How’s that for an awkward title? Adoption has been on my mind a lot lately. This week, a woman I met talked about how she had always longed for a large family, but she was a single mom of two, and had resigned herself to enjoying her two kids as much as possible. When I asked if she had considered adoption, she said she had, but as a single mother, didn’t think she’d be a social worker’s top pick. She seemed surprised when I mentioned that there are lots of kids who actually prefer a single parent family, for a variety of reasons.
After that conversation, I knew I needed to write down all of the adoption-related thoughts that have been spinning around my head recently.
First, you don’t have to be “wonderful” to be an adoptive parent. I’m not wonderful. I’m normal. Sort of. Let’s call it normal-ish. I take medication for anxiety. We’re not wealthy. Sometimes I lose my temper. We don’t have a huge house. I am disorganized. Our house has its fair share of clutter. This family is not a picture-perfect airbrushed television family. We’re messy and real.
If you don’t like children, you should not consider adoption. If you like children but never felt that you should be a parent, you should only very carefully consider adoption. If you don’t want to put in some time to learn about how trauma, grief, neglect, abuse, abandonment, and moving from home to home affects children, you should not consider adoption. If you want to be seen as a hero, or you expect a child to constantly show you how immensely grateful they are for “rescuing,” you should take a few classes and drop the rescue notion before considering adoption. If you can’t discipline a child without resorting to hitting or spanking or verbal abuse, you should not consider adoption.
All others, you should consider adoption. Here’s why. Take a look at adoptuskids.org. That’s a national site about adoption from foster care, and they have photolistings of waiting children, as well as links to state adoption resources and photolists. The children shown on these lists are the tip of the iceberg.
Each year, more than 250,000 children enter the U.S. foster care system. Many of these children, more than half of them, return to their biological families. But that leaves thousands still in the system and in need of a permanent home and family. Some have special needs that make them more difficult to place in a family. Some have siblings that they want to stay with, and there aren’t a lot of families who will consider adopting four kids at once.
Each year, more than 20,000 children age out of the foster care system without being adopted. Just stop for a moment and think about that number. 20,000. I don’t know your story, but I know that when I was 18, I was not prepared to be launched into the world without the support of a family. I still call my parents at least weekly and I’m now 36. Think about 20,000 young adults every year who don’t have someone to turn to when they’re sick or hurt, who have no home to visit at Christmas, who have no one to ask when those inevitable questions come up about how to do things grown-up style. If you’ve been complaining about people who are a drain on “the system,” perhaps you should very seriously consider how society might change if we weren’t leaving TWENTY-THOUSAND young men and women hanging each and every year in the U.S.
I’m not saying it’s easy. I’m the first to admit that having more kids means our budget is tighter, our schedule is even crazier, I have less time alone with my husband, our house is messier, people have to share bedrooms (the horror!), the milk runs out faster, etc. Helping children process their traumatic pasts is hard work. Sometimes they get angry. Sometimes they pee on things. Sometimes they hoard food and draw ants in their bedroom. Sometimes they hate you because they’re working through something and you’re the adult that happens to be there. It’s frustrating and sad and sometimes you feel really alone because other parents don’t understand why your kids do the things they do.
But it’s also rewarding. My Hannah was a world-class tantrum-thrower when she arrived at our house. We spent many a night repeating the same consequences, the same structure, the same practiced speech about where screaming was OK (outside) and where it was not (in the house). And then she stopped throwing the tantrums. Hasn’t screamed like that in ages. She processed that anger and moved on, and I couldn’t be prouder.
There are classes to take where you learn some of those skills to help kids get through the tough times. There are some awesome books that can help you decipher the tricky behaviors. Here are just a few to get you started:
- Adopting the Hurt Child: Hope for Families with Special-Needs Kids
- Parenting the Hurt Child: Helping Adoptive Families Heal and Grow
- Attaching in Adoption: Practical Tools for Today’s Parents
- Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew
You can also check out About.com Adoption & Foster Care, which is written by my friend Carrie. Not only does she teach the type of classes I mentioned above, she’s also an adoptive mom, so she understands lots of perspectives surrounding adoption.
My family is not perfect or out of the ordinary. And yet, Hannah told me last night, “I feel like I’ve always been here with you, Mom. I don’t feel like an adopted kid.” She’ll also tell you, “my Mom is crazy. That’s why I fit in with her.” We’re good enough, I guess.
Just do me this favor for a moment. Think about whether or not your family, whatever it may be – single, married, divorced, mom & dad, mom & mom, dad & dad, kids, no kids, pets, no pets, city, country, wealthy, comfortable, whatever – could be the perfect family for a child. Or more than one child. If you say no, why is it no? Is the no fixable? Could you reduce one part of the budget to make room for more groceries? Could you make do without a spare bedroom or big home office? Are you scared? I was scared, too. I think you could adequately describe G and I as terrified the first time we saw our kids’ files. Fear is good and healthy. A leap of faith might also be healthy.
Twenty thousand kids, y’all. Could you make it one less in 2014?
P.S. If your no isn’t fixable, consider donating some change in the bins at the cash registers at any Wendy’s restaurant. Last year, the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption raised more than $2.8 million to help kids find forever homes. You could also consider helping a family who is preparing to adopt by donating your time or skills or cash for home renovations, furniture, clothing, school supplies, etc. I’m willing to bet that help would be much appreciated!
P.P.S. The book links are affiliate links. See my Disclaimers page for more info.