Each adoption journey has its own version of long waits, arduous paperwork, and educational preparations. It’s okay to take a beat to catch your breath and rejoice that your child is finally home. However, it’s also a great time to remind yourself that the stress of the journey doesn’t magically end the day your child joins your family. What are the pressures of a new adoption that you might have yet to consider? More importantly, how can you manage the stress of a new adoption so your family can build a strong, healthy attachment and grow together?
The Stresses of a New Adoption
In addition to the long, stressful process of becoming an adoptive family, there are several stresses common to most adoptions. These are only two of the most common stresses that adoptive families face. However, there are other significant ones, and you can learn more about the unique stresses of a new adoption in this CreatingaFamily.org podcast.
Whether you are welcoming an infant or an older child through foster or international adoption, sleep issues are typical. Tempers flare more easily, logic feels unreachable, and the details of running a home seem to slip through the cracks. Sleep deprivation can lead to many other struggles, like behavior issues, feeding challenges, and emotional regulation difficulties.
Newborns often struggle with the impacts of prenatal substance exposure, which affects sleep quality. Toddlers and young children struggle to sleep well because of the numerous changes they’ve experienced to get to your home. And tweens and teens might experience sleep challenges as they process emotions and new environments. All these struggles also result in parents who can’t sleep – when your kids don’t sleep, you probably don’t either.
Emotional Or Attachment Struggles
The many changes your newly adopted child has experienced can lead to big emotions and challenges in processing their feelings. This can lead to behavior issues and sensory dysregulation. Sleep deprivation feeds into the circle of emotional struggles. New adoptive parents might also experience unmet or unrealistic expectations or challenges to connect and feel attached to their child. Navigating relationships with birth families can make this new season more stressful than you had anticipated.
5 Tips to Manage the Stress of a New Adoption
1. Keep educating yourself.
You spent much time and money on education to prepare for this adoption. But you aren’t done yet! Once you can get your head around it, keep learning about your family’s specific adoption relationship. Ask the caseworker for additional information in your child’s files that you have not yet seen. Continue educating yourself about the short- and long-term impacts of trauma and prenatal substance exposure. Increase your understanding of attachment issues, challenging behaviors, and how to build resilience in your kids. We recommend these as excellent starting points:
- The Connected Child*, by the late Dr. Karyn Purvis, Dr. David Cross, & Wendy Lyons Sunshine
- The Connected Parent*, by the late Dr. Karyn Purvis & Lisa Qualls
If your child is of a different race or culture than you or your partner, learn about their culture or ethnicity. Read books and listen to the music of your child’s community, language, or culture. Learning about food is a fun way to get their initial buy-in. Subscribe to the free CreatingaFamily.org newsletter and download our guide to parenting a transracial adoptee.
Understand what impacts your parenting style.
No doubt, while you were preparing to bring this precious child home, you and your partner dreamed about your ideal family. Be realistic about life’s big and small challenges with your newly adopted child. Learn about your parent’s attachment style and the triggers from your childhood that might influence your parenting style. Accept that your adopted child may be nothing like you were as a child and may have had a whole different life before joining yours.
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Educate yourself about how to manage your expectations so you can love and accept this child for who they are, not who you wish or dreamed they would be. Above all, be patient and give yourself and your family time and grace to learn and grow in your attachments to each other.
2. Find your support network.
You may have a wonderful extended family and friends who have lovingly helped you welcome this little one home. However, they likely will only fully understand your experience if they have adopted a child. It can put an added load on your shoulders to have to educate friends and family about the realities of adoption. Don’t feel as if you must take that on – instead, offer them the resources that helped you prepare and release yourself from that responsibility. While they may be able to provide some support and understanding, it’s essential also to build a network of others who “get it.”
It might take some effort, but when you build and maintain a strong relationship with other adoptive parents, you are surrounded by people who get what you are experiencing. You can follow CreatingaFamily.org on social media – we have an active online community that you might enjoy. You can also reach out to your adoption agency or social worker or join an in-person or online support group for connection and support.
3. Continue Educating Your Resident Kids.
Preparing the children already in your home for a new adoption is an ongoing process. You can keep referring to the resources you used while waiting for your new child. The resident kids will be able to connect with the information differently now that they live it. Keep the channels of communication open whether you bring home a newborn baby, a toddler, or a tween. Create a safe space for your kids to ask questions, express growing pains in the changing dynamics, and feel all the range of emotions about their new sibling.
Pay special attention to children whose birth order changed with this adoption. The transition impacts your children very differently than it affects you, and they should feel free to manage it in their way. Scaffold them by reading books together or watching movies, talking about the character’s feelings. Carve out time to spend one-on-one with them regularly. CreatingaFamily.org has a resource page on Blending Children by Birth and Adoption to help you find the resources your family needs.
4. Think About “Cocooning.”
Many new adoptive families find value in streamlining the family calendar in the early weeks or months after adopting. It would help if you planned to slow things down and simplify your life by cutting back on activities outside your home. If you have older children, arrange rides for their most crucial activities. When you have a newborn who is not sleeping well or struggling with the lingering impacts of neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS or withdrawal), you need to be able to lean on your support network. Ask for help with meals, household errands, or laundry.
Cocooning allows you and your partner to focus on bonding and ease your family into this new dynamic. Shrink your world for a season in measured, thoughtful ways that make the most sense for your family.
5. Make a Plan for Self-Care.
If you still need to establish a regular plan for self-care, now is the time! You and your partner need to feel rested and nourished to care for each other and your newly adopted child. Your relationship with your spouse requires regular attention, too. Set up dates in your calendar for activities that bring you joy. Prioritize healthy eating and consistent sleep habits for your whole household. It’s much easier to hang in there with a fussy, colicky baby or anxious tween when you are operating from a “filled cup.”
The Stress of Adoption Is Manageable!
With preparation, grace, and understanding of how your life changes when you adopt, you and your partner can manage the stress of adoption. You can also show your children examples of resilience, persistence, and the value in continuing to learn as you get a handle on your family’s new normal.
Tell us in the comments: How did you overcome the stress of a new adoption?
Image Credits: Kindel Media; Pixabay; cottonbro studio