One of the first questions many people ask an adoptive parent is, "Is it possible to love an adopted child as much as one who is biologically related?" Most adoptive parents will immediately respond, "Of course." We love all our children — just as all parents do. Sometimes that love comes easily — when the child is freshly washed and tucked away in bed, counting sugarplums. In those moments, parenting is one of life's sweetest pleasures.
But sometimes — more often than we'd like to admit — that love is not a feeling, but a holding-on-by-the-fingernails choice. This is especially prevalent in adoption circles among families that adopt older children, who may not be capable of connecting readily with their new family. So you hug, and try not to take it personally when no one hugs you back. It's difficult, but for some parents there is no other choice.
Some families have even greater challenges to overcome: How can you love a chaos-creating, snot-spewing bundle of snarling rage? How can you not resent the fact that your efforts are unappreciated and resisted at every turn? How could you not feel as though you are being dragged, kicking and screaming, into the claustrophobic vortex of insurmountable neediness by a three-year-old insomniac and his openly defiant five-year-old sister?
Yes, you love them. But you don't always like them very much.
PADS: Adoption's Dark Little Secret
These feelings of ambivalence are very common in adoptive mothers, and have become so prevalent that there's a name for it: PADS (Post-Adoptive Depression Syndrome). One study indicates that PADS afflicts as many as 65% of all adoptive mothers. For more information, go to http://parenting.adoption.com/parents/negative-feelings-after-adopting.html or http://www.bellaonline.com/articles/art385.asp.
This is the "dark side" most adoptive parents (myself included) find very hard to admit. Who would understand? After all, we chose adoption! The needs of our child must supercede our own… isn't that the very nature of parenting?
Well, yes, of course we know these things are true. If we didn't, we couldn't have gotten this far. We choose the gift… again and again and again we choose, just as every parent does. But unlike every other parent, we must struggle with some unique realities that natural parents need never consider.
We don't get to experience that child move within us before we have to deal with the super-sized toddler tantrums. We don't experience the same kind of delivery (natural or any other kind), confirming that the child is truly a part of us. We don't often get the solicitous interventions and supports of friends and family in those first few days and weeks after a child's birth (though we get to experience the erratic sleep patterns of infancy, often for years). We don't get to look into the child's eyes… and see her Daddy looking back at us.
Each time we find ourselves unable to live up to the "perfect parent" image we promised the agency, part of us dies a little — and worries about the consequences of our failings down the road. Yes, all parents feel inadequate from time to time — but most of them don't feel an invisible third party in the wings, keeping score.
Four Important Lessons on Adoption
Why am I telling you all this? Am I trying to dissuade you from becoming an adoptive parent? Not at all. There are many, many happy moments in adoptive parenting, and life lessons that you would not be able to learn any other way. God created the human soul to give itself in love, a well that swells and spills over many times, contrasting those dark moments with times of indescribable contentment. Even joy.
But if those dark moments come, it's better to acknowledge the reality than stuff it inside. Praying (and having others pray for you) is important… just don't neglect the more practical details as well, such as food and sleep and exercise. There will be times you must put your own needs first, to have the resources you need to tend to your child. If your support circle is limited, you may need to consider arranging for a few hours — or perhaps even more than a few hours — of childcare simply to get the perspective you need to continue on the road you have chosen.
For us, it meant using the subsidy money the State gave us for daycare, so I could keep working and writing. Not because it was immensely profitable (it wasn't), but because it kept me sane, so I could tend to the children's needs the rest of the time. I was sometimes criticized for this choice — the harshest critics were people who knew us only casually. And there are times when I have to admit that I still could have been more patient, more giving, more available.
But if I had it to do over again, would I? The answer is, "I don't know." What I do know is that somehow we made it through three harrowing years of foster care, until the adoption came through. It took daycare and depression meds, but we made it. During that time, most of the struggles we faced in the beginning have resolved themselves — and during that time, Craig and I learned four important lessons the hard way:
The greatest challenge of adoption is balancing the needs of the whole family.
The fact that those on the perimeter don't understand or approve of your choices, doesn't necessarily make them bad choices.
Mid-course correction is often a better choice than indecision.
There's no such thing as a perfect parent. Trust God to make up the difference between what the children need, and what you are able to give.
If you think you might be suffering from PADS, or know someone who is, I've included a number of suggestions to combat the effects of this condition on my "Mommy Monsters" blog. Simply click here and go to the last section, entitled "So What Do You Do?" God bless you!