Should you adopt if you are afraid
Is fear of adoption a sign that you should not adopt?

Have you ever thought about adoption, but hesitate because of fear? Are you afraid that adopted kids will have all sorts of problems, that the children will never consider you their real mom or dad, that the process is too hard, that you won’t get chosen or approved to adopt, that…? You are not alone. Is this fear an indication that you should not adopt?

“Hello Dawn, Thank you for being such a great source of information on the adoption process. My husband and I are considering adopting an older sibling pair through foster care. We both feel a strong pull towards children, but neither of us feel a drive to have bio children. While I feel drawn to adoption and excited about creating our family, I’m also worried. For every blog written by challenged-but-happy adoptive parents, there’s another story detailing a family’s heartbreak. So here’s my question: If I’m terrified by the idea that my adoptive children could end up in a treatment facility (despite all best efforts), should I stop considering older child adoption? I know this is a tough question, and I appreciate your thoughts. Also, please let me know of any resources you would recommend that deal with this subject.”

A Tale of Fear

Fear is such a paradox: It can keep you alive, but also keep you from living. Take my fear of heights. I’m sure it has probably protected me by keeping me well away from bungee jumping, skydiving, and skyscraper window washing, but it has also kept me away from Angels Landing in Zion National Park, rated one of the top 10 hikes in the US. I first fell in love with Zion when my husband and I traveled/camped through the US for 6 months PK (pre-kids). Angels Landing is “one of the most famous and thrilling hikes in the US national park system“, and is undisputedly Zion’s pride and joy. The park system description, however, is enough to make me run the other way.

The Angels Landing trail runs along a narrow rock fin with dizzying drop-offs on both sides. The trail culminates at a lofty perch, boasting magnificent views in every direction. Rarely is such an intimidating path so frequented by hikers. One would think that this narrow ridge with deep chasms on each of its flanks would allure only the most intrepid of hikers. … The last half-mile is across a narrow sandstone ridge above a 1500 foot cliff to the valley floor, with …anchored support chains attached along some sections of the sheer fin.

Should you not adopt if you are afraid

I really want to be the type of person who hikes a “thrilling”, “dizzying”, and “intimidating” trail. Instead, I’m a person who quakes at the very thought of standing on a narrow ridge with a 1500 foot drop within inches of my foot regardless of the presence of chains.

Deciding to become the person I want to be rather than the person I am, I headed off on that first visit to conquer my fears. I never even got to the narrow ridge

Does being afraid mean you shouldn't adopt a child?
Rock bridge–with 1000 foot drops on each side.

with chains part of the trail. I was stymied at the very beginning by having to cross a narrow[ish] (probably 4 foot wide) rock bridge. In my terror over the narrow ridge with chains, I totally overlooked the description of this part of the trail: “The tail begins with a half-mile hike along a narrow sandstone isthmus with sheer cliffs on both sides. The narrow and arduous trail drops 1200′ on one side and 800′ on the other.”

I literally could not make myself cross that bridge. Not that time, nor on my other three trips to Zion over the years.

Several years ago, my sweet husband surprised me with a birthday trip to Zion. It was in October, which is peak season and the place was packed. It seemed that everyone was hiking Angels Landing–and not just the young mountain climbing type of folks either.

The first day I got to the rock bridge (and don’t forget about the sheer drops on either side) and again, just couldn’t make myself do it. That afternoon, I talked with a park ranger and asked for help putting the danger into perspective. He told me that hundreds of people hiked that trail every day without incident.  That evening I did some soul searching trying to weigh my fear with my wanting to hike that trail to the beautiful vistas at the end, and probably more important, with my desire to be the type of person who lives life to the fullest.

The next day when I got to the rock bridge, I screwed up every bit of courage I had, sat down on my butt, and slowly inched my way across, not looking down and praying like crazy. There was a line of people on either side of the half mile bridge staring and waiting for me to scooch across. It was more than a little embarrassing, but it was the only way I could do it.

If you're afraid, should you adopt a child?
Bunch of other fools also clinging to the chains for dear life.

After the rock bridge I made my way to the narrow ridge with chains. Since my butt was bigger than most parts of the ridge, scooching along was out of the question. Besides, my death grip on the chains precluded anything but walking.

At one point a man, no doubt trying to be helpful, pointed out that by holding onto the chains so tight I was throwing my balance off. He suggested that I could go faster and be safer if I “just walked more natural”. It was only my knowledge that I was likely going to die on that hike and meet my Maker at the pearly gates that very day that kept me from telling him exactly where and how he could shove his suggestion.

The views at the top, when I finally made it, were spectacular—almost worth the hike.

Me sitting at the top. No way could I stand!

The Nature of Fear in Adoption

That’s the way it is with fear, and it’s darn hard to tell when it changes from wise protection to limiting interference. Almost everyone is afraid before they adopt. There were times on my adoption journey when I was scooching along on my butt not looking down and praying like crazy.

Bringing a child into your family is life altering and worthy of caution. It really doesn’t matter how that child joins your family, but because adoption is less common than giving birth and because there are more unknowns, it feels scarier. And let’s face it, adopting an older child from foster care has even more unknowns.

Children land in foster care almost always because of abuse and neglect. They carry the scars. Sometimes these scars are massive and remain so for life, but more often , although present, they fade with time, love, and therapy. Any child can end up in a treatment facility, but kids from hard places are probably more likely to need this type of care than kids who have been spared the abuse and neglect that are inherent with entering foster care. But while the odds may be greater, they still aren’t that high.

How Much Weight to Give Your Fear- 2 Step Process

When trying to decide whether to listen or disregard fear, whether it’s hiking Angels Landing or adopting, I use a two-step process. It’s not perfect, but it usually works for me.

First, I get educated (talk with the Park Ranger/fellow hikers or read everything I can find on adoption, join support groups, and talk with other adoptive parents).

Second, I listen to my gut: are the possible rewards worth the possible risk.

We are all afraid to some degree of the unknown, so start by making the unknown a little more known. If after you know more you are still as afraid, then that may be a good sign that this isn’t for you.

We can help with the first step—education. I’m glad you’ve joined the Creating a Family Facebook Support group. You’ll find many other members who have adopted older kids from foster care. Creating a Family also has lots and lots of educational resources on foster care adoption, attachment, risks of adoption, and adopting the hurt child. After you have immersed yourself in all things adoption for a while, check in with your gut. Are you feeling more confident or more fearful? An educated gut is a good barometer (to mix my metaphors) of what is best for you.

Were you afraid before you adopted?

Image credit: Loving Earth
First published in 2012. Updated in 2016.