"Don’t Be Weird, Mom!"

(This is a continuation of the series of articles reflecting on Come Be My Light and the spiritual motherhood of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, patron of adoptive and foster families, which I began earlier this year. For the original post, click the title.)

Sarah is an extraordinary walking paradox. She will parade around the house (and in public as often as I let her) with a mind-blowing array of fashion statements:
I applaud her budding confidence (insofar as it does not exceed the bounds of propriety). What puzzles me is that if I do anything the least bit unconventional … breaking into an impromptu chorus of “Sunrise, Sunset” and a little softshoe while I’m washing dishes, say, Sarah will invariably give me her stock response:
“Don’t be weird, Mom! People will think you’re weird!”

To which I respond, “Let them! The only thing that really matters is what God thinks of me, what I think of myself … and, to a different degree, what my family thinks about me.”
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not someone who typically flouts social convention on a whim. I love high teas and ballroom dancing and all manner of things traditional (it’s part of why I’m Catholic!). But when it comes to deciding standards of personal conduct, I learned a long time ago that “going with the crowd” is not always the wisest course of action.

This has a particular application to foster and adoptive parents. More than most parents, our children are going to have special emotional and other challenges that are going to make other people’s eyebrows go up with alarming frequency, especially in the beginning.

It happened the time my son punched the priest in the breadbasket for reaching out to bless him at Mass. And the following week, when my son (who had been hearing about his friend “Father Will” all week) greeted the elderly priest by patting the front of the man’s vestments as high as his two-year-old hands could reach. Come to think of it, it was right around the time of the scandals, too…

It happened the time my daughter drew a picture of her daddy in bed with her for the counselor (Craig has a nightly ritual of laying down next to her to read a bedtime story; the book was strangely absent in the picture). The next time it was a picture of mommy and daddy brandishing a L-O-O-N-G a whip (I still don’t know where that one came from, except maybe a horse scene in “Beauty and the Beast”).

It happened when my son’s first preschool teacher informed me that I was obviously neglecting my 4-year-old son’s needs because he didn’t use a napkin properly, and because he kept using words like “dead” and “kill.” (I wondered if the word his classmates had taught him — stupid — was so much better.)

It happens. And other people — those who don’t know your family — ARE going to judge you for it. Get ready for it … the disapproving looks, the heavy sighs, the hesitance to accept playdates. Get ready for the tons of unsolicited advice from grandparents, social workers, and total strangers about how you need to be “controlling” your children better.

I’m not saying don’t take the advice. Some veteran parents might give you some truly useful information with regard to managing stress, or potty training. But don’t expect them to understand, and don’t try to live up to someone else’s idea of perfect parenting. As a foster parent (or adoptive parent of an older child), there are going to be times when you need to march to another tune. Make a different choice. Try an unconventional method.

Don’t worry. If it’s a mistake, you can usually correct it mid-course. If the advice givers are real friends or if they truly love you, they will still be around years from now when the fruit of your labor ripens, and that wild little creatures is transformed into the radiant young man or woman who loves God and does what is right.

It’s OK to be weird when God takes you along a different path. Trust Him to give you the wisdom you need, exactly when you need it.
Let nothing trouble you,
let nothing frighten you.
All things pass away,
but God never changes.
Patience obtains all things.
She who possesses God, has everything.
For God alone suffices.
Teresa of Avila

Has Your Child Been Abused?

It’s a sad reality of life that many of the children who go into the foster care system have been exposed to horrific kinds of abuse and neglect. In some cases, the abuse is “passive” — such as being allowed to see pornography on television. In many cases, however, the abuse takes far more sinister forms.

Children who have been abused have scars that make them vulnerable to subsequent abuse. So sorting out the real threats from the fears is very important, and often requires the help of a trained professional. However, it is usually the parent (adoptive or foster parents included) who first see the signs that the child has unresolved trauma. Signs include:

* Child acts out in ways that are sexually suggestive or physically aggressive,
* Child has persistent nightmares or bedwetting (age 5+),
* Child touches self or others inappropriately and/or compulsively,
* Child is suddenly fearful or overly compliant around another adult (80 percent of molested children know their abusers – family friends, teachers, extended family members, etc.)
* Child is suddenly fearful of changing clothes or venturing outside home (to school or babysitter’s)
* Child draws disturbing images (or reenacts these stories with dolls),
* (In teenagers), child suddenly loses interest in her appearance, and/or alienates him or herself from friends and family.

Additional information may be found here: http://www.helpguide.org/mental/child_abuse_physical_emotional_sexual_neglect.htm

As adoptive parents – particularly parents of older adoptees with a vague history of neglect and/or abuse – we must steel ourselves for the possibility that the time may come when we are asked to participate in the painful process of redemption for our children. We may find ourselves having to re-direct our children again and again, and get for them (and ourselves) the help needed to resolve and receive healing for the violations they received before they came to us (or even, God forbid, at the hands of a third party while under our care). These wounds go deep, and leave a scar that may make them unwitting targets for subsequent abuse.

What should you do if you suspect your child has been abused?

First, pray and seek counsel so you can think clearly and react calmly. It is crucial that you can be spiritually strong for the child. You are being called to model authentic love for a child who has suffered at the hands of the counterfeit. While you are getting help for your child, go to daily Mass if you can; pray the Rosary and have others do the same on your behalf (though be careful to protect the child’s privacy as much as possible when you make your request known).

Assure your child that you love him or her, and that you are going to help him or her. Nothing he tells you will make you angry with him, or make you love her less. Be careful not to react with anger or disgust if you witness an “acting out” episode – see it for the cry of help that it is. For your own safety and that of your child, carefully document in writing how, when, and where you encounter signs of abuse.

Second, consider the safety of the other children in the family. Children who have experienced sexual abuse frequently abuse younger children. You may need to install door alarms or other safety devices, and take other safety precautions (such as not bathing the children together or allowing them to be left alone in a room together). Children can and do heal from all kinds of abuse … However, such healing does not occur overnight. It may be necessary to have the child placed temporarily or even permanently in a home where no other children are present, for his own good and for the safety of the other children in the home.

Third, get professional help for the child. As a parent, you must find the truth and get your child the help he or she needs – the sooner the better. Catholic therapists who specialize in sexual abuse may be found at http://www.catholictherapists.com/. If no qualified Catholic counselors are in your area, Pastoral Solutions (http://www.exceptionalmarriages.com/services.htm) offers telecounseling.

Fourth, protect the child’s privacy as much as possible without endangering others. If you have a social worker, consult with him or her about what you have observed and get his or her recommendations for next steps. Again, be sure to make careful records of when, where, and what you have observed. This information is too crucial to entrust to memory.

If your child has been “acting out” with other children in the home, make an appointment with the school counselor and/or teacher to discuss the importance of supervising children closely, especially in the bathroom and on the playground. By acknowledging that you are aware that your child has a history of abuse, you safeguard your own child’s well-being as well as that of other children.

If you suspect your child is being abused by a third party, it is absolutely critical that you trust your gut and do whatever is necessary to keep your child safe. If another child is the source of the problem, alert that child’s parents; if the children must continue to have contact with each other (such as siblings), they must be monitored continuously and closely. If you suspect your child is being abused outside the home, changing babysitters or even schools is a small price to pay for peace of mind. Once the child is safe, you may then need to file a formal report with Child Protective Services (CPS), for the sake of other children.

Suzanne Baars adds: “Eighteen states require by law that one must report suspected child abuse. Once a child is in counseling and this information is shared with the counselor, either the counselor or the parent will be required to report the matter to Child Protective Services.” Adult perpetrators will be required to leave the home – or the children will be placed in protective custody. When the perpetrator is a child, that child may need to be placed temporarily or even permanently in a home where there are no other children present.

Fifth, do not waste time in self-blame or self-doubt. You love your children, and want them to grow up to be strong, healthy Christians. You may have ambivalent feelings about what has happened – questioning whether you could have said or done anything to prevent the abuse. You may be angry with yourself for having unwittingly endangered your child, for having put him in this school or her in that daycare situation. You may be harboring hateful or even murderous thoughts about the individuals who did these things to your children, wanting more than anything for them to experience the full consequences of their actions. This is normal … but it is also harmful to hold on to these feelings.

Talk with your priest in the sacrament of reconciliation; seek out a professional counselor who can help you work through these issues so that you might be able to forgive yourself and (ultimately) the perpetrator. It is important to release yourself of that burden, so you can be free to help your children. God has entrusted a special cross to you; He is asking you to help your child find healing, and to model forgiveness. Not for the sake of the abuser, but so that those who are touched by the abuse might find peace. God bless you!

Heidi would like to acknowledge the valuable assistance of Suzanne Baars and Dr. Gregory Popcak, who both reviewed this article prior to publication. Suzanne was especially helpful in describing the legal responsibilities of one who suspects abuse has occurred. You may contact Suzanne through “In His Image Christian Counseling Services” (http://www.conradbaars.com/SueBaarsBio.htm).

"Learning to Love": A story of hope for children with attachment disorders

This month (April 2008) in Reader’s Digest, Vince Beiser tells the story of the Solomon family, who adopted seven-year-old Daniel from an orphanage in Romania — and months later found themselves parenting an angry, violent, and broken little boy. It took him some time to discover what he had been missing in the institution … what it meant to have a family, and parents who loved him. And when that realization hit him, he lashed out at Heidi Solomon, the woman who had adopted him. She had not given birth to him, had not abandoned him — but she was the most convenient target, and it was up to her to help him heal.

Two groups of children are most frequently affected by attachment disorder: Those with a history of physical abuse and neglect (especially prevalent in foster children), and institutionalized children (particularly the thousands adopted from “warehouse-style Eastern European orphanages”).

What this article brought out — and what we are now discovering for ourselves — is that sometimes the symptoms of attachment disorder do not surface for months or even years after the fact. Furthermore, the therapies used to treat attachment disorder may require an extraordinary level of courage and commitment on the part of the parents (for three months Heidi Solomon kept Daniel within arm’s reach — no more than 3 feet away, day and night). Amazingly, part of the healing involved their adopting a second child, A.J.

Is your child showing any of these signs of attachment disorder?

* (Infant) Doesn’t cry when hungry or in need of change.
* (Infant) Seems irritated by prolonged physical contact.
* (Child 3+) Inability to make or sustain eye contact.
* Lack of “natural” desire to please parent.
* “Fingerpaints” with fecal matter (older children past toilet training age)
* Exaggerated fear of separation from parent (panics).
* Prolonged periods of sleep disruption (sleeps only a couple of hours at a time).
* Episodes of increased violence against property, animals or younger children.

Here are some sites that may help:

Grace in the Nick of Time

Today I had a difficult chat with the mother of a little boy who had been visiting with us last weekend. Long story short, I alerted her to some “acting out” that I had observed, and reported a conversation I’d had with my son about his friend that sounded to me as though his friend might be being abused by an older child or adult.

I told my story, and the mother (with me still on the phone) turned to her son and asked him what happened. His story did not match mine, so she shrugged and thanked me, clearly taking her son’s version over mine. I was stunned that she would dismiss my story so readily, and not knowing what else to say I hung up and told myself it would be a cold day in a VERY warm place before Christopher had any more playdates with that kid.

Ten minutes later, the boy’s mother called again, in tears. For some reason, her son had decided to come clean and tell her. She was calling to apologize for not believing me right away. Craig picked up the second call, and calmed the woman as best he could.

Later, when he told me what had happened, I felt my shoulders begin to shake, and my chest constrict as the full horror of what had happened the night before hit me. What if you had not gone down to check on the boys at the precise moment that you did? a voice whispered in my head. What if you had stayed at your computer working, as you often do? What if … What if …

The shaking turned into sobs as my thoroughly alarmed husband tried to get me to calm down, pointing out that I HAD gone to check on them, I HAD listened to that little voice that told me to peek into the room. His angels had been watching, and alerted me in the nick of time so that I would actually catch what was going on. And now everything was out in the open and we could take steps to ensure nothing like that would happen again.

It was grace in the nick of time. Not a moment too soon, not a moment too late.

Often I’ve heard couples who are trying to adopt — this is particularly common with international adoptions — who are delayed for weeks or months, or who never receive the desired placement. On one occasion, a friend of mine had actually received a picture of a child and headed to Eastern Europe to pick up her child … only to find out that the child in question had been given to another couple. They did have another child, however … would she like to see her?

And with that, a mother-daughter relationship was born. When I asked her how she felt about taking a “replacement,” she said something very wise: “I’ve been praying from the beginning that God would send me the right child. The first child was taken by another couple, so she couldn’t have been the right child for me. I chose to trust that God knew what He’s doing here. And that when the right child was ready for me, I’d know it.”

These are good words to keep in mind no matter where we are in the foster/adoption process. A few days ago I received an e-mail from a woman who had tried foster-adoption, and had even tried to get licensed as a foster parent in order to facilitate the process. She keeps running into obstacles and delays, and wonders why she is being jerked around when she only wants to help.

It’s a fair question. It’s a good question. Why doesn’t the state work harder to help couples who are willing to open their homes to these children, when there are so many in need of homes?

I don’t know. But this much I do know: God cares even more for each of those children than we ever possibly could. His heart breaks when they cry themselves to sleep at night, scared and alone. Just as it does when that child’s “forever parents” get discouraged and consider giving up just before their prayers are answered.

God always sends grace in the nick of time. Not a moment too soon, not a moment too late. That doesn’t mean that the path He wants us to travel will be free of all potholes or rough patches. Sometimes we have to stumble in the dark for a while … but in the end, the light is there if we have the patience to keep looking for it.

God’s timing is not our timing. But His timing IS perfect.

Blessed Mother Teresa: A Heart for the Poor

In a previous post, I began my review of Come Be My Light, observing that Blessed Mother Teresa had (still does, undoubtedly) many virtues that adoptive and foster parents need to cultivate in their own lives.

The first, and most obvious, is a deep-seated desire to serve the poor and powerless (or at least a specific child who needs a family). This desire is not grounded in how cute, or quiet, or grateful the child might be, but in a sense of calling. This was the “call within a call” that Blessed Mother Teresa pursued relentlessly: to bring souls to Jesus, and bring Jesus to souls.

As we approach the sad anniversary of the “Roe v. Wade” decision, this is an especially apt time to reflect upon the five hundred thousand children in the United States who do not have a home to call their own. Over 125,000 of them are available — today — for adoption. In many cases, it costs little or nothing to adopt these children — indeed, many of them are eligible to receive a variety of benefits from medical insurance to free college tuition. In many cases, all expenses associated with the adoption are fully tax deductable (ours were refunded by the agency).
Would you like more information? Click here or here.

When you become the “forever family” of an older or special needs child (including sibling groups, biracial children, and those with physical or mental challenges), you also play an important role in the redemption of a human soul. Like Mother Teresa, we bring them to Jesus … and bring Jesus to them!

Adoption: A Call within a Call

I’ve sometimes caught flack for saying this, but I believe it to be true nonetheless: Adoption is not for everyone. Adopting children who have been neglected and abused, and who may have difficulty forming a bond with another family, requires a sense of calling that is qualitatively different from biological parenting.
The impetus is qualitatively different: While Catholic moral teaching requires each married couple to be open to life and totally self-giving, no such obligation exists for adoptive parents. Therefore, it is this calling alone that compels us to act, to give of ourselves as representatives of God’s redeeming love at work in the world.

The bond is also different. While adoptive family members can and do love one another wholeheartedly, this bond is an act of will — from both sides. Furthermore, this will to love does not always come immediately or instantaneously. This is especially true for older children who are adopted after having experienced abuse or neglect from their first caregivers. Challenges such as RAD (reactive attachment disorder), ADHD/ODD (oppositional defiant disorder), and FAS/FAE (fetal alcohol syndrome/exposure) present real, often permanent challenges both to the child and his family.

Finally, the family dynamic can be very different. Foster parents especially experience this through their interactions with birth parents and siblings, social workers and others in the family court system. For example, my children have two older siblings who were adopted separately by older couples — each of whom have adult children. When one couple adopted a second child, I found myself floundering as I tried to explain to Christopher and Sarah their relationship to Kenneth’s new brother. Our children had strong feelings about their brother getting a “new” brother, one more development that required a fair amount of patience and understanding. As their parents, we had to acknowledge that our children continue to feel a bond with their first family, even though Craig and I have no real connection to them.

And so, when I talk to women (it’s almost always women) who long to adopt, but whose husbands are not yet open to the idea, I almost always encourage them to wait and keep praying. Gather information. Talk with other adoptive parents. But do not proceed until your family is at peace with the decision. In my next post, I’ll explain why…. God bless you!

Story Time!

Come see the Carnival! Catholic Carnival #155 has now been posted here. Thanks to Deo Omnis Gloria for “posting in the wilderness.”

The other day Lisa sent me a request from an adoptive mother, who wanted to buy a book to help her tell her adopted child how he entered their family. I found some good pointers for parents at this site, which includes a number of books for children and adults. My personal favorite is Max Lucado’s You Are Special (left, see “Resources”), which is great for all children.

To be honest, I haven’t spent much time researching this particular area of adoption for one simple reason: From the beginning, my children wanted to hear their own story, over and over and over again. The most requested one begins: “Tell me about the time you were lonely.”

Once upon a time, there was a lady who was very lonely. So her angel went out, and searched far and wide to find her husband, someone who had a special place in his heart that was just for her. They fell in love and got married, and their hearts grew and grew, until they had two special places in their hearts: One for a brown-eyed girl, and one for a blue-eyed boy.

When no babies came to fill those spaces, their angel went out again. One day there was a knock on their door (knock, knock, knock). “Come with me,” said the angel. “I’ve found your family.” So we got in our van and drove and drove, and there you were at your foster family’s house. Christopher was watching “PowerPuff Girls” with his sister, and Sarah was sitting in the baby swing. We walked in, and the brown-eyed baby laughed and kicked her feet. The blue-eyed boy jumped up and hugged me. “Mommy!” he said. And then we all went home.

Your big sister needed a family, and so we took her with us, too. But God had put a space for her in the heart of another mommy and daddy, and soon their angel came looking for her. It took a while for your big brother’s angel to find his family – but we kept praying, and God always listens to the prayers of children. Now you all have a forever family that will love you no matter what, as long as you live.

We are your “forever family.” No one can ever take you out of our hearts, because God put you there. No one can ever take you away, because the day we adopted you the judge said you belong to us forever. Even when you are old, we will still belong to each other. You and your siblings will always love each other, because you were born into the same family. Your birth parents love you too, even though they couldn’t take care of you. So God gave us to each other, to fill our hearts to the top with love. He gave us to each other to care for each other, and to share God’s love with each other and with the whole world.

Here’s the best part: We are all part of God’s “forever family,” too! Jesus came to earth to make us part of God’s family through adoption. You became part of God’s “forever family” the day you were baptized. One day we will all go to be with our family in heaven: God the Father, and Mother Mary, and all the angels and saints. One day our angel will come and take us to heaven, where we’ll never be sad or lonely ever again. (“And where we’ll get to play Frisbee with our dog Missy again, and see our birth family as much as we want,” adds Christopher.)

I share this story with you first because – well, because I love to tell this story as much as my children love to hear it. The second reason is to give you an idea of how simple the story can be. Here are some additional tips to help you create your own story:

  • Children need to know adoption is permanent, and that they were loved from the very beginning. They never have to worry about your disappearing like their birth parents did.
  • Acknowledge the bond that the child will always have with his or her birth family (though he may have conflicted feelings about that bond). This is difficult, but important simply because it is the truth, and the child knows it instinctively even if we’d just as soon forget about it. Try not to vilify the first/birth parents: If the child believes his first parents were “bad people,” the child will think of himself as “bad,” too.
  • Tell the gentle truth about why their birth parents didn’t keep them – but make it clear that it wasn’t the child’s fault that he needed new parents. He wasn’t bad, or ugly, or too much trouble. Focus instead on the fact that the birth parents loved the child, even though they couldn’t take care of him (or her).
  • Integrating faith and fact will help child see the “big picture” of adoption. God had a plan for that child – just as He has a plan for each of us – before she was born (Ps 139:13).
  • Don’t gloss over real feelings. There are going to be times when your child feels lonely, or angry, or misses his birth family. Use the story as a “jumping off” point to talk about these feelings, as Christopher does in this story to express his feelings about losing his beloved dog (who died a year ago in an accident) and his birth parents.
  • As storyteller, you step outside the story and give child an opportunity to react to what’s going on. Consider having your children draw pictures or create a special scrapbook with their adoption story, to revisit again and again. Consider getting a copy of the “Illustory” resource for your own family (see “Resources,” left).
  • Create your own picture book. Draw from your journal from those first months. (If you didn’t keep a journal, start one now and try to recapture as many images and stories as you can, before they slip away!) This is especially helpful for those who aren’t confident storytellers, or who aren’t sure they will remember the same details again and again (which is how children want to hear the story). You might consider getting a copy of “Illustory” (see “Resources” on left).
  • Always draw the child back to his relationship with God. That is the one truly permanent relationship the child will ever have. As we cultivate that relationship with God in our own lives, we find it easier to strike a balance between the roles we have been called to play in the lives of other people.
At the end of the story, close with a simple prayer, thanking God for each other, and thanking Him that we are part of His family, too.

Adoptive Family Planning: A Wise Choice

Today on the adoptive parent channel of “Café Mom,” a story was posted about an adoption gone terribly, horribly wrong: A Dutch couple living in Hong Kong, who had adopted a South Korean infant, decided to “return” the little girl (now seven years old) to the orphanage where they had found her. Claiming that the little girl had not adapted well to their culture, they decided to “return” the little girl soon after her mother became pregnant (they had been told she could not conceive).

Reading the story, I was reminded that people with limited adoption experience tend to paint both the adoption process and adoptive parenting in black-and-white terms: overly sentimental on one hand, overly critical on the other. In reality, both the people and the process tend to be far more complex. In the example above, the press vilified the Dutch couple, painting them as cold and heartless individuals who cast away their own daughter like so much trash simply because they had a “real” child on the way.

Doubtless the reality was far more complex. Consider what it would be like to be a mother in a strange land without the support of family and friends, married to a man with a demanding job that took him away from home for prolonged periods. You decide to open your heart and home to a little girl in need of a family – and discover the reality of adoptive parenting is a lot harder than you thought. The little girl has needs and challenges that were not initially apparent when the child was placed with you. Still, you persevere, hoping that the difficulties will smooth themselves out.

Instead, the pressures build. The child does not get better. Then you and your husband are ecstatic to find out that – miracle of miracles – you are pregnant. After the initial exhilaration, reality begins to set in. You have barely been able to manage the needs of the one child, and now you will be juggling the needs of two!

Looking for reassurance and support, you call home … and get a series of well-meaning but demoralizing half-truths. “You’ve done everything you could. Now you have a child of your own – your own flesh-and-blood. You’ve got to think of her. Soon you’ll be coming home; if you bring that Asian child with you, she’ll never fit in. She’ll always know – everyone will know – that she isn’t really yours. Is that fair to her? No, better to find a family for her among her own people. It’s really for the best…”

And so, back to the orphanage from which you got her. The dark-haired little girl doesn’t even cry. She just looks at you reproachfully, clutches her doll a little tighter, and follows the social worker back inside the cold gray building you all thought she had left for good.

Now, it is possible that I’ve added or omitted details that belong in this story – I don’t know these people, nor do I have details about the case itself. What I do know is that there is more to the story than meets the eye. Because when it comes to adoption, there is always more going on than can be perceived by the casual observer.

How Could She Do It?

It’s hard to imagine how that mother felt – barely able to breathe, torn between horror and relief, anxiety and a guilty sense of liberation. The nightmare was over, the fairy tale about to begin. And yet, she felt more like the selfish stepmother than the princess. And in her heart of hearts she knows that the joy of motherhood will always be tainted by the memory of the child she failed, the child she left behind.

How can I pretend to get inside this woman’s head, when I’ve never met her? In reality, I can only draw upon the memory of how it felt for me when Craig and I asked the agency to find another home for our oldest foster child, after she had been with us for more than a year. We had our reasons – most of which would not be appropriate for me to discuss here (for her sake, not mine).

I will always be grateful for the couple who stepped forward to love and care for this little girl, who will always be a part of our lives. She is my children’s sister, and she has grown up to be a beautiful young woman – just as her older brother, adopted by another couple, has grown up to be a fine young man.

But how much heartache could have been avoided – how much needless pain was inflicted on everyone concerned – because we overestimated our own abilities and resources as new parents, and underestimated the challenges ahead. It was an easy mistake to make under pressure. I looked into those three little faces, and my heart shouted, “Yes, I can! They need me … and I just know God wants us to do this.”

Again, I know whereof I speak. Because of that, I encourage prospective adoptive parents to assess – as accurately and dispassionately as possible – their own situations to avoid making an impulsive decision they may one day regret.

“Should We Take This Child?”
Questions to Consider …

Among the questions you need to consider before accepting a foster care or adoptive placement:

Have you spent enough time around and alone with children to have an accurate picture of the ongoing demands of parenting? Reading is an important part of parenting, but there is no substitute for hands-on experience. If you’re unsure you’re up to the challenge, consider “borrowing” the child of a friend or relative for a weekend or even longer.

Have you decided what age and/or gender of the child you feel best able to help? For example, some adoption experts strongly advise against disrupting the natural birth order – fostering or adopting a child who is older than children already in the family.

Do you know how you respond – physically as well as emotionally – to prolonged periods of sleep disruption and other environmental stressors? (New parents wanting to adopt or foster more than one child may want to consider carefully “spacing” placements to allow time for bonding and adjustment.)

What commitments do you have at present (e.g. existing immediate and extended family needs, work or educational goals, etc.)? How will a child affect these commitments? If the mother is currently working outside the home, can the family get along without her salary? (If at all possible, adoptive mothers stand the best chance of forming a strong bond of trust with their new child if she is the sole caregiver, especially early in the placement.)

If the child is part of a sibling group, is additional support available to ensure that each child gets enough individual “bonding time” with her new family? Does one or more sibling have extraordinary emotional or physical needs that make it difficult to meet the needs of the others? (If so, is it possible to separate the siblings, even temporarily, if it would mean the difference between a successful and disrupted placement?)

What do you know about the child’s medical case history, including information about his birth family? Does the child have siblings or extended family with which the child should maintain contact? Especially with domestic adoptions, have the rights of both birthparents been relinquished or terminated? If the child has been in more than one foster home, do those foster parents have observations or concerns about the child and his or her ability to bond with another family?

Does the child have a history of abuse or neglect, or suspected history of abuse or neglect, that may require extraordinary time and attention or jeopardize the health or wellbeing of other members of the family? If so, have you received sufficient training so that you will be able to help this child? Approach those with unknown or sketchy histories with an extra measure of caution, spending extra time and securing independent assessments as necessary in order to get the most accurate picture possible. Those with special needs deserve a loving family – an informed, loving family that is prepared to help that child become all God wants him to be.)

Are your families and friends generally supportive of your decision to adopt – that is, are they willing to lend practical assistance as needed? If not, be cautious about making a permanent commitment to a child with extensive physical or emotional needs.

Have you spent significant time talking and praying through your decision, both alone and with those who will be part of your support system after the children become part of your family? Take the time you need to be sure you are basing your decision on the Holy Spirit’s leading – and not just your own idealistic wishes and dreams.

Adoption and foster care can be a beautiful, joy-filled experience. Yes, it is possible to love a child – fiercely and without reserve – who comes to you through adoption. However, the bonding process may happen on a somewhat different timetable. Be patient. Gather as many facts as you can before making your decision. Tune out those who are unnecessarily negative on one hand – or overly idealistic or “pushy” on the other. (This especially holds true to caseworkers, whose first priority is often finding homes for as many children as possible, as quickly as possible.)

Above all, remember the words of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta: “God does not call the equipped; He equips the called.” If God is indeed leading you to bring another child into your home, you can count on Him to give you everything you need – and peace above all – to bring your family together as He intends.