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The #1 mistake new foster and adoptive parents make

When we welcome broken children into our lives, things will go haywire for a while. We won’t be able to live the same way we once did. We’ll be tempted to compare ourselves with other similar sized families and wonder way we can’t seem to function as well as they do. 

The #1 mistake new foster and adoptive parents make is assuming that adding a child to their lives will be the same as if they gave birth to a new baby biologically.

Adoption always begins with loss. Loss of their first family, stability, belonging, and history. Many have lost the chance for a healthy and safe start to life as well.

Adoption will throw off the balance of your life. You’ll need to readjust, let things go, and become a new person. It can be painful to let go of some of the good things you had going to welcome this new season. But when we resist and become inflexible about change, we’re only hurting ourselves. 

As parents we need to do ourselves a huge favor and let things go from our lives that are no longer serving us once we’ve brought children home. It can be a painful pruning process. Things might look barren and desolate for a while. 

When you prune a rose bush back, it’s painful to look at. Pruning removes the dead and diseased branches and allows fresh air to flow through every part of the plant. Pruning makes the plant stronger and eventually will fill with healthy blooms.  

The process is the same in our lives when we sign up to be foster parents or adopt. There will be a lot of change and much of it will be painful. It will look like ten steps backward at first.

Parenting children with loss and challenging behaviors will bring out some diseased places in our hearts. But it will make us into stronger, healthier people, with the most beautiful qualities if we allow it to change us.  

John 15:1-4 paints a beautiful image of pruning: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.”

There will be levels of organization and excellence you’ll have to set aside for a season. There will be relationships you won’t be able to give to in the same way, and some of these people will resent you for it. 

What you do for fun will probably change, but it shouldn’t go away all together. All of this is okay, it’s just math. You add hurting children in your life, you will have to subtract other things, or you’ll go crazy. Where we can struggle is when we are mad about all the changes this new season brings. Then we pile resentment on top our discomfort, and it compounds. 

Another way of looking at this subtraction from your life, is a beautiful process of growing, and learning to treasure the now. Maybe it’s refining work you needed but the funny thing as humans, we always need a little sandpaper to do the work of personal growth. 

I have always felt that in the process of raising children, they were raising me. No single thing has trimmed away the self-centeredness and immaturity more than parenting has. It’s made me who I am, is still remaking me, and I wouldn’t trade that for the world. 

My friend Emily Christensen shares how they made space for their third adopted child, and what she learned to differently than she did with her first.

My husband and I have adopted three times, and each situation and child have been so different. They have all taught me more about myself, and about parenting foster and adoptive kids. The first two kids were placed with us when they were a few days old, but my youngest, Thomas, was four and a half months old when he came to our home.

I am a researcher by heart, and having walked through two previous adoptions, I knew that bonding would be extra important with this new sweet baby.

            Thomas had been with his birth family, then placed in a foster home, and then moved to our home with his biological sister, who is only ten months older than him. That’s a lot of upheaval for a baby in those crucial early months. I knew from the start we would do things differently with Thomas than we had with the other two, and saying no was a big part of that. 

            At first, I thought Thomas was a very quiet, laid back baby. Gradually I realized this was not the case. Thomas was in shock and experiencing trauma from three moves in four months, and the loss of his first family. Those first few weeks, he was extremely quiet at home, but when we went out in public, he would become agitated and clingy. I realized he needed a greater sense of security in that season. 

            We made the decision to say no to everything we could for the next three months, and prioritized being home and allowing Thomas to bond and regulate. My husband is a pastor, but we still felt it important that I didn’t take Thomas to church for a season. We didn’t go on any playdates or do anything extra. I was overwhelmed with the transition to two babies and a toddler anyhow, so staying home served our whole family well.

            We even told our extended families no, which was very difficult to do. They were welcome to come meet Thomas, but they couldn’t stay with us in our home. We were the only ones to hold him, feed him, or meet any of his needs. This didn’t go over well with our families. They would make comments like “Well, you didn’t do this with your oldest and he is just fine.” But we held our ground and I am so grateful we did. 

             Adopted children carry the weight of their story. For Thomas that meant his biological parents had to leave him in the hospital. And his foster parents had to leave him with us. You can still see his worry six years later. He’s always concerned with where we are and where we are going and needs constant reassurance. I’m so grateful, even though it caused problems with our relatives, that we protected our time with him and established for him that we were his safe place.”