The process of thinking about, seriously considering, then finally embracing the decision to adopt or foster a child is big. Really big. You might be getting opinions or advice from many different directions.
In Oklahoma, you could have a number of opportunities to consider this question for yourself; we have a great many children waiting to be adopted through our state agency system, as well as a serious need for more safe and stable foster care homes. A recent series of events and activities have led to a greater awareness of this need in our state, and with the message being spread, more people than ever before might be considering the “big decision.”
When it comes right down to it, however, regardless of the information you get at a conference, a church service, or from your family or friends…YOU are the one meeting a need. So, having a conversation with yourself, or intentionally walking through a process of checks and balances with those you care about the most could be helpful. That’s why I’ve provided this list of five questions to ask yourself. I hope it serves as a guide for at least the beginning process to your big decision:
1) Is my marriage or committed relationship healthy? Or, am I healthy and ready? Many times, the desire to bring children into your life to nurture and support comes from healthy attitudes about providing for those who have needs not being met. Being willing to support and raise another human being is extremely admirable. However, one of the key conversations you’ll need to have with yourself first and foremost is – am I bringing this child into a healthy environment? Is your marriage or committed relationship strong? Do you have a trusted family law attorney? If you plan on sing-parenting, are YOU emotionally healthy and strong? Can you serve as a model for your potential child or children? Can your marriage survive tests of stressful events, transitions and challenges?
If you answered no to those any of those questions, then perhaps you need to shore up your home-front first. The addition of any person into a family will create change, but if you are bringing a child who has been harmed in some way into your home, then they’ll have many things to work out…and you’re the one available for that “working out” process.
If your marriage is strong, then you’ll have a unified front to absorb and deflect some of the stress a new child might bring. However, if it’s already suffering, an additional child could provide the straw that breaks the back of your relationship…and results in one more broken relationship for the person you invited to your family.
2) Is my support group agreeable to this particular decision? This question is a key area you need to explore. You may have wonderful neighbors, friends, perhaps a church small group or lifetime comrades who have seen you through thick and thin. They may be willing to help you roof your house, accompany you on vacation, or may have babysat your own children or pets. However, clear expectations with those you love are important.
Have you talked to them about your decision? Have you asked them what they think about providing temporary respite or monitoring should you need a break? Are they the kind of people you could trust with an adopted or foster child? Co-created decisions with your closest friends and family are the strongest decisions you can make. It means that your primary (you) AND your secondary (they) caregivers are on the same page – and are ready to do what it takes to help your new child thrive and grow.
3) Am I financially prepared for unplanned events or extra expenses? When people purchase new houses, they are sometimes surprised by the moving and transition costs arising unexpectedly. Adopting or fostering a child is no different. Taking an inventory of equipment you might need, new or different supplies based upon the developmental level and age of the child, and support-type needs sometimes becomes overwhelming.
When opening a business, these costs are referred to as “start-up” costs. Using second hand equipment, hand-me-down clothing and shopping smartly will save you a great deal. However, thinking about building a “new child” nest egg is probably a good idea. If you’re already financially strapped and having a difficult time making ends meet, adding another person to your family doesn’t magically make your salary increase!
If you are adopting or fostering a child from the state, you will be provided with a minimum amount of resources such as stipends or special medical insurance, but depending upon the age, the situation under which you take the child and the state policies, those resources could be temporary. And most all foster parents will tell you – the stipend can’t be the reason you believe you can provide for a child. In fact, they will usually tell you “it’s never enough.”
If you look at adopting or fostering a child more like a philanthropic and giving thing to do, then your mind will be in the right place when it comes to additional or unexpected expenses. However, if you look at the situation as though you are “providing a service for which you should be compensated,” then this may not be the right decision for you. That frame of reference could set you up to feel resentful once you’re into the process of caring for your child.
4) What do I expect to get out of this personally? Sometimes having a private conversation with yourself is essential. You don’t necessarily need to work this one through others, but if you feel comfortable with them, it might be an important discussion.
What is your motivation for adopting a child or becoming a foster parent? Here’s an exercise to help you through this question if you’re up for it: Sit down and be completely honest with a piece of paper. Write exactly what is is that you think you’ll gain from this decision. Write out the “why” answer to your question. Write out the “what do I worry about?” And finally, when you’ve exhausted the gains/worries/why discussion with yourself, put it in a drawer for a few days. With fresh eyes, and a fresh head, read what you wrote.
I don’t want to “taint” what you may write about, but when you re-read it, here’s what you might check: Do I spend more time talking about my needs than the child’s? Do I worry about what others will think if the child acts out? Do I think somehow I’m going to right some wrong I’ve inflicted on others by following through with this decision?
Now it’s time for the hard truth: Adopting or fostering a child is not a redemption process for anyone, it’s a nurturing process for a child who needs a new start. A second check? If your writing contains a majority about your emotional connection or needs regarding this process versus the thoughts of helping your potential child or children grow to lead independent and healthy lives for themselves, then you might need a little more time with your decision.
Being serious with yourself about your motivation is the best thing you can do for your future child(ren), your spouse, or those involved. If it’s “not about you,” then it CAN BE “about the child” and that’s a good thing. Those who are turned inward because of unresolved and unmet needs are better served by working through that for themselves before they open the doors to a child who is going to need a great deal of positive, child-centered play, guidance and support.
5) Can I trust strangers and experts to be in my life on a regular basis? Especially if you adopt or foster through a state agency, your children may have experienced a great deal of trauma. Many may have attachment or behavior problems, some may be experiencing PTSD symptoms and most have an initial problem with trust. However, there will be a host of experienced professionals from whom you can draw help and support related to these behaviors…IF you are willing to let them.
Here’s the clincher: You may not be used to having so many people in your life. There could be case workers, professionals for various challenges your child is working to overcome (physically, emotionally, or educationally) and perhaps many court visits. The number and degree of “people in your life” will, of course, vary on a child by child basis. But some of the best parents really value their privacy and are a little shocked to have their lives be more of an open book for those involved professionals.
If you can frame this involvement as a positive thing, then you should be fine. However, thinking through and preparing yourself for that LEVEL of involvement could help things go more smoothly once your life as an adoptive or foster parent begins.
The key to this question, I believe, is to examine your own ability to be flexible. Your child may have mandatory doctors appointments or need special kinds of training sessions for any number of reasons. If you can relax, breathe, and practice going with the flow, then it will be easier to manage the extra people in your life. If you can’t…then being honest about this with yourself is a good first step toward your decision. Your Big decision.
To conclude, I think it’s important to note that this post is mostly geared toward parents who are adopting or choosing to provide foster care through a state agency. There are different kinds of questions I might list if you are adopting internationally, adopting a new infant or working with a surrogate mother, or adopting or fostering your own grandchildren. Those are topics with special considerations not quite covered in this information. However, if you would appreciate hearing more about those special topics, please let me know.
And, I want to wish you the very best as you consider your Big decision. Because, if you decide your final answer is yes, you may have the chance to make a very Big difference in the life or lives of those you invite into your home.
Kelly Roberts is a licensed marriage and family therapist, an approved supervisor, and a family scientist. She’s participated in services related to adoptive and foster families for nine years, and continues to learn more about the dynamics involved.
Did we miss a question that should be considered? Please let us know by commenting – there may be something important to add to this discussion for other readers. Thanks!