Is Being Afraid a Sign You Should Not Adopt?

Dawn Davenport

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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.

31/08/2016 | by Dawn Davenport | Categories: Adoption, Adoption Blog, Blog | 15 Comments



15 Responses to Is Being Afraid a Sign You Should Not Adopt?

  1. Marjie says:

    It took us a whole year to make our decision to adopt, and to start the process. This is not something that you wake up one day and decide to do. We went through the trainings offered by the state and by the end of the certification, we were confident we were on the right path. The first few classes were about abuse neglect and fetal alcohol and drug exposure and the impact on the baby’s brain and the live in general of the child for the rest of his/her life and we were very very frightened. We almost gave up
    from the whole process. However, I wrote my fears in a poem (Writing is my best therapy) and shared this poem with my husband, my family and my therapist. This was helpful. We decided to continued. As the classes began to focus on the positive side of adoption, (attachment, embracing the child heritage, resources in our community etc) we felt hopeful and back in the game! I have been reading every book that is mentioned on every episode of the creating a family show, have explored resources in our community (special needs for child care, play therapy etc). Knowing there are so many resources in our community alleviates the fear. I am an advisor for students with disabilities in a community college, and a lot of my students have learning and mental special needs so, special needs is no longer as scary as it used to be. They can get to be happy and healthy adults, you just have to take the correct steps. You have no guarantees with your biological children either, so every new parent in the world is inherently taking risks.
    Our only problem now (and our hearts are broken) is our home study stage. We feel our social worker id biased and instead of supporting us, she is playing detective and looking for faults only. We are being asked for way way more than the average couple is asked for. She comes up with a new reference, a new document, a a new modification in our house every day. She has crossed all lines possible about our privacy and intimacy, we feel invaded and humiliated. The last thing she has asked for, is to speak with some of my husband’s children. My husband is older and has adult children. Some of them have been cooperative and supportive, but my husband’s second divorce was a mess and his children do not talk to him anymore. He suffers every day of his life for this children and our worker has not been sensitive or understanding of this situation and she insists on locating them and bother them. We are tired of the whole thing and are ready to give up. (Sad face) If we had gotten unbiased screening, I know we would have had a successful adoption story, I feel it in my heart. We’ll see how it all works but for now we are losing hope. (Sad face again)

    • Dawn Davenport Dawn Davenport says:

      I am sorry you are experiencing this. It sounds like your social worker is trying to find ways to make this difficult. Does you state have a contract with a private agency to place children from foster care. Many people tell us that they have more support from private agencies than from public agencies, both pre and post adoption or fostering. A social worker should be helping assess and educate you on adoption during the process, but her/his goal should not be to flunk you out.

  2. anon says:

    Thanks for this, Dawn. As someone hoping to complete my certification for fostercare adoption very soon I would love to know about resources/stories about how people have decided if the “match” was right. I’m looking to do straight adoption not foster to adopt and I know that the process of attachment and feeling emotionally connected can take a while (longer than you have to decide) sometimes. I have done a ton of educating myself but have a history of trouble making decisions. ….so that is what my fear is around in this process. …not so much the outcome but the actual decision! Hope that makes sense.

    • Dawn Davenport Dawn Davenport says:

      One of the beauties of adopting from foster care is that the child lives with you (usually for at least 6 months) before the adoption is finalized. For many people, this time period allows them to better assess the goodness of fit between this child and this family.

  3. Theodora Lenihan Theodora Lenihan says:

    Thanks for sharing you story, Debi!

  4. Debi Engle Averett Debi Engle Averett says:

    A friend of mine adopted a child they fostered first. The child was nine and academically way behind her peers. Her birth parents were both drug addicts serving time. You might think a child like that would be “troubled”, but she was very easy to work with. Within two years she was an honor student, an outstanding musician and an amazing young lady in every way. My friend said the thing she liked about fostering was it gave them a chance to “try before you buy” when considering adoption. Obviously this young lady was a great fit. There’s no question that foster kids face a lot that can give them serious issues, but that’s not always the case. My mother spent her teenage years in foster care– and she’s the coolest lady on the planet. : )

  5. Theodora Lenihan Theodora Lenihan says:

    Really great post. I think the tough part for me is trying to distinguish between “healthy” fear (trying to be truthful with myself about my limitations as a prospective adoptive parent) v. fears fed externally by misinformation and cultural pressures. Becoming educated definitely helps me distinguish between what my gut is telling me and how I’m reacting to external schtuff.

  6. Debi Engle Averett Debi Engle Averett says:

    When we first considered adoption, my husband wasn’t sure how he’d feel about a non-biological child. We decided to try fostering. That’s when he discovered that for him, accepting a non-biological child as his own wasn’t difficult, but giving them back was heartbreaking. That said, there was one child that we fostered just for the weekend (while his regular foster parents were out of town) that had been severely abused. It was clear that he would have been a danger to my then four year old, and beyond our abilities as parents. It was a humbling experience for me. I had assumed that with a little love, there was no problem I couldn’t conquer, but I was out of my league. I think fear can overcome reason, and can cause us to miss out on a lot in life. My adopted son is such a joy. There is nothing wrong, however, with some serious and honest reflection. I am filled with admiration for those parents who have the capacity for dealing with severely troubled children. It is not a gift that all of us have though, and there is no shame in admitting that.

  7. Debi, your comment made me smile to the bottom of my heart!

  8. Lindsay says:

    I was sent to a Residential Treatment Center as a teenager and 50% – 75% of the teens at the center were adopted, which is why I will never adopt from foster care. These girls had SERIOUS issues. Most were drug addicts and thieves and were sexually promiscuous. If you adopt from foster care, I think you’re amazing…and gutsy!

    • Dawn says:

      Lindsay, and therein lies the problem with deciding. While it may be true that many of the kids in the facility were adopted, that doesn’t mean that the majority of kids adopted from foster care will be placed in residential treatment. In fact, the vast majority will not end up there, but the odds may be higher. And is the reason that more adopted kids are in residential care exclusively because they are more troubled than all other kids or also because adoptive parents are often in a higher income bracket and can afford treatment facilities, or adoptive parents are more willing to get help for their kids because they don’t feel it reflects as poorly on their parenting skills, or …. On the other hand, older kid adoption, regardless whether they are from foster care or a foreign orphanage, is risky. It is such a hard decision. Thanks for sharing your perspective.

  9. Debi, well said. I tell people: this is your family not a charity. There is no shame in saying that either you can’t or don’t want to tackle too much.

  10. anon says:

    Great advice; oh the delicate balance of listening to your head and also your heart. Dawn, I’m glad you didn’t steer her down the path of “love will conquer all” that is so prevalent in the adoption circles I’ve travelled in. This is tricky, life altering, no-going-back stuff that should not be romanticized.

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