We at Project Hopeful believe children should live in families, not institutions or temporary families.  Ideally, children would be able to stay with their first (biological) families, even if external interventions and support are needed to make the first family a safe, healthy, and feasible option.  That said, we recognize that the first family may not always be a real option, and if all means of keeping a child in their first family are exhausted, we support adoption.  In fact, most of our volunteer staff and Board members are parenting children who were adopted.  A big part of our lives is raising adopted children and educating other families who have adopted or are considering adoption – we believe in it that much.

Since we have walked through many adoptions – our own and ones we helped other families through – we have come to realize that many of the public messages about adoption are dangerously one-sided.

Celebrity adoption photos, dreamy Facebook posts, and “Merry Christmas-from-our -‘happy’-growing-family!” cards may have minimized the commitment that comes with parenting children from hard places.  We absolutely believe in celebrating adoptions but it is imperative that we begin to communicate more clearly:  adoption is hard.  While the anticipation during the paper stage, the process of being matched with a child, staring longingly at beautiful pictures of a child from another country, and even the first meeting can feel very fairy-tale like, this is not the reality of adoption.  There are rarely unicorns and rainbows.  Adoption is hard.

Children who were adopted come from broken places.  Even those who are adopted at a very young age have experienced trauma (or at minimum, great stress) in utero, which will impact their behavior and development sometime after birth.  Just like there are no guarantees related to any biological child, there are certainly no guarantees about the personality, behavior, genetics, or history of your child who was adopted.  In fact, the opposite is likely true.  You are almost guaranteed to experience some adoption-related heartache just because your child has had some sort of traumatic background!

The difficulties of adoption may also extend to your feelings about parenting children from hard places.  Put another way, how are you bonding with your newly adopted child?  How are you bonding with your child who was adopted years ago?  In my experience, the process of bonding with children who were adopted varies widely.  I adopted my first at two days old, my second at two years old and my third just shy of seven years old.  Because of the unique individuals that they are, my experiences have differed.

IMG_1506When I was handed Seth as an infant, my heart immediately melted and I was instantaneously in love.  Seth was the easiest infant and my heart quickly knit with his.  As he has grown, I am more and more thankful for the early bonding I had with Seth because I am confident that if I met him for the first time today, at six years old, our bonding would be hard.  Very hard.  While he was an extremely easy infant, Seth is a shockingly difficult child to parent.  His lengthy list of (surprise!) medical diagnoses means that there is nothing particularly easy or normal about parenting him.


005On the other hand, Leah came home at two years old.  Her first two years were spent in an orphanage where she was coddled by an endless array of {primarily white} strangers who held her, played with her, and spoiled her.  While, on the one hand, her bottle was propped for feedings and she was rarely if ever fed and rocked like an infant in a family would be, she was an orphanage favorite and was held constantly, which means she didn’t really understand healthy attachment upon being added to our family.  Although Leah, unlike Seth, has very few medical issues, my bonding with Leah has been much more difficult.  Her {sassy, awesome} personality was well formed by the time I met her.  While in the three years since she has come home I have grown in warm fuzzy feelings for her, and I have always loved her . . . love being a choice . . . I have not always “felt” love the way I did with my infant Seth.  But I have learned that it’s okay!  I think of it like this:  even though I’m single, I appreciate that husbands and wives have to choose to love their spouse every day, even when they are annoying or demonstrate personality traits that grate on you.  This is how it is with Leah and me.  While I often have warm fuzzies for her three years into our relationship, I didn’t in the beginning (despite the fairy-tale) and I chose to love her and show her love more every day.  Recently she and I had a conversation about love.  She told me that sometimes she forgets that I love her.  Oh, precious child.  I asked her how many times she would need to be reminded so she could remember.  She told me “five.”  Five times a day.  So now, understanding that this is becoming part of Leah’s love language, I tell her five times a day (at least) that I love her.  We are both learning.  We are on this journey together!

My last adoption – Zechariah – came out of birth order, something I never dreamed I would tackle.  He is the oldest of my children.  Zechariah is a very easy child and fits nicely into our rhythm.  Our bonding has been a process, not unlike Leah’s.  I love him because I choose to love him and each day, my feelings toward him grow by leaps and bounds.  He is a perfect muse to Seth’s idiosyncrasies and I can see why God chose him for us.  He is the best older brother ever, and I adore him. IMG_1498

All three of my adoptions have been difficult for different reasons.  There have been days where I have wanted to yell, “Uncle!  Too much!”  But I committed to these children no matter what the past, present or future holds for us.  And sometimes it is hard.  Growing up in an adoption family, I learned long ago that adoption can be difficult.  I know that when the identity questions start coming (pre-teen and teen years) it is going to get even harder.  There is no easy adoption.  Know that before you embark on the journey so you are prepared for those moments when your child might not feel like your child.  Know that so you understand that the history of your child might not be known (or shared) prior to him becoming yours.  Know that so you can extend yourself some grace when you just aren’t feelin’ it.  Know that so you can extend grace to your child who is just learning to trust you.  Know that so it prompts you to identify friends and family and professionals who help kids and families through trauma therapy for those times when you will need them.

Last, we also acknowledge that there are times when it is in the best interests of the child not to stay with his or her adoptive family.  Disruptions are an unfortunate reality, but they should be a rare one.  “I don’t like this child” or “I haven’t bonded with this child” should not be reasons to disrupt.  Having said that, if the situation you have created through adoption can’t be safe, you need wise counsel and professional support immediately and you should seek that diligently.  Adoption is hard.  Loving a child who is literally plopped into your life is hard.  But don’t give up, because He who started a good work in you will carry it to completion.  Phil. 1:6