There are few things more noble than adopting or fostering a child. If you are seriously considering taking that step, you are a genuine hero. Take a moment to pat yourself on the back, or allow others to do it for you. Really, this is a big deal and you deserve all the praise you get.
For some unfortunate child, you are a lifesaver. They have gone through tragedy few of us can imagine. Every child up for adoption or foster care has lost their parents in some way for some reason. Many in foster care have bounced around from family to family, making it extremely difficult for them to develop the necessary familial bonds. Some have had their parents carted off in handcuffs before their eyes. Some were victims of unspeakable abuse. Your contribution to their lives cannot be overstated.
That said, their contribution to your life will not always go as planned or much resemble the brochure. Parenting is hard. And parenting kids with prepackaged issues is harder by an order of magnitude. Here are some of the things you will want to do before you sign on the dotted line:
1. Deal with Your Mental Health
The fact that you are a genuine hero doesn’t mean that you are not also an emotional wreck from time to time. Whatever form your demons take, just know that the stressors get worse when you take in troubled kids with horrifying backstories.
If you are dealing with something like substance abuse disorder, even if it seems like you have things under control, you need to take care of yourself first before you can take care of others. Many of the children in these programs come with their own mental health issues. You need to get a handle on yours before you can help shepard others through theirs.
If you live in California, you’re in luck as there are many excellent outpatient treatment options in LA for substance abuse.
2. Clean Like You Have Never Cleaned Before
Many children in the program have had to live in environments that are not conducive for healthy living. No matter what state your house is in right now, it is still likely cleaner than what they are used to.
That said, the cleanliness of your space sends a message to your kids. It makes them feel special and protected. It tells them that you are the kind of person who cares about the details. They desperately need that reassurance as it has likely been absent in their lives.
If you haven’t done so in a while, hire an exterminator to protect your kids from various insects at home. Some normal household pests may be harmless, but trigger an unexpected reaction in kids who have lived in less than ideal conditions. There are also things like allergies that you might not know about. They don’t always come with detailed health records. So go above and beyond to make your space feel especially clean and safe.
3. Find a Family Counselor
If you grew up in a stable environment with loving and reliable parents, plenty to eat, and strict boundaries, you might be in for a bit of a shock when a child comes into your life who is not used to love, respect, or boundaries. They are definitely going to have some adjustment when it comes to following rules.
Start by finding and visiting a family counselor. The adoption or fostering agency should be able to give you plenty of recommendations. Consulting a counselor is not a failure, but a normal part of the process.
4. Reassess Your Expectations
Your good background might have set you up for unrealistic expectations when it comes to adopting or fostering a child. In many cases, you are dealing with children who have been emotionally distressed and physically abused. You cannot expect the same from them as you do from the children born to you and raised by you.
Don’t let that discourage you. If things don’t seem to be going as smoothly as you hoped, it is likely not that things are going badly, but that your expectations were out of alignment with the reality of the situation. So before getting started, spend plenty of time with the agency trainers and counselors and reset your expectations accordingly.
Right now, there are more children who need stable homes than there are people to provide them. You are a hero, and will be an excellent parent of a child in need. Just remember to first take care of your own mental health. Clean like you have never cleaned before, Talk to a family counselor, and set realistic expectations.