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Stop waiting for the magic to happen; for foster and adoptive parents, love is a choice.

"I know the law says wait at least 6 months after a child is placed for adoption. But what if after 6 months, you still don’t know or can’t tell one way or another if you really want them? I’m not going to keep a kid if the bond and attachment doesn’t come naturally from both of us because adopting is a lifelong decision."

"Adoption should feel special, and we are not feeling that. Her worker wants us to take as long as we need to bond with her and we don’t want to adopt her if we aren’t feeling a change in reasonable amount of time."

"Has anyone had a pre-adoptive placement in their home that they did not end up wanting to adopt?"

These quotes are all based on actual things foster parents in the process of adopting have said online. A lot of parents attempting to adopt from the foster care system are extremely misinformed about how attachment works, what expectations they should have for their new child, and what their role as a parent should be in the attachment process.

So let's get INFORMED! Because knowledge is power, and I want anyone who reads this to feel empowered to make better decisions than the parents that I got those quotes from are unfortunately making!

  1. Attachment: How does this work? It is not reasonable to expect that a child placed with you through foster care will attach to you, even if they are placed for the purpose of adoption. Children who are waiting for adoption in foster care have experienced disrupted attachment. In her book The Connected Child, child psychologist and attachment researcher Karyn Purvis explains that in a healthy family, babies and kids receive messages that they are safe, and get immediate help and care from safe adults when they are scared, hungry, or hurt. Kids who come to us through foster care experience the opposite. Prenatal exposure to drugs and alcohol, neglect, lack of reliable food sources, and abuse can all be part of a child's journey into foster care. Many times it's a horrible combination of all of those things, and they all impair a child's ability to attach to a parent. By the time a child ends up in a foster home for the purpose of adoption they have learned that their birth parents cannot be trusted to parent them safely, and they've learned that the foster parents who have been caring for them do not want to make a permanent commitment to them. They are NOT going to come into a pre-adoptive home open-hearted and ready to bond with their new parents! They're just not, and parents need to stop expecting that they will be. It's more likely that this child, eager to protect themselves from further heart break, will actively fight against attaching to their new parents.

  2. Expectations: How should your new child act? It is not reasonable to expect that a child placed for adoption will make any effort to "make it work" with you. Parents like the ones quoted above have expectations for children that are sky high and completely unrealistic. They expect the new child to show tangible signs of love, affection, and gratitude towards them. They expect the new child to improve in their behavior over time, becoming more and more loving and manageable in the time leading up to adoption. In reality the opposite is more likely. Children will often misbehave more and push parents away emotionally the longer that they are in the home in an attempt to test this so-called "new mom and dad" on their commitment. Do they really mean what they said when they said they would love this child forever? Sadly, many children find that those promises were empty after all. When the child's inability to outwardly show love or even respect come to light, many pre-adoptive parents immediately give up on the child, reinforcing the child's deepest fear, the fear that is the driving force behind 90% of their problem behaviors: that no matter what they say, no adult is actually committed to them forever, and at the end of the day, they are alone.

  3. Parents' role: How hard should you have to try to make it work? Unconditional love is a must, and ALL of the responsibility for making this adoption successful is on the parent, not the child. Children placed for adoption are not contestants on a dating show attempting to win a chance to "accept this rose". The adults on their foster care team have decided to choose the best adoptive option for them, and as a pre-adoptive parent YOU APPLIED TO BE THAT OPTION! Those things were not the child's choice. As the parent who CHOSE to step up, it is your job and yours alone to keep on fighting for your child. Children's services may or may not help, different service providers may or may not help, but no matter what, the ultimate responsibility lies with the parent. That means (UNPOPULAR OPINION ALERT!) that if you choose to give up on that child, the ultimate blame lies with you as well.

My two children both have their own unique obstacles that impede their ability to attach to me. Some weeks we have tons of closeness, they show their love for me and respond to my attempts to show love to them, and it's all amazing and wonderful. Other weeks (or, ahem, months) their struggles or my struggles get in our way. We fight, the kids might reject me emotionally and behave hurtfully towards me, or I might make a mistake and do that to them. However, I CHOOSE to love them every single day.

For foster adoptive parents, it's about picking up the torch every morning. Even when your child says they hate that torch and never wanted it anyway. Even when they blew the flame out and the storm of their anger is blowing so hard that you can't light it again, or even hold it up very high. Even when you have to carry the torch uphill in a freezing snowstorm of trauma issues, while everyone around you screams that you should just give up and put it down. Even when you can't even see its light amongst all the darkness.

Pick up the torch. Love is a choice.

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