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Common emotions and experiences of adoptive parents

Adoptive parenthood, like other types of parenthood, can bring tremendous joy, and a sizable amount of stress. You may experience emotional ups and downs as an adoptive parent, before, during, and after adoption.


While every family is unique and every parent has different feelings and experiences, there are some general themes that emerge regarding adoptive parents’ emotional responses.

Decision to adopt

The desire to adopt may be influenced by religion, infertility or a felt connection with a child in need of a home, among many other factors. Regardless of the circumstances, the decision to adopt is often highly charged with emotion.

Things to consider

Families, couples, and individuals who decide to adopt should always go through a rigorous screening process that encourages self-reflection and consideration of your reasons for wanting to adopt, as well as your expectations for your child, the experience of parenting, and family life. Being aware of your expectations may be particularly important. Research has shown that unmet or unrealistic expectations often play a role when adoptions fall apart.

In approaching adoption, you may want to consider your feelings about:

  • How a new child will fit into your life and relationship
  • How a new child will affect family dynamics, especially if your family already has children
  • What changes you are willing to make to ease the child’s transition
  • How you feel about adoption and contact with the child’s birth family
  • How you feel about welcoming a child from foster care who may have experienced abuse or neglect
  • How you have addressed your own past trauma or losses. Consider how adopting a child with a similar history might affect you emotionally
  • If there's anything in a child’s history that you feel you would not be equipped to cope with, emotionally or financially (for example, past trauma, sexual abuse, fragile medical condition)
  • Any behaviours that a child could manifest that would make it too hard to maintain him or her in your family
  • In cases of transracial or transcultural adoption, how you feel about accommodating, helping and promoting your child’s positive cultural and racial identity
  • How you'll inform family members and friends, and how will you deal with questions from family, friends, and strangers about adoption
  • How you'll you answer your child’s questions about adoption, his or her background and history, birth family, and your reasons for adopting
  • What your dreams, fantasies, and expectations are for your child and family’s future. How you'll respond when reality does not match your expectations
  • How willing you are to learn new parenting strategies that work better for children who have experienced loss and trauma
  • How willing and able you are to seek help for yourself or your child when necessary

Support

Some adoptive parents find they need support to work through the emotions that arise. Before, during, or after the adoption is finalised, the majority of adoptive families identify some ongoing issues that make daily life challenging, including emotional, behavioural, and school concerns. If this is true for your family, keep in mind that seeking help is a sign of strength and doing so earlier rather than later may help to prevent a crisis.

Adoption is a lifelong commitment, and adoption related issues may arise at any point in the parents’ or their child’s lifetime. A willingness to learn about the issues and seek support if necessary can help to ensure that parents and children experience happy and healthy family lives.