I have been thinking for awhile now about what I wish I had known before we had adopted and the things I have learnt over the last few years. I'm not sure it would have made a difference to our decisions if someone had told us what is in the information below, probably not, we would still have gone ahead and adopted.
I am not saying adoption is the right or wrong path to venture down. I certainly do not know it all, but I feel as though I need to share my thoughts thus far.
I wish that we had not taken on three children at once. It has proved far too much for us. Trying to care for three small individuals who have differing personalities, responses and memories is a daily struggle. The social worker carrying out our assessment would describe some of the behaviours that we may be met with when our children lived with us, my husband and I would nod along and agree that we would be able to manage. Better than manage, that we could change these little people, help them to recover, for them to be able to leave their pasts behind and begin anew with the love that we would shower them with. How wrong were we to see things from this angle. As a social worker said to me recently, "you can't change a child's early experiences and how it has affected them". It is a life-long battle that they must undertake when they are ready and even then, the battle may not be won. This is extremely frustrating because when you are a caring human being you just want to help. The feeling of being annoyed and helpless can be a daily occurrence.
I wish social services had spent more time looking at how we would manage taking on three children. Yes, looking at trauma and the effects on the brain and behaviours are important. But what does that actually look like 24 hours a day? How do you live with that every hour of every day? What's that like to be around and not be able to go home at the end of the day? Answer: at times the emotions are suffocating, agonising and frustrating. Which opens up another question, how are you going to deal with these feelings? The answer to that question is not so easy to find.
On the other hand, how can anyone know what it's like beforehand to not fall in love with a child that they presumed they would, to deal with food going missing from the cupboards, hair being cut in secret, the tantrums from older children because you have asked them to wear a coat as it's raining outside. Clothing and toys that they have been bought destroyed weeks, if not months, later and little understanding or remorse shown. The lies that constantly fall out of their mouths. This has probably been one of the hardest challenges for me. These may seem like small and insignificant things (they probably are) but when you are faced with them everyday (ten times a day) can you still see them as insignificant? We struggle to!
I wish my expectations had been lower (much lower), of myself and of my children. My mom helped me to see recently that I have always been an individual to see things fairly black and white when it comes to doing right and wrong. I was one of those people who saw a child being naughty and couldn't for the life of me understand why a parent would be so relaxed or not initiating some suitable punishment. I say I used to be one of those people, as having children is helping me to realise that it's not that simple. Kids will do what they want, regardless of how many times you explain to them not to. Rather than bark orders
It recently dawned upon me more and more that we adopted as we wanted to have a family. We knew the girls and had fallen 'in love' with them from a distance and saw this as a wonderful opportunity. Therefore, when they came to live with us, I especially needed something from them, I needed to feel loved and wanted, I wanted what most birth mothers have with their children, a bond, a deep deep love that is unshakeable. That, sadly, has not been my/our experience to date. It was my sister who reminded me that our main reason to adopt was to start a family, not to make a huge sacrifice in our lives for three girls whose past has had such an impact, that it would significantly change any future relationships. Yes, our hearts were in the right place, but we had not realised that the girls would see things differently, that they did not necessarily want us initially, that their needs were not perfectly aligned with what we were able to offer.
The importance of self care and time out - I still struggle with this one. I understand the point of it and I have plenty of ideas on how to do it. However, I never seem to feel relaxed and re-charged. What I am trying to say is that whilst it is important, it has rarely been the wonderful freshener that I have needed.
Along similar lines is the importance of not trying to accomplish everything. I have the tendency to feel as though I am failing if I am not doing 'it all.' I am having to train myself that it is okay to leave the dirty dishes, help with homework another night, not get dressed until 11am and have chips for the third time that week as they cook quicker than rice!
The reality that your health may suffer - for some reason in the past I have struggled to see the link between the physical side effects of struggling emotionally. That has certainly changed since becoming an adoptive mommy and the struggles that we have endured. I am not ashamed to say that I have experienced post adoption depression and levels of anxiety, as a result needing anti-anxiety/anti-depressants to take the edge of most days. Seizures that I used to have as a teenager have returned due to what the doctors say was the stress and tiredness that I was under. If you had told me this would happen before they came to live with us I wouldn't have believed you. No way could caring for three beautiful children bring on ill health.
The above may seem like a negative list, I guess a lot of it is. The point I want to share is that if I/we had been more aware of the above then we may have been able to approach becoming adoptive parents differently and who knows we may not have encountered some of the difficulties that we have. I am aware that this is not every adopters experience, I can only share what I have experienced and learned.