Older child adoption through foster care or international adoption:
Change is stressful and adding a child to your family is a huge change regardless of how the child joins the family. What can newly adoptive parents do to prepare in advance and to cope in those first few months?
How has the idea of cocooning impacted stress?
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Welcome, everyone to creating a family talk about adoption and foster care. I'm Dawn Davenport. I am the host of the show as well as the director of a nonprofit creating a family.org. Today we're going to be talking about the unexpected stresses on newly adoptive parents, we will be talking with Dr. Jennifer Bliss. She is a licensed clinical social worker, and director of adoptions and foster care at Vista Del Mar and Family Services in Los Angeles. We will also be talking with Molly Berger. She is a Masters of Social Work, and she is an adoption social worker at Adoption Center of Illinois. Welcome Dr. Bliss and Molly to Creating a Family.
Thank you so much.
We're going to be separating this discussion a bit at the beginning between domestic infant adoption, and either international or foster care adoption. However, there is significant overlap between the stresses for both newly adoptive parents, regardless of the type of adoption. So at the end, we're going to be talking about the tips for how to deal with the stresses because that's where I think a lot of the the overlap does begin. But we are going to begin with domestic infant adoption. So Dr. Bliss, we know that with domestic infant adoption, can you just go through the very basic crib note version of the What's the process like because I think that influences some of the stress that parents can feel?
Absolutely. So for helpful adoptive parents, the first step in any journey to adopt is to get a home study. And that's usually about a three month process, where the family meets with social workers to talk about their why they want to adopt, what brought them to the table, what things were looking forward to seeing a parent. And there's a lot of other steps. But this is not a home study podcast. So we're not going to talk about that. After they're approved. There's a waiting to get matched. And that's a really hard part. And I think that's it's a toll on a lot of families. And then once you're matched you work with expected parents. And after the birth, the hope is that the adoptive parents bring home their baby. At that point, there's a about a six month post placement period where you're still meeting with a social worker and the baby, usually once a month about to make sure that everything's going well and give you feedback and support. Make sure the baby is stable. And everybody's bonding. And then there's a court hearing for finalization. That's kind of in a nutshell, a lot of times it's about a two to two half year process.
So there are what are some of the typical stresses that you see adoptive parents feel when going through this process?
Do you want me to focus on once they bring the baby home? Or
Yes, yes. What's that? Yes, once they become parents, but I do think that the process they've gone through sometimes influences the stresses they feel once they have come home.
Right. And I think that actual, those things that impact new parents, new adoptive parents actually start way before the adoption process happens. Because a lot of people before moving to the adoption process are going through years of infertility. Not everybody, but a big a large amount of people that wind up adopting have had the experience with infertility, stress, grief loss. And by the time that they moved to adoption, and through the process of adopting, it has become one of the main goals in their life. And it's also something that their community and their families probably aware of, and how this is their hope and their dream. So how that can influence the stress of newly adopted parents, in one way is now that this dream has happened. It can be a conflicting feeling, and almost feelings of guilt if they're struggling. And anybody who has been a new parent remembers how hard that is. It's not all fun and games, and you're taxed physically and emotionally, logistically, and where somebody who may have had the more traditional road of, you know, deciding to become a family get pregnant, have a baby, and they're complaining about the sleepless nights and this and that, there could be a feeling of guilt, or I don't deserve to complain, because I've been telling my family community how much I want this for so many years. But we have to remember that newly adoptive parents are still new parents, and they're going through the same struggles anybody else and they should have a platform where they can vent a little bit and not feel guilty about that and get the same support that anybody else would. So that's one thing I'd like to bring up because I think that gets missed.
You know, I think that another thing that we hear is a difference between getting pregnant and giving birth versus adopting an infant domestically. One of the differences is that when you're adopting another woman has given birth another mom has given birth and and that that mom has chosen usually the process usually is that the birth parents or birth mother selects the adoptive parents. So there's how does that process of not being the one who carry the child and the process of having been selected by the woman who did give birth by the by the mom who did give birth? How does that add stress to new parents?
I think there's definitely a feeling of am I good enough? Do I deserve this I've been chosen. So I want to step up and meet the expectations and the hopes and dreams of this amazing woman who chose me to be the parent of this child. And I think that, while every other new parent has everything else that dealing with that, in addition to what we've talked about earlier, that's another layer of am I being good enough? Do I deserve this? You know, she bestowed this upon me, I have a responsibility to be perfect at it. And although if we were to say that to somebody, they say, No, I know, I don't have to be perfect, there is that little voice in your head that's holding you to a certain standard that maybe other people aren't feeling. And so I think that's important to keep in mind that no one's judging you, everybody knows that. This is your, you know, you're in the first few months of a very hectic, wonderful, magical, exhausting time, and to give yourself a break.
And the idea in our society, in our literature, and just, you name it in all the media, is that parents are supposed to fall immediately wildly over their heels in love. With this new little being who is crying a lot that can is keeping you awake a lot, and is not necessarily responding how your idea in their dreams, this is all going to work out. And but you're still supposed to, you've been wanting this dadgummit most of you've probably waited a couple of years to get the placement and add on to that how many years you've tried to get pregnant beforehand. So how does that factor into an unexpected stress for parents adopting domestically with an infant?
Well, I would like to normalize it, that even if they were to have carried this child and given birth, it doesn't mean you fall in love right away. There's this misnomer that, you know, everything will be worth it every second of the day, there's this I would like to describe it, maybe a protective instinct that comes in that you now are in charge of this little being. And you know, it's your responsibility to keep this sort of being alive. And you know, well cared for. But a lot of times it takes time, it takes time to develop that bond, and you're going through a lot as a new parent. And I guess my theme really is give yourself a break here. Because it's okay, if it takes some time to create that bond. Be patient it will happen if you are caregiving and you are spending those moments with your child in the middle of the night when you're so exhausted, you can't keep your head up. It will happen and be patient with yourself. You are tapped into that protective nurturing instinct that knows needs to come to the table now. And that bond will grow. Just be patient.
And that and that I think that adoptive parents to the thing it's not happening because I didn't give birth to this child but when in reality there are tons of of moms and dads who did not feel instant love for their child that they gave birth to.
Right I hear from people you hear feel like it protectiveness and responsibility and the love grows because it becomes authentically a connection between this little being in you you don't know this little being yet and that's okay. You know you will be the recipient of the first smiles and giggles and reaches and all those little moments. Your heart grows a little and you'll feel it I have a little sign in my office that says trust the process. And in so many ways in both you know family formation however path you choose. trusting the process is an important part of it because it's a leap of faith and knowing on the other side, it's going to be okay that everybody there right and telling you to be patient it's going to be okay.
We are very excited to offer you 12 free online courses on our creating a family dot work online Parent Training Center. We can bring you these free courses thanks to our partnership with the jockey being family foundation. You can access them at the website Bitly slash J B F support. That's bi T dot L y slash JBf support. We have as I said 12 topics to choose from, including one topic called parenting kids with prenatal exposure. It is a great course and it dovetails nicely with the content you're hearing today. You check it out and let your friends know about it too. You mentioned earlier that many people who end up adopting infants have first faced an infertility struggle, they have been unable now whether or not they have gone through infertility treatment or not, but they have faced fertility struggles, whereas they have tried most have tried to get pregnant and have not succeeded. Not everyone, some people, for some people adoption is Plan A but for many people, it's not. So how does the fact that this generally isn't the way that you've always imagined your originally had imagined your family to be formed? How does that put an additional stresses on newly adoptive parents?
Well, I also think there's this idea that you, one has to resolve their infertility before moving to adoption. And I think that's a strong word and a high bar. Because I'm not sure if we ever fully resolve it. Just like any other loss that we can think of in our life, if we sit down, and pay attention to those feelings, and reconnect to that time in our life, we probably can get back to those emotions. And there might always be a feeling of awe, but it's not gonna impact your ability to love your child. So I think that as long as you've come to a place where your goal is not becoming pregnant, or passing under DNA, and instead your goal is to be a parent, you will be able to open your heart to a child you adopt and connect and bond with the child as if you grew them. Like there shouldn't be a difference later on. It might not be immediate. But as long as you can authentically say your goal is to be a parent. And you've transitioned from the goal being pregnant and passing on a DNA to that, then again, you can trust the process and have a leap of faith.
One of the things that is not uncommon in domestic infant adoption is children who have been exposed prenatally to alcohol or drugs. How does that experience of parenting a newborn with neonatal abstinence syndrome, or alcohol exposure? Although honestly, we often don't know whether they have alcohol exposure, which we generally do know if they've had neonatal abstinence syndrome? How does how does that experience add stress to newly adoptive families?
Well, if you're helping a baby go through withdrawal and readjust their system, to not having a substance that our system has their system is dependent on. That's going to be a difficult time. And I would say call on the support to can, it's not going to last forever, the you know, but there is definitely more difficult time. Because this child presents with a struggle internally, that they're going to go through in order to re acclimate. Hopefully, the hospital is going to be able to give you guidance, and won't send you home until it's more you know, it's appropriate. But there will be a journey that first few months, and to turn to your not only your physicians, but your adoption community. Because you don't want a situation you're surrounding yourself with people who are just going to put down the birth mother. Okay, so she did her best she was struggling with addiction, she still made this amazing choice. This is not about blame, or perseverating. On what if you have a woman with her own struggles, who did her best at the time she could with the tool she had, and we don't know how we would have responded if we had her life journey. So instead of focusing on that focus on the health of the child, she chose you for a reason. And that's an amazing choice and amazing gift. And she believes in you. And so surround yourself with the supports you need to make it through.
I think some of the complications for an additional stresses and additional potential things that can interfere with ease of parenting is that these babies are often hard to comfort and comforting. And when we comfort a baby and a baby responds to the things that we are doing to make him or her feel better. That reinforces us in our feelings of attachment to the baby. And these babies start off with no it's not that you are not comforting them. It's that nothing is going to comfort them at this point. So resetting your expectations that this baby is not rejecting me, this baby is just struggling and having a hard time right now. I think that really helps having realistic expectations on what that experience is going to be like. And as you say knowing it truly is time limited. It may not feel like it. But it is time limited at the time. What about some of the most adoptions now in the United States? Domestic infant adoptions have some degree of openness. How does the first of all Describe a bit about what we mean by openness. And then how does that, how can that add additional stress to new adoptive families?
Well, most of the time, these days there is not an intermediary third party, that's coordinated communication. Most people are communicating directly with the birth parents, as you know, during the match and after placement. And I think I alluded to this earlier, but there can be a feeling from adoptive parents that they have to be perfect for the birth parents, that the birth parent is maybe judging them or will regret her decision if they send a picture and the babies, you know, whatever, not wearing socks, or something like that. And that's not really what we find as being the case, although as much as we say that the still hear from adoptive parents, and birth parents, you know, assuming that they made the decision for all the right reasons, and they are going through their healthy healing, grieving and healing process. They're not there to judge either their grant that they have gratitude towards not only you is stepping in, because once they chose you, they truly felt like everything, there was a plan that made sense, but also that you are following up with your word and your promise to stay in touch. And that's where their focus is. So there's almost this perceived extra layer of stress. But assuming that and this is where the adoption professionals need to come in to make sure that the birth parent is has full understanding of her role, as well as a concrete mutually agreed upon contract agreement, where everybody knows what is to come and what is expected. So it is not these misunderstandings of lack of communication, etc. That's really going to help the the stress element, because you know, what we have found in contract agreements that are too ambiguous, we have found situations where the birth parent, or the adoptive parents are saying, oh my gosh, they're so cute. It's so sweet. I wish we could send her this picture. But I don't want to pour salt in a wound. On the other side, the birth parent is saying, See, I placed the child with them. And now they forgot about me, I knew it. So that's why it's really important to have contract agreements set out. Although it can feel awkward to make these decisions at the forefront of this process. It really avoids misunderstandings and hurt feelings, when both parties are actually on the same page and don't know it.
Yeah, some of the things we hear are the kind of either of the extremes, that once the child has been placed, the adoptive parents feel that the birth parents watch too much want to want too much contact, or the birth parents are withdrawing because they're in a grief process. So we hear both sides.
And that's why it's really important to have the adoption professionals involved during that time. And thank goodness that we actually have to be involved, right, because it's a post placement period of supervision. So we get to be involved, kind of whether you like it, or not, at least the first six months to help do any glitches, because this is the time that that foundation has been built for years to come that relationship. So it's really important to have mutual respect for each other while at mutual empathy. So we put together this contract agreement ahead of time. And if it turns out that she might need one extra picture week for the first couple of months. Okay, like it might sound scary, because why was this the start of opening up a flood of more contact? Probably not, especially if you honor the little increments that she might mean them world her. So let us help because one little request from our contact could cause a major anxiety reaction and adoptive parents, that is just the beginning right? Of her, discarding that contact agreement. And that's really probably not the case. This is her grieving time. And she anticipated what she thought she needed. But she's just being honest of what she thinks she needs to know that she's there. So before reacting, number one turn to your adoption agency, there's this is not our first rodeo, we've been through the support and we can guide you through it. So you don't spiral out in the wrong direction with a woman that you really want to keep in your life for the sake of your child.
And we also see that sometimes adoptive parents will start becoming more secure and less intimidated by wanting of more contact can you please you know, start up a Facebook page so that we can see lots of pictures and adoptive parents may we hope will settle into feeling a sense of comfort and ability to to be able to respond to reasonable requests.
I can tell you that the majority of the time that we receive contact from our from people kind of disillusioned with the level of contact. Nobody believes me but like eight out of 10 times if the adoptive parents wanting more contact with the birth parent who's kind of like charged on with her life and just doing whatever the contract says maybe but they're due the difference is she moves on with her life, especially for She knows there's openness so she doesn't have to ruminate and hold on to that grief. It's her last attachment to the child. Where the adoptive parents, they don't move on with their life, this child was the focus of their life. So there's a difference there in in Paramus a priority but attention. So yes, more often than not when we get contact questions about navigating contact, it's the adoptive parents saying, I texted her two days ago, she hasn't been back with me, she's mad at me. It's like, no, she had prom, you know? So yeah, you know, it's more about that.
I actually do believe that, yes. When you follow the creating a family.org podcast, you have access to our extensive archive on many topics related to adoption, foster care, or kinship care. We interview leading experts on these topics every week, and had been doing so for the last 15 years. So we have 15 years worth of content for you to scroll through and binge on. So subscribe now, or follow us wherever you listen to podcasts. Okay, now we're going to shift and bring Molly in, we're going to be talking about now older child adoption, through international adoption or foster care. And that will be bringing Molly Berger. And she is, as I mentioned at the beginning, and adoption, social worker with adoption centers from Illinois, and knows a lot about the international adoption process. So we'll start there. And I think you probably have some information on the foster a bit bit. And Dr. Bliss also has information on the foster care. So this will be kind of a joint session with the two of you. And then our last session, the last section will be talking about things that newly adoptive parents can do to deal with some of these stresses. All right, so now let's talk about the international adoption process. Molly, can you give us just a basic overview. I know it differs by the country and other things, probably by the agency somewhat. But can you give us a basic overview of the international adoption process?
Yeah, much like the domestic process, you have to get everything starts with a home study. So going through that process of getting a home study completed, you also have to have a placing agency with an agency that has a program in their specific country. A lot of times with international adoption, or foster care adoption, adoptive family has set their parameters around what kind of child that they're open to, and whether there be special needs or other factors for the child and their age range. And then going through a long wait time periods getting matched with the child's when they are matched with the child, you have to go through a longer process of, like you said, dependent on each different country, whether you have to go and visit or stay in that country for a period of time before adopting the child many years, or many times, excuse me, there's multiple, there could be a year or so in between being matched with a child and actually welcoming the child home into the US.
And the process can be fairly drawn out, depending on what country you're you're working you're trying to work with. All right. And let's see. Dr. Bliss, let's like to talk about the typical process for adopting through foster care
through foster care. Okay, so the concept is foster to adopt. And it's a, it's a difficult road to, you do need to go through the process of getting licensed to be a resource family, at least that's what they call it California, but a foster family. And it's a longer more intense process and a lot of ways in a domestic home study because you're taking in a child who has dealt with trauma and displacement. So we want to make sure you're prepared as much as possible. Another level to that is that you're usually expected to be a foster parent, not just straight adopt. While there are options for just adopting a foster child. It's never a guarantee because even though they say a child might be free for adoption, we've had placements where then a family member comes in before the finalization or the you know, before the adoption papers are signed, or there's the last minute family finding effort. So anybody who's going to adopt through foster care also has to keep in their mind that well, if they stick to it, they can adopt a foster care, it might not be the first child that that's placed in their home. But if that isn't that child isn't meant to be their child. They're meant to be that safe, soft landing at a very pivotal and vulnerable time in this child's life. And that's the gift they're giving this child. So it's a hard road because not only is it lengthy, but we're asking you to put your heart out and most likely potentially having heartbreak on your journey to adopt. So a lot of times people foster children, that's really most likely the way it goes. And then when unification doesn't happen, then they have the option to adopt. So That's why it's a hard road. There's a lot of support from your agency, it should be, and the community is here for you. And there is a way to adopt or foster care. But you're adopting a child that has experienced trauma, obviously, there's going to be some attachment struggles. And whatever organically the child may have come in with, whether there was prenatal exposure, or anything else that could have affected prenatally as well as early years, we all know how pivotal that is in brain development. So it's a journey. And it's not easy, but it's one of the biggest blessings and gifts I can think of that somebody can do. It is
possible to one of the unifying things between foster care, adoption and international adoption is two things. One, that children are older into the children have experienced trauma and the vast majority of both, in both situations that children will be considered to have special needs, it is possible to adopt an infant but as you point out from foster care, however, that is almost always a situation where you're fostering first. And as you point out, it's there are legally free children. But the vast, vast, vast majority are
older and with most likely with special needs or large sibling sets. Usually this one is special needs. But yeah, I do want to point out you can adopt an infant from foster care. Absolutely. It's a tough emotional journey and logistical journey, because it might not be the first infant placed in your home. And you might care for this infant for six, eight months. And then they were unified. And you're starting over again. Yes. However, if you want to adopt from foster care, you can, it just might not be the first infant placed in your home. And if you're open to that, then you can do it.
And you'll most likely be adopting that child when they're older as well. They may be in your home that whole time. But oftentimes, it takes many years for the process to go through it for actual adoption. So I think that's one common thing that we see a lot is we do have a program at our agency as well, that's helping families adopt already waiting children. So children whose biological parents have already, their parental rights have already been terminated. So as you mentioned, those children, they're they're a little bit older, our average age is nine and a half, or in sibling groups. And so I think when you want to adopt a child from the foster care system, and our infant, you may be placed when the infant, but by the time the adoption is finalized, it will oftentimes be a couple of years.
And one of the stresses there, in the scenario you just described is that you are not in control and you aren't, you can't change anything to make. The goal. If an infant is placed with you is well any child is placed with you unless until a parental rights have been terminated, the goal is to reunify and help that family heal. And so you are not in control you are you are a adjunct to the healing process. That's that is the role that you assume as a foster parent. So it's especially hard when it when it's an infant. And Molly, as you point out, it takes several years, and you're never sure you think it may be moving towards adoption. But then maybe the birth parents get into a rehab. And so everybody is hopeful that they will be able to beat the addiction as an example, or whatever the situation is, you're just not in control. And that is nerve racking.
And it's really hard because you also have to participate in the as part of the team, you're expected to come forward participate and support the case goal, which is going to be reunification initially 99% of the time. So wearing that ID, whatever ID badge that says foster parent is important in your head. And you can't turn it over to adoptive parents. Until the the case plan goal has changed. And reminding yourself that during this process, I'm a foster parent, it's really hard.
It is talk about that as the as we were talking about it talk about stress that is stressful. It it's can absolutely work out if you can get your brain into the place of this is my role. This is my role now. And eventually I likely will be able to adopt a child because most people can if they continue to foster alright. Malia one of the I think one of the things that contribute to a great deal of stress or potential stress for newly adoptive parents who are adopting either internationally an older child are in foster care an older child, or even a younger child is unrealistic expectations. What talk to us some about expectations and what is realistic and what isn't realistic and why unrealistic expectations can set us up for so much stress.
Yeah, I first want to point out that there are a lot of times as social workers and We talk about there's a difference between a child's chronological age and a child's developmental age. So chronologically, that child may be nine years old, but developmentally, whether that be emotionally or you know what their physical abilities are different things like that they may be more so functioning at a five year old age. And so having those expectations of a child who is nine years old on a on the child who chronologically is nine, but developmentally, maybe younger, is just going to set everybody up for more stress, disappointment, frustration, and confusion. And so when you're parenting a child that's most important who an older child being adopted, it's important to know, and to really learn the child as they are, and not by their age. And so what to expect based on their specific abilities, their specific mental and emotional understanding and developmental age, in order to help support that child and help support you as you learn who this child is, as well.
Yes, I think that, yes, it's a developmental, also the impact of trauma, I think that we, we want to believe, optimistically, that love conquers all. And that if we love them hard enough, and we love them as if they are our own lives, if they were born to us that they will not have, that they won't have any of the impacts of trauma.
Absolutely. Is that true? In the best case scenarios? You know, I can, sometimes I hear adoptive parents or foster parents say they had a great foster home or they didn't experience that much trauma. But trauma is trauma, and it affects the brain, it affects how the child understands and sees the world and trusts adults as well. And so that's something that, you know, whether and being adopted, and at first, especially for international adoptees moving country in itself, that's a huge trauma impact on them.
I think that, that we sometimes expect them to be grateful. I mean, look, we brought them, we brought them here, we've took them out of a bad situation. Why What do they have to complain about? I mean, we certainly hear that they the gratitude myth, what type of stress does that put on families to say nothing of kids?
Yeah, I think it puts even more pressure on that child of having that child to feel like they need to be perfect in order to be loved. A lot of times they feel like a lot of times adoptees, whether that be international, domestic or foster care, adoptees, can often feel like they need to earn love from people because they were placed in different or given up on by from different people. And I use the term given up in quotes. So they feel like they have to earn that. And so that adds a whole nother stress to the child of, I can't be myself, or I can't feel these negative emotions, or I can't wish for anything, or I can't miss my old life. Because they feel like they're always told, you know, you're in a new place, you're in so much better and have an environment you have better parents, whatever it may be there that inherent needs to be for the child to be grateful.
And Mother Do you feel like that the that feeling of being a babysitter or the feeling of not feeling love at first sight is even more. So when you're adopting a child that comes in with a personality that is formed?
Absolutely. 100% it's often a lot of times that you this child has lived a whole nother life before you. They have likes, they have dislikes, they have personalities, they have experienced trauma, they view the world, completely different from you. And so you don't know who that child is, you may see a picture a lot of times international family say Oh, I saw a picture and I knew that was my child. And you can have that feeling. But there's, I feel like there's a difference between feeling love for a child and wanting their best wanting to protect them and feeling that innate, nurturing, feeling and being in love with the child. And feeling like this is mine. And there's that learning curve. I think families have to give themselves a lot of grace and a lot of time for themselves to build that bond. Because you don't know what makes them happy. You don't know what makes them sad. And every day, every experience that you have is learning. And so you feel like your babysitter kind of being like, what are we doing whatever, I'm always trying to feel like you need to be solving something or doing some activity before just going into okay, this is life with this child.
Well, with and certainly with international adoption, you have to throw in the language issues and the cultural issues and cultural issues can can also be a part of foster adoption as well. But in spoken language issues, but for the most part with international we've got both of those. And how do those interfere or how do those add stress? The inability to communicate With the child and then inability to understand some of the cultural nuances that they that they're experiencing and that you're experiencing, they may not match up.
Yeah, I mean, you can't, when there there's a language barrier, you can't just ask what, you know, why are you sad? Or why are you crying? Or how can we make this better? What do you like? So there's, you know, you have to rely on nonverbal communication a lot more in kids who may not have experienced that being growing up in an orphanage or knowing how to experience those things. So it adds more stress, both to the adult because they can't, you know, the only person that and they know who to ask to how to comfort is the child, but the child doesn't know how to communicate that they don't have another another adult to say, what did they like when they were there? Or they don't have somebody that they can just call up and ask, Hey, this child is really in distress? What are some techniques? Or what are some tools that usually help the child, you're relying on an eight year old or a seven year old, or however, to relay those complicated feelings? And relay it in a language that they don't know?
Yeah, and that's, that is by definition stressful? Exactly. Yeah. Whether it's expected or unexpected is certainly stressful. I also think that when adopting older kids, it brings to the fore our own attachment styles, the way that we were parented and, and how we attach, this can happen with infants as well. But I see it more exacerbated when we're talking about older children adoption. What are some thoughts on that, Molly? Yeah,
when you adopt an infant, you kind of have a learning curve into becoming a parents where you can kind of figure out oh, this is bringing up this trauma in my own childhood, or this is bringing up things, you know, how I was brought up that I did or didn't like, and you can have more times to slowly process that as a child grows older. But when you are straight up adopting an older child, you're being thrown into the game right away and having to figure out all of that all at once you're figuring out how to be a parent for yourself, you have been figuring out how to parent this child. And a lot of times what we needed as a child is different than what adoptees and international adoptees need as well. And so you have to be doing double duty of learning how to parent this child, but also figuring out your own traumas, your own triggers as your parenting at the same time,
doing double duty at that same time. I want to pause here to VANK, a very, very long time supporter of the show and a supporter of creating a family in general. And that is children's connections. They are an adoption agency providing services for domestic infant adoption, as well as embryo donation and adoption throughout the US. They also provide home studies and post adoption support to families in Texas. Thank you, thank you children's connection. Dr. Blue sometimes when oftentimes, when we're adopting older children, they come with challenging behaviors that can be the result of of the trauma that they've experienced, and also the fact that their lives are being turned upside down. For any number of reasons. This seems like a very obvious question, but one that we probably should at least include when we're talking about unexpected stresses. I think a lot of parents are surprised by that. It goes back to the this is how I've parented the children in the past, they are this, this new child is not responding this in the way they're supposed to respond. So let's talk about how challenging behaviors even if they're not extreme, how that can add additional stress for new parents?
Absolutely. Well, everybody has a vision of what they thought something would be like going into it. And the difference between what your expectation is and what the reality is, the how great that differences is going to equal your stress and anxiety level. So as much as we can as an agency, and as what whoever you're adopting through and whoever you're doing your home study through, I really hope there's a lot of training, ongoing training, yes, about what to expect when you get home, which is basically Expect the unexpected, because whatever you expect a guarantee smells coming through the door. So the best thing you can do is arm yourself with the tools to be flexible and to access the tools that you've learned, as well as turn to and lean on for support your adoption professionals because we don't expect you to know every answer or how to handle every circumstance. But what we want you to do is reach it. Pick up the phone when you don't know what to do. Because while you don't have all the answers First, you have a community support, you have your professional support to lean on, because it's going to be challenging and it might be challenging for six months, a year, two, three years, it might and the level of challenge will diminish, but it's never gonna go away.
You know, and then the last issue I want to bring up of unexpected stress. And this is not exclusive to older child adoption, but I think it's, it's less talked about and potentially more problematic. And that is issue between children already existing in the family and the new child being brought in. And obviously, there are books galore about when you have a new baby that joins the family. Now that is somebody coming in but but it's like we're prepared for that we have, Susie becomes a big brother, and there's you know, the there's the Berenstain Bears, becoming a big sister or whatever. So we have we expect that the jealousies and the whatever, but that's on steroids when you bring a child in whether disrupt birth water or not, when you bring an older child down with their own personality, their own history, their own everything. That is not only an a stress on the parents, but it's a stress on the children already in the family. And And if our children who are already in the family are stressed, that increases parental stress as well. So Dr. Bliss, talk to us some about the stresses on children who are already in the family, when we bring a child in through older child adoption, be it through foster care or through international?
Well, it's stressful regardless. And if you don't mind, can I include domestic as well? Sure. How about this? Okay, absolutely. Okay, so what we talked about with our adoptive families who are already parenting and domestic, is, it's up to them whether or not they want to tell their child they're in the process of adopting, because, because it could be a process where it's a year and a half or so or more before their match, I can understand not wanting to talk about it ahead of time. So we leave that up to the parents. But once you are matched, and you do talk about adoption, it's important to have your child understand that this woman is pregnant, and she's deciding whether or not she wants to become a mommy. And if she decides she's not ready to become a mommy, then the baby will come to our family. But it's really important not to introduce the baby in the womb as a little brother or sister because that's not the case, it hasn't happened yet. And if she decides to parent, now you've got not only a disappointed child, most likely but also child that feels betrayed. So we want to make sure that if this placement doesn't go through while there will be a grief and healing process for this child who is expecting and hoping, hoping that they get a little baby brother or sister that while there's there's a grief and healing process, but not a sense of betrayal. I want to I put up Doc McStuffins has a great episode about adopting a baby sister, as well as Sesame Street has has one too, so they can Google that. Oh, and by the way, even when the child is in the home until relinquishment or consents are signed and irrevocable, I would still say we're we're watching we're helping, we're caring for this baby. Wow. You know, Nikki decides if she's going to be able to be a mommy, just to be on the safe side. Okay, so now older child adoption, if we're going to talk about foster care, there's an element of that displacement might not be permanent, right. And most likely, won't be it's only about a 30% chance that it turns into adoption for each placement. So in foster care, it's important to talk to your your children, about how your family is going to help a little boy or girl who needs help, and that their home is not able to care for them right now. And so we're going to, they're going to come to our house, and we're going to help take care of them until their home is ready again, until their parents are ready again. So they have an understanding coming into it one that it's temporary, because you can always cross the bridges become permanent later. And to that as a family, you've decided that all of you together are going to help a little boy or little girl who needs help. So they see themselves as having agency as a helper through this, it doesn't mean they're not going to go through the grief process if the child gets removed. But at least ahead of time, they don't have a misunderstanding that this is permanent. Again, which then goes back to the feeling of being tricked or betrayed. There is a idea out there that you don't want to change birth order. But sometimes that's not realistic. And so I'm not necessarily an expert on how to handle that. But I do encourage people if they are going to change birth order by adopting a child who are receiving a placement who's older than their oldest, to look into that to make sure that you've drawn yourself with the tools and supports to encounter those challenges because there will be some things to navigate that you've replaced your child's identity part of their identity as being the oldest child or is known older than them and now that has changed.
actually creating a family has a lot of resource Since on that, and I will talk to them, we have an entire section on disrupting birth one and third
quarter. Great, because that's important. And that's a very real thing that should not be overlooked.
But I think sometimes when we bring older kids in, like I say they come with their own personality. And even when we're not disrupting birth of water, they, they can, their behaviors are often out standing are standouts, it draws attention to the family, the sibling of maybe going to school with this child and is embarrassed by their behavior. Molly, what? How can we first of all, let's address whether or not that this, how common this is? And then what can parents do?
Yeah, I think it's extremely common for kids who are already in the home, to feel confusion, to feel displaced to feel frustrated, because a lot of times these kids may not have a choice in the matter of whether they get a new sibling or not. And so I think it's about allowing the child who's already in the home or their children, to have those feelings say, I know, it's really hard when Susie does XYZ in public. And I know it's really hard to have to share your toys, or there may be different expectations of how you behave versus how your brother or sister behaves. And so allowing them to have that space to express those emotions and feel those emotions. I think it goes back into having, you know, we oftentimes have have this expectation that adoptees need to be grateful. But I think there's also that expectation that biological kids need to be grateful and they can't complain, or they can't have their own feelings about adding other children not either through foster care internationally or domestically through their family. Their world is changing just as much as the parents and the adoptee is changing. So giving them time, a lot of times adoptee or new adoptive families, their focus is going to be helping the adoptee transition, and learn. And so sometimes a focus kind of gets pulled away from the children already in the home. So making sure parents give those kids their own special days, their own special time and their own check ins. And not just assuming, oh, they're doing okay, everything, their world is staying the same. Even if their schedules, even if they go to school the exact same time and their activities stay the same. Don't expect kids who are already in the home not to have a difficult time transitioning or even expressing their own challenging behaviors that go along with it.
Yeah, if you think about it, they didn't have a choice. Most, in almost all situations, the adults have had some degree of choice. In some kinship situations, they may feel like they didn't have much choice. But the vast majority of the adults in in adoptive families have made a choice. But the kids, their children who are already in the family, even when we and I think Jennifer's point about trying to give them agency as being helpers is a great one. But even when we've done that, they didn't really have a choice, we didn't turn to them usually and say, you know, you have full veto power. And as some sometimes you might give them full detailed power, but oftentimes we as adults do not. So I think except that realizing that and not going in assuming they're going to be constantly enamored with and willing to put up with the shenanigans necessarily of of a new child coming in.
Yeah, and if they don't want to be helpers, and you know, they don't have to be helpers, giving that power for them to have saying, you can remove yourself from you know, if the child is the new child is having a hard time, you can go into your room have your own time, or you can choose having letting them have power in the small ways that they can over their own actions and their experiences as well.
Yeah, that makes great sense. You know, change is stressful, in all for all humans. And adding a kid a child to your family is a huge change, regardless of how that child joins your family. So what can newly adoptive parents do in advance, to prepare and to cope? In those first few months? I'm not talking years down the line. I'm just talking, let's say the first six months before before that child is placed with them. Dr. Bliss, what can parents do to start preparing themselves for the adjustment?
Well, I think that as much as you can ahead of time is important. And it you know, it's different for everybody. I know some people that read a bunch of books about becoming an adoptive parent and the first few months of parenting and that makes them feel like a little more confident. Other people tell everybody in the world will you be in I emergency contact list if I need a break. So you have to think about in other times in your life, when you've struggled, what has helped you, is it turning to others it is arming yourself with education it is, is it having your social worker on speed dial. So as much as you can use your previous experiences of learning of knowing what helps you and what your coping mechanisms are, and how you can plug in easily now when you need it, for this next chapter, it might mean asking your mother or mother in law, or father or father to come out and stay with you for a little bit, if they don't live in the area, or setting up those types of supports. It's also really important, and I know I sound like a broken record. But make sure you have woven yourself into your adoptive support community. Because no one else will get it, you can lean on your best friend, you can lean on your mom, no one else is gonna get it like up in the middle of the night, getting a text from the birth mom, you know, like dealing with planning a post placement visit, and the court paperwork and having no sleep and trying to bond with this baby who you feel, quote keeps rejecting you. So guess what other newly adopted parents get it? Your adoption professionals understand. Most adoption agencies not only have support communities for you to stay in contact with, whether it be virtual or in person or whatnot. But there are national opportunities for connections. I'm actually promoting Facebook at this point, because there are some great supportive Facebook groups too. And they're specific, they're transracial. They are specific to foster international domestic, find your people. And don't be afraid to ask for help. And this is where it comes in where the we can circle back to the very beginning conversation where you feel like you wanted this so bad and put it out to your community, how bad you want to adopt a child, and now child's in your home and you feel like you're quote failing, you're not failing, you're human. So do not be shy to ask for help. And let them know that you need assistance and support. That doesn't mean you're failing. It means that not only you're human, but you're taking the steps, you need to take care of yourself to make sure you're going to be the best you can be for this child.
I will say that creating a family has one of the largest online support groups and I would encourage anyone to to join Facebook slash creating a family Molly thoughts on what parents who are adopting internationally or through foster care can do to prepare in advance for the stresses that are undoubtedly going to come the first couple of months
learning about trauma. That's the biggest thing that we can I can express to families is, while you're waiting while you're taking the time to go through the home study or be matched with a child, take that time to really learn about trauma and how it affects a child's brain and their development. And take training is about anything you can ever get your hands on. A lot of the times I hear adoptive families say, Oh, well, you know, it didn't mean as much until I had a child in my home. And so but you don't have time when a child's in your home to be taking trainings or do go back and think oh, this is what I want to take a training on. So do that work ahead of time also do work on yourself as well. Figure out your own parenting, or your own triggers of what your childhood may experience. We have all of our international and our waiting child services are adopting families who are adopting from the foster care system, read both The Connected parent and the connected child. And those two books really help you take a look at what this child is going to experience what you're going to experience parenting before you're in it. So at least you feel like you can have those tools in your toolbox ready for when those stressors do happen.
No throw out one last thing. It's a bit of a pet peeve of mine. And I feel like I was part of I hope I'm briefing what I said. And that is the concept. We have promoted cocooning for a long time and they in the adoption world and and we are creating a family. You know we're we're encouraging people to consider, you know, simplifying, cutting back staying in being the primary ones who are dealing with a new child coming in. But I do think that we may have gone whether it was us who went overboard or just in general. I think that that we hear from parents who are a little less now there was about five years ago where it seemed like everybody was I don't want anybody to touch this child other than me. Nobody can I can't go to my biggest stress relievers is to work out but I can't I can't leave the child for me to go work out. But they can only be so No grandma and grandpa can't come in to help care for the child because It's only me and my spouse, who are able to tear. So I just throw out there that there are modified ways to cocoon. Yeah, in general, you do want to simplify your life, you want to slow things down, you do want to be the ones who are caring for the child. But for heaven's sakes, they can also bond with grandma and grandpa. And they can also bond with the daycare at at the at the gym, if that's an important way for you to get stress release. This is a long haul. So it's not going to be a permanent disruption. So I throw that out there because I don't hear it quite as much. But there was a time where I really wanted to beat my head against a wall. Because I would be hearing people who were doing No, no self care, because they felt like they could have nobody touch this child other than them. And that's unrealistic and unhealthy. Exactly. All right. Any final words, Dr. Bliss,
I would say in line with what you just talked about, is that usually parenting and moderation is a good idea. So there are so many philosophies, so many belief systems out there, and following it to an absolute tee is not realistic, puts extra stress on you. And also doesn't take into account who your individual child is and what your individual life is. So take everything in with moderation, and create your collective plate of philosophies. That's kind of a smorgasbord that makes sense for who you are as a parent, the child you're taking it on and your life and trust yourself.
Excellent, Molly, any words of wisdom for newly adopted parents who are a little stressed out?
Nobody has a handbook. Nobody knows what they're doing when it comes to parenting. Everybody just trying to do their best. Give yourself a break. Give yourself grace, you're learning the child is learning. And as everybody's kind of said on this, it's all in face, and it will pass as well.
Thank you both Dr. Jennifer bliss and Marley burger for being with us today to talk about unexpected stresses for newly adoptive families.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai