After seven months of fostering Addy and her brother, Dominick, we raised our hands before a judge and promised to love and care for them as our own. After countless delays, setbacks and turnabouts, we were officially a family. This was the finish line we’d all waited for—so why didn’t we all feel the elation I thought we would?
Our family spent years dreaming about adopting. My husband was adopted at birth, and I was unofficially adopted as a teen. Adoption, to us, felt like a natural next step after having three biological children. When we found out about a local sibling set in need of a forever home, it felt right, even though it was a different scenario than we had expected. All those years we spent dreaming about adopting, Addy and Dominick were in foster care dreaming about a family.
We all wanted the change—we prayed for it, and we chose it. But change is a funny thing. Even positive changes that we handpick and prepare for can blindside us with their emotional weight. As my new 12-year-old daughter, Addy, said recently, “I thought I would be happy after I got adopted, and I am, but the emotions, they just come. I don’t know how or why, but sometimes they just come.”
Yes, sweet girl. They certainly do.
As I clumsily adjusted to a new dynamic in our home and learned how to care for traumatized children, I wept daily. I felt guilty. After all, shouldn’t this be a time of excitement—the moment we’d been waiting for? I allowed my children to embrace mixed emotions as they adapted to a whirlwind of change, but it took time to realize that I was allowed to feel a range of emotions, too.
If I could go back to the start of our adoption experience, here’s what I’d tell myself about adopting:
1. Mixed emotions are allowed
It seemed like everywhere I turned, people wanted the fairy tale version of our story. Anytime I mentioned anything remotely hard about the adoption, people would steer the conversation to “But, insert fairy tale version here.” Clearly, there was no room to express how hard it was.
Of course, there is a beautiful side to adoption. But my adopted kids have been through trauma, unlike anything most people will ever experience in a lifetime. Those reverberations don’t just impact them; they impact our entire family. So, yes, we were happy and excited and rejoicing—but we also experienced some sadness, depression, and grieving too.
Dr. Caroline Leaf says, “Feeling sad after making the right decision doesn’t mean it was the wrong decision.” Whether you’ve adopted, birthed a baby, or faced any significant life change—mixed emotions are allowed.
2. Adjusting to our new normal takes time
According to a study by Munchkin, it takes most new moms about five months to adjust to motherhood, a new baby and a new lifestyle. There aren’t any studies on how long it takes to adjust to adopting an older, traumatized sibling set, but it’s definitely taken me longer than five months. I didn’t have a rule book for how to adjust or how long it would take. I put so much pressure on myself to feel steady, but most days, I felt like I was dancing off-beat.
Adjusting to a new season in motherhood takes time, and that time frame is different for each mom and each situation. There is a place for survival mode. It’s okay not to have it all figured out for a while. Survival mode is unsettling for moms because we fear it will last forever, but the truth is, it doesn’t. You will find your footing again. Give it time.
3. Establish rhythms
Many years ago, a dear friend of mine faced a heartbreaking situation in her life. Her counselor told her one of the most important things she could do for herself was to establish a rhythm. When would she work out? What time was dinner? When was her day of rest? “You always need something on the calendar to look forward to, especially in times of crisis,” the counselor advised.
I stole that counselor’s advice for my own life as I adjusted to life after adoption. I started putting weekly rhythms on the calendar that I could look forward to—pickleball, date night, pizza night, to name a few. Establishing things to look forward to gave me a second wind to make it through the hard days and also gave my mom brain much-needed breaks. In this book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change Interactive Edition”, Stephen Covey says, “The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” During a major transition—you are a priority—yes you! Your mind, body, and emotions matter.
Maybe you aren’t raising your hand before a judge, but all mothers raise our hands and say yes to love our children every day. As you tend to your children and adjust to each new season, just don’t forget to raise your hand and say yes to yourself too.
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