Quora: What advice would you give to prospective adoptive parents?

My answer, originally posted to Quora.

Q: If there was one (or more) piece of advice you could give to prospective adoptive parents what would it be?

We are thinking of adopting one or more children internationally (currently have zero). What are some key/crucial pieces of advice you could give me and my spouse in terms of:

  1. Adoption Process
  2. Getting them home
  3. Now they're home how do I cope as a new parent
  4. Potential challenges Toddlers, Pre-School, School, Teenager, etc. specific to institutional behavior issues (RAD, etc.)
  5. Coping strategies for parents?

My Answer

Here's my quick advice -- one bit for each of your 5 categories.

  1. ADOPTION PROCESS: You might think international adoption is a straight-forward, get-in-line type of process, but it isn't. It's perhaps less turbulent than going through infertility treatment, but it is affected by geopolitical conditions and changing attitudes toward the West. Things might not be as smooth as you like. The waiting times might change significantly from initial estimates. Be prepared for bumps in the road.

  2. GETTING THEM HOME: I'd strongly advise you to get a medical professional to look at the child's file once you are matched. Do this even if you are sure that you will still adopt the child, regardless of what the medical issues you uncover might be. You will be more prepared to find the best professionals in the field and ensure that your child has the best care when you bring him home. (Oakland Children's Hospital did this evaluation for us).

  3. NEW PARENT COPING: Hey, surprise! In the USA (I can't comment on other countries), did you know that many (most?) employers do NOT treat adoptive parents as equal to natural/birth parents, in terms of maternity leave?

    In my industry (high tech) it is common for employers to provide paid maternity leave under their Short Term Disability insurance benefit, so you only get maternity leave because you were under a doctor's care. But adoptive parents have no specific medical issues, so no paid leave. So adoptive moms can therefore expect equivalent leave to what is afforded for paternity leave for dads, which is often PALTRY compared to what birth mothers would get. (All the more reason to be in favor of strong paternity leave policies, because they affect both adoptive mothers & fathers.)

    Also, tune out everything you hear about how awesome breastfeeding is. It'll just make you feel bad and needlessly worried about your non-breastfed child.

  4. POTENTIAL CHALLENGES: I can't cope on the pre-teen or teen years because my kids are not there yet. But here's a few:

    • DO NOT let anyone tell you IN FRONT OF YOUR CHILD that you are such a "great person" for adopting or that your child is "so lucky" that you adopted him/her. One day your child will understand those comments, and they will make your child feel inferior and like an unwanted piece of garbage. Correct people who say that stuff right away -- YOU are the lucky one for getting the chance to parent this wonderful kid, not vice versa.

    • DO NOT casually tell anyone and everyone the story of how your child came to be placed for adoption. This is your CHILD'S personal story and one that s/he should be able to choose whether or not to share when s/he is older. It is no one else's business and once the details are spread too widely there is no taking it back. Be very, very selective with whom you share it.

    • As far as disciplining, DO NOT threaten to leave your child behind if s/he does not "come here by the count of 10". Parents do this all the time because it works. But I think adopted kids can react particularly badly to this -- regardless of their age at adoption. Instead, you need to reinforce (over and over and over) the idea that you will never leave them.

  5. COPING STRATEGIES: If you can, find a support group / play group of adoptive parents. The usual mom's groups seem all-consumed with discussing breastfeeding and labor and delivery heroics. Find your people and reminisce about social worker visits and visa processing times instead. Also, many adoptive parents groups welcome parents who are in-process, so you could get some good advice before the child even comes home.

Sue Raisty

Product management geek, born-again engineer, adoptive mother of boys, coach & mentor, mountain trail runner, tinkerer, no-bull communicator, wannabe writer, room mother & compulsive researcher.

Silicon Valley, California http://blog.sueraisty.com