I can’t and won’t go into but will likely be quite obvious, we need to keep our little boy off social media. Which is really hard when all I want to do is boast about how brilliant he is and show him off to the world. But the human piece of me that feels a sharp pang of jealousy at all the gorgeous pictures of my friend's children that fill my Facebook newsfeed, also understands just how important it is to protect my son in this way and not post my own gorgeous photos.

There will come a day when he wants his own Facebook/Instagram/Snapchat (or whatever new technology has usurped them all by then), and I’m scared about that day too. I desperately hope that we’ll have done enough to help him make sense of his history and make wise decisions. I hope we’ll have said the right words, done the right things and set the right example.

Of course, we won’t always. We’ll make mistakes. We’ll miss things and mess up, we’ll pick the wrong battles and say the wrong things.

But thankfully, we’re not on this journey alone.

We have family and friends surrounding us, cheering us on and supporting us in each moment of each day. Praying for us and rooting for us. Loving our child and loving us as we do our best to love him. We have people who understand our worries and fears, and people who don’t yet understand but want to, and for that we are so grateful.

And we have Jesus who whispers His words of comfort, strength and reassurance in the quiet moments and shouts them in the noisy ones. He fills in the gaps of our deficiencies and He holds us amidst the fear. He is with us, always.

“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me… I will not abandon you as orphans. I will come to you.”John 14.1, 18

So perhaps these worries are manageable. In His strength and with your support, we can do this despite the fear. Thank you for seeking to understand, thank you for recognising where things are different (and where things are exactly the same), and thank you for all you do to #SupportAdoption and adoptive families like ours.

[Please know that I don’t claim to speak for all adopters, but perhaps my concerns are shared by others (along with their own anxieties). If you are feeling any or all of these worries, or others that I’m yet to contend with, I really encourage you to share them and seek support. Be honest with your family, friends, social worker, church... with whoever you feel able to talk to.]

If you don’t feel able to talk to someone you know, you could call the Home for Good team on 0300 001 0995, as they would love to listen and pray with you.

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