Trauma-Informed Parenting: What Adoptive & Foster Parents Can Help Teach, Part 1

People sometimes feel bad for adoptive parents. They think maybe our kids say, “You’re not my real parents” on a daily basis and that we go to bed crying each night because we can’t have kids of our “own.”adoptDo they think we had to “settle” for adoption or fostering?

Do they worry we feel less than as parents?

We don’t.

It’s true that some of us have fertility issues. And maybe have grief about that.

It’s true that our children may love us and their birth parents, foster family members.

It’s true we might share the title of Mom or Dad with one or more others.

But we need no pity.

We chose to parent. And we chose to parent via adoption or fostering. Not everyone does.

There are plenty of people with and without fertility issues who do not choose to adopt or foster.

And plenty who do.

There are plenty of people who can give birth and who choose to adopt instead.

The choice part is important.

You can’t become an adoptive or foster parent by accident. Ever. There’s no birth control failure as entry into parenthood. There are no “oops – I adopted,” or “I wasn’t planning to foster but there must have been a divine plan.”

We planned.

We have to fill out paperwork and go to classes. We got background checks and waited months or years.

We opted in to creating a family. We decided to love. We opened our hearts and our homes – on purpose – as many parents who give birth also do.

What was different is that we did so knowing we would parent a child who comes with a past.

  • A past we don’t share.
  • A past we didn’t create.
  • A past we might no little or nothing about.

We love beings who were not escorted into this world through our genes or our bodies. Our children might have relatives we don’t share. They have attachments to people who aren’t us and maybe knew our sons or daughters before us.

That’s not only hard. Sometimes it’s wonderful. Those of us who foster or adopt never have the notion that we have made our children. We have responsibilities and relationships formed by conscious choice.

This is intentional. It’s entirely on purpose.

Of course sometimes it’s hard.

It’s also a gift. And an an honor.

It is not a sad or better than nothing version of parenting.

People must think otherwise because they say things such as, “You are so lucky,” about our children and often TO our children. As though children should be grateful some kind-hearted adult do-gooders could see beyond their “second-hand” status enough to take them on.

I wish I were kidding.

When people say, “You’re so lucky,” to my daughter, I say, “It’s we who are lucky.”

When they ask, “How much did she cost?” I say “There are expenses to adoption just as to hospital stays and giving birth.”

  • Don’t they know how amazing our children are?
  • Don’t they know how much we learn from them?
  • Do they think we can only love children we are related to by birth?

There are beautiful parts to loving a child you don’t assume you know all about already.

Adoptive and foster parents don’t tell our children that they are math minded like Mom, destined to drum like Gramp. We don’t compare them to ourselves wondering how much of what they are comes from us or Aunt Jean.

We don’t assume they will have a receding hair line like a sibling or a chin like the cousins. Maybe they will. Maybe they won’t. We don’t know.

We wait and watch them develop and become.

We don’t project the good traits and we don’t project the bad ones either. There is something sacred about this.

I don’t want to romanticize the process though.

It can be hard. Sometimes we don’t know important details about relatives, health issues or siblings. Beyond sleep deprivation and parental adjustments there can be trauma-recovery, grief and attachment issues to work through with our children.

I don’t want to minimize the very real losses that come with adoption and being a foster child – for our children. It is not a bliss fest for them. They don’t come to us without having to lose a first and birth family – sometimes for a short time and sometimes forever. They have the ACE of parental loss and sometimes other ACEs as well.

There is always some grief and transition. Sometimes there is anguish or suffering and mind-boggling moves, transitions, disruptions and challenges.

But for those of us who love and parent, via fostering or adoption, we are not doing some difficult or less than version of parenting than those who give birth.

Even now, though my daughter is 13 people ask if I have any of my “own” children, as though she does not count. They think maybe it is sad that I never gave birth. Maybe.

Or maybe it is sad that they never adopted or fostered.

Maybe I missed out on something they do have. I’ll never know. But maybe I gained something they don’t have.

That’s what I believe.

I don’t see adoptive parenting as a second choice. I see it as a different choice and the first and best one for me.

You Matter Mantras

  • Trauma sucks. You don't.
  • Write to express not to impress.
  • It's not trauma informed if it's not informed by trauma survivors.
  • Breathing isn't optional.

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