Adoption is ongoing

This is part of a multi-blog series called “Adoption Is” for National Adoption Month 2019. Read the entire series.

“Do you feel like a dad now,” asked a gentleman about a year after our adoption was finalized, two-and-a-half years after our boys first came to live with us. Of all the things that I’ve heard over the years, that was one of the most confounding. Of course I did!

But that mentality highlights the thinking that many people have. And that is your family doesn’t begin until the day the decree is received.

Or, that the on that magical day every transition, adjustment, trauma, guilt, behavior, family, work, paperwork issue is immediately absolved.

I don’t know about you all, but neither are true. In our county, you submit the decree to the Clerk of Court and in about 60-90 days (we were squarely in the middle of that), you receive a packet in the mail that contains your decree.

So according to some people’s thinking about adoption, when we receive that in the mail (making it official) and our fingers open the package, a wave of light moves over our family and all is healthy, healed and whole.

Sign. Me. Up. For. That. Version.

Nope, you take that packet, maybe do a little jig on the way in, place it on the table and go on to cooking dinner, drying tears, handling behaviors and all the normal issues of everyday life. If your child has experienced foster care, you’ll also start calling social workers to say… WE DONE!

Adoption is a process of choice. As an excellent conference speaker shared to us many years ago, it’s a process of claiming a child as your own. I can only speak authentically from the foster care to adoption perspective, but for us, when a child first comes into your home, you love them, you attach to them, but you also guard yourself because foster care is inherently temporary.

Sometimes, it transitions to permanent care… adoption (or guardianship). It’s then that you let your walls down and start to look at your child as truly yours. You start dreaming about their future. You start getting excited about them being your forever child. But it doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a long process. It’s a process that takes years, so no, it’s not going to be complete when the mail comes on that day.

But what do I mean by ongoing?

For the parents…

Adoption means constantly learning new things about your child. Often, we don’t know their biological history, we may have never met their parents. We can’t look forward to seeing if they’ll have Uncle Jay’s dry wit or Aunt Cindy’s eyes. Each day, something new seems to unfold. Wow he’s getting tall. He can draw like no one in our family — it’s so cool. This constant discovery is ongoing.

For the children…

At first they’re adjusting to a new life, in a new place, maybe even in a new culture with a new language. They’re reading everything that you display, from the things you say to the body language you project. They’re learning, acclimating and working to ingrain themselves in your family.

As they grow older, they start questioning everything about themselves, about your family. This is heightened when they are of a different race or ethnicity. They yearn for answers about their birth story or birth family. They start to wonder why they’re with you and not their biological parents. Difficult and sometimes uncomfortable discussions ensue.

Later, they may wrestle seriously with their identity. Are they really part of your family? Do they really want to be a part of your family? Who could they have been? Was the adoption just?

These are hard questions that I’ve read about with older adopted children. Honestly, I’m not looking forward to this particular phase of life, but I want to help them work through everything that will undoubtedly arise over the years.

These are but a few of the ways that adoption is not a time-limited process. It’s not over when an envelope comes in the mail. It plays out over days and weeks and years and smiles and tears and joys and frustrations. Adoption is ongoing.

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