Everyone’s experience is different, but these are five things I found to be important to remember in the first year of adoption...

5 Things to Remember in The First Year

With technology, it is easy to set reminders for yourself in every aspect of your life. Your phone can act as your assistant and tell you not to forget your grocery list, post office run, or to pay a bill. The days of tying a string around your finger are long gone, but what are we doing to help remind us to keep our adoption perspective fresh and healthy? The repetition of positive reminders has the ability to reform our brain activity. The first year of adoption can be both beautiful and overwhelming. The amount of information alone can send you on a wild goose chase. Learning how to balance it all might seem like a daunting task however you figure out what priorities are best suited for your family. 

I learned so much in my first year of adoption. Not only was I a first-time adoptive parent, I was also a first-time parent. The adoption of our son was quite a surprise to us, my husband and I were not planning on ever having children. So, it was a very big adjustment in our home embarking on this parenthood journey. Parenting as far as caretaking came pretty naturally to me. I knew the basics of how to keep a child alive; however, the emotional side of parenting was brand new and a little overwhelming. Also, our legal experience was very unpredictable and not smooth at all. We encountered several hiccups and it was a very frustrating and anxious period of our lives. Now, looking back, I may have overanalyzed and I could have appreciated the first year of motherhood a little more.

Everyone’s experience is different, but these are five things I found to be important to remember in the first year.

1. Your To-Do List

Adoption comes with a long list of to-dos. Depending on which route of adoption you choose to use, there can be a varying list of tasks that are your responsibility. Adoption through foster care may require courses or classes as a prerequisite and the responsibility to obtain your own legal counsel. Legal aid will be provided through the state for the child. 

Services provided by an adoption agency may differ as well; however—from my understanding— it is all-inclusive including legal representation. They do also provide education on various topics and a support team to assist in questions and concerns that may arise.

Private adoption can include many self-reliant tasks. Your obligations can vary depending on the contact you have with your lawyer. My experience is with private adoption; we hired a lawyer with a reputable history and from a personal referral. Our lawyer filed any and all court documents including the parental relinquishment agreement and the amended birth certificate. However, we were responsible for finding a social worker to perform our home study, obtaining state-recognized fingerprinting with background checks, and personal references.  

My biggest suggestions are to document everything and actually write the list down. It is so important to take notes and save receipts of any important documents. Our fingerprints were lost somehow, but I saved the receipt which prevented us from paying twice. I keep all adoption-related things in a file for safekeeping just in case there are ever any questions. I always tell people that adoptive parents labor too—just differently.

2. Home Study Mistakes

One of the most stressful steps of adoption is home study. Though families’ experiences vary, all adoptions must meet certain qualifications. Adoptions, whether through an agency, foster care, or private, call for a home study. A home study is a required home assessment performed by a social worker. The history of the home study dates back to the Minnesota Adoption Law of 1917 when judges granted the request that the proper authorities could make an “appropriate inquiry to determine whether the proposed foster home is a suitable home for the child.” (Although the law was in place, it was not enforced often until the 1950s.) Depending on the state you live in, the requirements may differ. Typical requirements include background checks, fingerprinting, home inspection, individual interviews with adoptive parents, health screenings, and financial overviews. A recommendation will be given based on the results of the social worker’s findings. 

It is ok to make mistakes because it is impossible to be perfect. I have a friend that locked himself out of the house with his son inside during his home study. The social worker just stood back and watched how he handled the situation and everything turned out fine. I remember overthinking every answer I was giving during the interview portion of our home study. I did not know whether she was agreeing with my parenting style or if I was getting a negative note. It was even more nerve-wracking when my husband and I were questioned separately. It was the biggest relief when everything was over and our social worker assured us there was not a perfect parent and she knew we were providing a safe loving home for our son. 

It is important to remember that the social worker doing the inspection is not judging you. You are all on the same team. Everyone wants what is best for the child. As an adoptive parent, I make mistakes every single day the same way biological parents do, it is just part of parenting.

3. This is Your REAL Child

I can not stress this enough, learning positive adoption language is a must! If you took a poll among adoptive parents, you’ll find there are words and phrases that are polarizing. You are not an imaginary parent; you are a real parent to a real child. It is the hardest thing for me to understand as to why people still oppose this. Again, I can assure you, you have a real child and you are a real parent. 

Giving the benefit of the doubt, most people are unaware of how offensive or hurtful certain words can be. I heard this a lot during my son’s first year, but thankfully he will never remember that. Upon introduction, people congratulated me and then proceeded to ask where his real mother was. Initially, I was hypersensitive and defensive. I soon realized that it was their lack of awareness, not a malicious intent behind the questions. I learned how to redirect the conversation and used it as an opportunity to educate and spread knowledge of positive adoption language.

However, you are not obligated to educate people and whichever way you respond to these questions and remarks is your personal choice; but please never let it cause you to question your role as a parent. Genetics is not the only qualifier to becoming a parent. 

4. Do Not Try to Overcompensate

This is hard and very personal to me and something I still, sometimes, experience. Studies have shown that adoptive parents try to overcompensate with time spent to make up for the fact that they are not their child(ren)’s biological parents. Nothing can replace biological parents and we are not trying to either. There is nothing you can do to change the fact that you are not biological parents to your child. You can not exhaust yourself mentally, emotionally, or monetarily to try and change that. This was something that took me a little longer to understand. I thought that I had to prove myself to others and myself. I was overextending my abilities trying to be a super mom, but mentally I was draining myself.     

I was very unprepared for this feeling and unfortunately it took me longer to recognize this and make the necessary changes in my life. For example, I used to be afraid to discipline my son. I was afraid that if I told him no that he would grow up and hate me or wished that he grew up with his biological family. First, I was not enjoying this precious time with my son because I was letting my mind wander. We were long far from the days of teenage resentment, but I was letting it consume my life. Second, I remember being a teenager myself and wishing I grew up in a different family and I was raised by my biological parents. I loved my parents and had a great childhood; still, I went through that stage of hating everyone and everything for no reason. That is just the territory of raising a kid and those outbursts are not limited to families of adoption. 

Once I remembered my own adolescent years it relieved a lot of my concerns. It became the most favorable time to use my favorite phrase: we will cross that bridge when we get there.

Please take into consideration the fact that adoption trauma is real and that some adoptees suffer from the emotional pains of rejection or abandonment. Educating yourself on warning signs for the future and knowing what resources are available will be beneficial if you are ever in that position. This is just the reality of adoption that we have to acknowledge. Though it is a reality it does not have to create constant anxiety. Seek help if or when you need to; until then, stay aware and enjoy your family.    

5. Have Fun

This is the most important thing to remember. Whether you have adopted a newborn or teenager, having fun is the best feeling. You have a new member of your family and it should be celebrated! One of my favorite memories of my son’s first year was watching him nap with my husband. I do not know all the ins and outs of nature versus nurture, but these two were sleeping twins. They both slept in the same position with one arm up. I remember always snapping a photo of them as they slept. I have several that I have taken throughout the years, and I like to put them side by side and see the growth. They are still sleeping twins and it still blows my mind. 

Through all the adjustments and learning curves, at the end of the day, all everyone wants to do is laugh, be free, be happy and raise a family with love. This might seem a little redundant to have as a reminder, but it can easily be neglected while trying to navigate through this new life. There is a time and place for all the logistics pertaining to your adoption and it should not interfere with enjoying your life and family. Having fun is certainly not limited to the first year of adoption. Please make this a lifelong reminder and goal. 

6. You Will Know What is Best

Whether you consider these five little tips or not, your adoption is your individual journey. You will figure out what works best for you and your family. As you grow together you will learn what makes sense. There is no right or wrong way to figure out how to navigate through this incredible—but sometimes complex—experience. Always keep an open mind to hearing from other people who have had a similar experience and be willing to seek professional help if needed. 

Within the adoption community, you can find that others’ experiences are invaluable. My core support system unfortunately could not offer much assistance because this was brand new to them too. Had I not reached out to complete strangers for guidance, emotional support, and validation, I would have been lost. I did not know that the emotional roller coaster I was on or what I thought were mistakes were normal. I was overwhelmed with just wanting to make our life suitable for our son. It was hard for me to find the balance between life adjustments, legal duties, and the simplicity of happiness. Perfection is impossible, but balance is a very reasonable goal.

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Jessica Chapa