Adoption is like anything in life - it will look different for all of us and I can only speak for myself.
Here are some thoughts that would have helped me hold on to my seat during 3 of the trickier bits of the adoption rollercoaster.
1.) Deciding to adopt at all
Beginning the adoption process may not have been how you imagined your family would come into being and you might need some space to acknowledge the loss you feel for a version of your life that didn't happen. That's healthy. Some of the roads to this point are difficult enough without piling on any extra pressure to feel a certain way.
Yes, it's an exciting time but maybe it's other things too.
It was a surprise to me but you might find that you come across some negative judgements from people around you too when you say that you have chosen adoption. A lot of resistance comes from a rigid view about what a family looks like and a lack of understanding about what adoption involves or what birth family circumstances might be.
The antidote is often education but it relies on that person's willingness to be open to a different story and your willingness to offer it.
It's not your responsibility and you've probably got enough going on so don't put pressure on yourself, it's okay just to hold your boundary (ending the conversation maybe) and it's worth saying that you might end up wishing you hadn't overshared if you try to explain and it still isn't received well.
Those kind of judgements can be a hard thing to handle, especially when you get an unexpected comment from someone you thought would be supportive. Think about choosing who you speak to carefully and be kind with yourself, this process can have you feeling vulnerable for all sorts of reasons. Ultimately the people whose views matter when it comes to if and how you choose to have children are you and anyone on your parenting team - that's it. Any other opinion is just that, even if it stings.
You might also find yourself blindsided by invasive questions along the way. I welcome questions as long as they're not specific to my children's stories but you might not. It's okay to draw your lines where they feel right to you and sometimes we might need to do this more than we expected to.
Ordinarily I don't love seeking support on the internet (keyboard warrior judgement-fest) but when it comes to adoption support, Facebook forums have been really helpful.
I would personally recommend YAWN (You've Adopted What Now) and Adopters Support and Advice UK for advice, friendly faces and a good rant with people who get it.
If you're a prospective adopter it's also a great place to find people in your area who have some knowledge of the agencies close to you and how they work, it's always helpful to have an idea of what to expect.
At the beginning it can feel like a bit of a maze - local authority or voluntary agency? Do they want to speak to your ex-partner? Does BMI matter or whether you rent or own your house? It often depends on the agency and because we are all looking for a bit of certainty when we begin the process, this can be tough.
It's worth doing some research, whatever that looks like for you. Most agencies will run information sessions for an overview on their process and timescales or you can just ring them and have an initial chat with a social worker. There are great online forums where you can speak to adopters who are further along and get some advice and clarity.
The amount of training and information before you have a little person to actually apply it to can be overwhelming at times and if you've drawn the short straw with your local authority you can experience clunky communication and lots of delays. Take it day by day and give yourself the space to wobble sometimes.
Inevitably at some stage it will take over your every thought for a while, especially in the periods of just waiting for various things which can be a bit painful.
It can be really helpful to have some enjoyable distractions ready. Date nights, great mates and time away if you can get it all worked well for us. You can also expect to be tired at times so TV, sofa and flight mode can also have their place.
Listen to your body and as much as you can, try not to let the process take more from you than you have in the tank. If it happens, see if you can block off some time to recover, that email can wait until Monday.
A wonderful friend of mine who was considering being a single adopter at the time had the great foresight of nominating someone to be her adoption partner. That person understood the process from beginning to end as she went through it, was the person she would sound off to and would talk through decisions with her as she made them.
We all have days where it will feel like a lot and we need to be allowed to feel that, it's a good idea to know who your person / people are and in my humble opinion, you need at least one who you can say literally anything to.
For lots of people the assessment process itself can feel very invasive. Going through your childhood with a fine tooth comb with a stranger isn't for everyone and neither is inviting lots of different professionals into your home and family - sometimes for years - before your adoption order is granted.
What did help us was using the process to learn. We had already talked a lot about how we grew up and how we might like to raise our children but there were still questions that surprised us both and we ended up finding threads of conversation we might not have arrived at without it.
If you have to do it you might as well use it to learn and to make sure you're on the same page if you're adopting with a partner.
It's also an opportunity to check in with how it feels to tell your story. I believe that we'll always find more to work on once our kids arrive and beyond, but if there are any particular points of tenderness that might translate into a parenting trigger it's a good time to address them.
Also, and I can't stress this enough - do not be afraid to ask for someone else if you are struggling. We were lucky enough to have the same great social worker from start to finish (I know this is very rare), but other social workers involved were very unhelpful and honestly damaging to the process and to us as a family. It wasn't easy but getting a change of worker transformed the whole landscape for us. We can sometimes suffer in silence with the belief that as professionals 'they know what they are doing'. Like all areas in life - some are amazing and some less so. Ultimately this is their job but it's your family. Where possible, trust yourself and push if something doesn't feel right.
3.) Our children's stories
Our children's birth stories are as different as they are. As someone who narrowly missed being removed myself as a child I had compassion for the loss that many birth parents experience. I knew that these sad and complicated situations are not about 'good' or 'bad' people.
Having said that, the reality isn't always easy to navigate when your priority is children who were very often not safe and protected in their birth families. It's one thing having an idea of what adopting a child might mean and another looking at a child's profile, bringing them home for the first time, or negotiating contact.
You'll often hear me talk about the unrealistic expectations of parents everywhere and adoption is no exception. Making positive space for our children's stories while knowing they have been impacted by what they went through and holding a safe, compassionate connection with birth family while protecting our kids where needed...is complicated. We are parents but we are also people and these things are difficult for anyone.
If you struggle with your child's story that's normal. Most children who are adopted have a background with some kind of difficulty, whether that was before they came into the world or afterwards. Even with the commitment to openness that we all make as adopters, it can be hard to come up with an answer to a hard question that keeps things safe, compassionate and honest, especially if you have a particularly difficult story to tell the person you love the most.
Your child's life story is bound to interact with your feelings as their parent at some point and whatever comes of that, try to let it. Once you know how you feel you can start to work through it so it doesn't impact your child's experience. Burying your (very normal) feelings doesn't mean they don't exist and if you find that during assessment there is something you feel is too triggering for you, you are never doing a child a disservice by saying you don't feel you can cope with something in their background. They need your honesty because they need to find the home that will best support them.
While I absolutely agree that our children's lives before us need to be acknowledged, honoured and talked about as much they need - life is messier than they can teach us in the training.
It's one thing to deny a child's identity as part of their birth family and something else completely to have complicated feelings about it. Despite encouragement from care teams, other adopters or anyone else to plaster on a rosy smile - if you feel sad, ranty or upset sometimes, that is not the same as not prioritising your child's need to know where they came from. Feelings are not actions. Our choices begin when we decide what to do with them and that gets a lot easier when we can find a safe space to lay them out in the open.
This isn't helped by the fact that (at least in our experience), there was very little acknowledgement of the difficulties that you might experience as an adoptive parent navigating this world and figuring out how to explain everyone's place in it the best way for your child, especially if there are complications, hostilities or aspects of the story that you feel unequipped to properly communicate. During our journey we asked for advice on how to talk about a specific issue and we were told it simply isn't available. This is very common and it means that our support for each other as peers is even more important.
No matter how smooth the process there are likely to be unexpected bumps in the road and you are guaranteed some emotional highs and lows. There is a lot involved and almost all of it is out of our control as adopters until we are a family.
Go gently, ask for help and give yourself a pat on the back for getting through the hard days - a lot like once they're home!
I support adoptive parents through 1:1 EFT sessions to meet their challenges gently and work through difficult emotions. For more information you can drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or book a free call here to find out how EFT can help.
If you've got any questions about the process, you can always drop me a line. I am no expert but if I can I'll point you in the right direction.
It probably isn't an exaggeration to say I'm a bit of an honesty fanatic. Having said that I cannot remember a single time when a deception - mine or anyone else's - didn't feel wrong and cause a problem, or a time when the truth didn't move things on.
Lots of you will know that Not a Perfect Parent was started in memory of my own Mum, who for all sorts of reasons struggled around her parenting journey and mental health and who didn't have a lot of people validating that struggle. In fact for much of my childhood it was an elephant in the room which I think she must have very much felt the weight of.
I believe that using our voices to connect instead of judge each other can disappear that elephant or at least make it a lot lighter and so NAPP was born.
The truth, unwanted as it may be, is always there whether we say it or not. My experience is that if there is anything to heal, it always starts with acceptance.
The thing is, it's not always easy. There seem to be lots of reasons as a parent NOT to say you are struggling with sleep or food or toilet training, NOT to say you're not enjoying the terrible twos or the teenage years. The exception is if you say it in a very light-hearted eye-rolling way like you're sailing along merrily when actually it feels like you're drowning.
All relationships we will ever have - especially life-long ones - are going to come with some ups and downs. When it comes to our children we can find it very hard to verbalise our challenges because it feels like we're failing or like we shouldn't find it difficult so we must be doing something wrong. Often we only feel comfortable to talk about tough times once they're behind us, which means we still never really give ourselves permission to seek support when we need it.
The truth can be uncomfortable in the moment but that is usually a growing pain.
It takes courage to be honest. We all know the feeling when someone cautiously opens up and everyone breathes a sigh of relief and says 'me too!' or 'I've been there', which is also a great reminder that feelings change and the storm will pass.
I am lucky enough to host the Not a Perfect Parent podcast and I have learned so much from every single conversation. It's worth saying that the greatest lessons have always come from my guest's willingness to share their challenges and pain. From that place of honesty we can celebrate ourselves and each other in a real way for the amazing journey we are all on instead of buying in to expectations that we should just be able to do it all at 100 miles an hour for 18 years and anything else is a failure.
Whether you say it or not the truth is there and nine times out of ten it's shared.
It's fear that holds us back from telling it - but fear of what?
Judgement is a biggie. A lot of us don't feel comfortable saying our kids are driving us mad through the holidays or we're overwhelmed with the juggle in fear that someone will think less of us, or maybe we shy away from drawing a boundary in case someone thinks we are a helicopter parent.
With that premise it becomes truly impossible to say things that feel deeper and sharper - I'm not connected with my baby, I'm not enjoying being a parent - but we know that parents do feel these things and that silence doesn't help. No part of me is offended that my mum felt those things but I do feel sad that she wasn't always able to be honest and so didn't find a safe place to explore them.
The truth is usually kind of messy and not everyone is ready for that. When you do come across judgement it's usually down to the other persons insecurity or fear - we all have it. It can be useful to remember what you are responsible for (owning your emotions and expressing yourself calmly and kindly) and what you are not responsible for (other people's emotions afterwards or how they receive you).
Judgement goes hand in hand with competition which I won't harp on about but which can be rife in parenthood.
I suggest - opt out. You will always find someone who appears to be doing 'better' or 'worse' than you but those comparisons are meaningless. Us and our children are all going to get further along the road if we look out for one another instead of getting our self-worth from watching someone else trip up.
Can you take the pressure off?
Holding ourselves up to impossible standards can end up meaning that we just lie to meet them, whether it's to ourselves or to other people, because we are afraid of what it will mean when we admit what we are thinking and feeling. This goes nowhere and you don't need that pressure on top of what you are already feeling.
If you aren't sure how you are feeling or how to get it out, a really nice exercise is to do some free-writing. Let the flood gates open through your pen and go to town. Don't filter it or worry about what someone else would think of it. Allow yourself your feelings whatever they are and get them on the page.
Suppressing things we don't think we 'should' feel for whatever reason takes massive amounts of energy. Once we lift the lid the magic is that sometimes some of those emotions dissipate on their own and if not, the next steps usually seem a lot clearer. *If you are not a writer try a voice note rant (technical term obviously...)
Remember that feelings are just feelings - you are not them.
Feelings change. They are in motion and if allowed to move through us, they eventually will. By accepting them and verbalising them we create the space to release them or allow them to change into the lesson they are going to leave us with.
There is no judgement on a thought or an emotion, we didn't choose them. We can find it's better to hold them lightly, especially when they are painful. By pushing them down and resisting the fact that they are here we end up keeping them, as well as creating another force of frustration and resistance.
They also don't define you. You might think something ugly one day, maybe you even act on it and say or do something you didn't mean - it doesn't then become who you are. It also becomes a lot more likely that we will eventually release pressure in a negative way when we have a lot of strong emotions and nowhere for them to go.
Find your safe space, find your people
What would happen if we expected imperfection? If we really understood and accepted that we sometimes behave in ways that we wouldn't choose and we knew the people around us would love us anyway? What if we knew we would love ourselves through it too so we were all honest about it?
In that space judgement becomes null and void and we can open to being much more solution focused. Why did I fly off the handle? Why am I feeling disconnected? What needs to change in my environment or my beliefs so I'm not so overwhelmed?
We can start to involve other people in that conversation too and look at what everyone needs instead of using that moment as another stick to beat ourselves with.
There is freedom in saying we failed as a parent if that's how you feel today because of the warmth that comes when you realise you're not alone.
It's easy to feel like we're failing, there are so many unrealistic messages out there about how it all 'should' be and I challenge you to find one parent who has never experienced that emotion.
The truth is that our children and our experiences with them are as unique as we are, one size fits all just doesn't work and that means comparison doesn't ever lead to anything useful. Honestly? When you are sat in tears on that really tricky day there is probably someone out there comparing themselves to you and feeling inadequate, we only have a tiny window on each other's worlds.
Also, what is failing? Making mistakes? We all do and we all will, forever. We 'fail', and we learn, and we start again. It is much less painful if we do it kindly.
If we can be brave enough to be honest we can forgo comparison for connection, for support and for learning from each other.
The bad days don't seem so bad with company and the good days are even better when there are people on your team. If your team don't make you feel good they are not your team.
Start by listening to yourself.
Your feelings are never wrong to have and you won't be the first person to have them, but they might be a message that you need some support or you need something to change.
You never have to be silent. Find your safe space whether that is with yourself in journaling, friends, family, a wellbeing professional or here with us at Not a Perfect Parent.
EFT is an incredible practical tool to manage difficult times and meet those difficult emotions gently and with kindness. Get in touch if you would like to book a free call to talk through how it can help you.
You are doing an amazing job.
If it doesn't feel that way, better times are coming.
I'm Jess, EFT Practitioner & mindfulness teacher, adoptive mum to two adorable little fireworks and a passionate advocate of the idea that change really is possible, no matter how far away it feels.