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Destinations, Dreams and Dogs - International adventure with a fast-track family (& dogs) of Old World values, adopting the Russian-Italian-American good life on the go…!

The 5 Stages of Becoming a Adoptive Family

Folks, there are happy and bleak stories out there about adoption.  All you have to do is scratch the surface in either direction and you’ll get some validation that your story is not so strange.  Does the outcome depend on your own mindset and what you’re anticipating or willing to work toward–”no matter what the emotional or financial cost”– or, are there preset outcomes that cannot be avoided, due to the child’s own background, mental health issues, and willingness to change?

The answer is cloudy and murky at best.

I recently read a business article that used the framework of learning a foreign language as its model of adjusting to something new.  It was brilliant.  I’m going to borrow the five points, which may not show my brilliance, but it works.

If you want the usual adoptive parents’ guide to settling-in with a new child, it goes something like this:  1) adopt child;  2) honeymoon phase where all goes well with child; 3) horrific, hell-like phase with child where all hope of a decent life is lost as he lets down his guard.  This is then followed up with some words of advice from other adoptive parents  about embracing a new kind of “normal”.

Not tremendously encouraging.  For our own personal situation, I don’t remember ever having a “honeymoon phase” per se, and have written about this in the past (http://www.destinationsdreamsanddogs.com/the-honeymoon-phase-of-international-adoption/).  It was more like from the frying pan to the fire, so your mileage may vary.  Here are a few unscientific stages for you, straight from the trenches:

1.  Confusion.  At first, you think this, and the child thinks that.  You imagine one thing, and he imagines another.  It’s confusion, mixed expectations, and messed-up messages sent to each other.  He may break things, steal things, and tantrum.  Where is the love and laughter?  What did I get myself into? you think.

2.  Initial Understanding.  He fits in with the daily routine, calls you “Mama” or “Papa”.  It doesn’t matter that every other adult in the orphanage was also called “Mama”, it seems meaningful for now.  Progress is being made.  He learns a few words in English, it’s so cute– accent, mistakes, and all.

3.  Frustration.  It’s a couple months or a couple years later and you slowly start to realize:  the two steps forward, one step backward is not so satisfying anymore.  The grammatical mistakes, the wilful disobedience, you give it time… and time… and time… but seem to be on the perpetual Tilt-a-Whirl carnival ride:  up and down, and spinning around.  Where is the linear progression?  What will become of his future?  The good days are good.  The bad days are awful.

4.  Perseverance.  You stick with it.  You correct, and keep on correcting.  You take him to tutoring or therapy, youth group or sports.  It really, truly doesn’t matter which, except for your take on life and where you’re aiming.  Each activity will bring him out somewhere on the other side.  When he’s ready, of course.  After you go through hurricane-force winds and hold on for all you’re worth.  There’s a lot to be said for perseverance.

5.  Results.  You will get results, and I pray that they’re to your liking.  Many parents settle for a “new kind of normal and that’s not all bad, either.  It takes common sense to come to grips with certain realities.

And sometimes, perhaps many times, things really do work out in the end.  But where is the end and where is the beginning is anyone’s guess.  You just keep moving forward with a clear-cut, or even fuzzy-focus, future in mind.  The child lives, and breathes, and trusts, and pushes you away… and looks to you for hope.

Be strong, my friend, be strong.



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6 Comments : Leave a Reply

  1. avatar Linda says:

    I hope we’re at 4…
    We do things with him, he acts up but it’s not as intensive as before, we seem to be able to handle it…
    We went on a mini cruise, just for a day on Sunday and it was fun, mostly, my husband went back to work after a weeks holiday, and it went ok, and now my mother-in-law arrived and it’s still going good. I’m in shock, so many new things in a week and he’s still calm. Can’t believe it! Well there will be a new first on Sunday, we’re going to the circus, so we’ll see what happens after that.

    That’s the one thing I don’t like, the fact like it seems that what ever we do, we are always waiting for some reaction from the boy. Always waiting for the worst.
    It would be lovely just to not worry, and just to enjoy what you are doing. Now it seems that we’re just sitting and saying, just wait 5minutes and then he’ll start….
    But maybe if we survive the next 4 weeks, with all the things that are happening, then maybe I’ll be able to relax and not think of the worst all the time.

    Happy Easter to you and your family!

    • avatar Linda says:

      oh, and we didn’t have a Honeymoon Phase… the next day after he came with me he started to act up, and the next 5-6 Months was interesting to say the least.
      After that it got slowly better, and since January we have had a fairly calm ride, with no really long lasting problems…

      • avatar admin says:

        I know, Linda, I sometimes wonder if it’s the kids who change… or us in our reactions and expectations…! But progress is progress, and it’s a great feeling either way. Congratulations on all of the “firsts” without major problems–may they continue all month long!

  2. Wonderful insight! Thank you so much for sharing!

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