Being a parent of an adopted child is not for the faint of heart. It is a serious commitment that could bring many trials and frustrations, but also a multitude of joys. All of this may be compounded if it is an international adoption with an infant or child who has had several years in an orphanage with no love or attention. No matter what type of adoption, a small person enters the home with different DNA and a different nature that the parent(s) will need to nurture.
As a principal of a private K-8 school in a major metropolitan area, I observed four essentials that every adoptive parent needs: (1) Resilience or grit, (2) Resources, (3) Support Groups, and (4) Unconditional Love.
Resilience or grit is necessary for the trials parents face when the child is young and as they age. Angela Duckworth in her book Grit : The Power of Passion and Perseverance (https:// angeladuckworth.com) explains grit as sustained passion and perseverance to attain set goals.
For the adoptive parent the attained goals are to raise well-adjusted, contented future adults. With one child this may be a challenge and with another a delight. One family in the school where I was principal had three adopted children. Two of the children had been adopted as toddlers and the other as a baby. Two were well adjusted and a delight to have in the home. The other had a long list of personality and behavioral disorders. After one incident the mother was crying in my office and said she wished they had not adopted this child and she truly did not know what to do. The family persevered, searching for the best therapies, treatments, and ultimately placement for this child. It was heart wrenching for the family, but the parents loved this child and refused to give up. The mother’s outburst in my office was just frustration and when she left that day she renewed her commitment to do her best for this child.
Other children in my school had been adopted internationally. Some had been in orphanages for up to four years with no love, attention, or with minimal verbal interaction.
One boy who was four years old when he was adopted had no language skills, so at that late age had to begin the process of learning how to express himself verbally. Another family adopted a young child internationally who was diagnosed with almost every childhood mental health challenge imaginable. The family tried to keep him at home, but their three biological children were suffering aggressive behavior this child exhibited. It was with heavy hearts that the family had to place him in a treatment facility. They visit him often, but he is out of state so they are incurring many costs in loving this boy. Clearly most if not all adopting parents need to have resources: financial, professional and educational.
Parents also need support groups. These can be professional groups, community groups, family, friends, churches or religious organizations to give the parents advice, information, free time, and understanding. Several parents started their own support groups. One mother started writing a blog as a way to help other parents but also as a way to share her journey through all the trials and joys. Another parent whose child had Reactive Attachment Disorder started a group that educates parents and school personnel on the disorder ensuring that the children will be better served and improve their chances for better outcomes later.
The one essential trait that every adopting parent must have is unconditional love. No matter how wonderful or trying the child is, they all need love. Your entire life will change when you have a new family member, whether they are adopted or not. Do not adopt just to show that you are a good person, wanting to help people or save the world. You have to know that you are willing to sacrifice for this child. You have to feel that you are “called” to love this child unconditionally.
Adoption is forever. You cannot give them back if they do not turn out as you wish they would. The parents I have seen who have taken on the challenge of adopting have resilience, resources, support, and boundless unconditional love. Their lives are enriched and broadened by these wonderful children who are blessed to be chosen and loved by special people.
Jill Cunningham, Retired Professional Educator/Administrator, California and Colorado