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How Adoption Impacts a Marriage

(This post may contain affiliate links. For more information, see my disclosure policy.)

I love adoption and do not write this article to deter anyone from adopting, but to strengthen the potential success for families who do choose this road. One of the things that is spoken of very seldom within the adoption community is the effect that it will have on your marriage relationship.

Though the actual statistics seem illusive at best, divorce rates among adoptive parents are reported to be higher than that of the general population. Parenting children with special needs and infertility are also two factors that increase divorce rates and those are present in many adoptive homes. While that is not good news for adoptive parents, there are things that can be done to help protect your marriage.

Some of the things that can place a strain on even the strongest of marriages for adoptive families include:

Public Scrutiny – When people birth their children, for the most part, strangers don’t come up to them at the grocery store and question their parenting choices and decisions. Adoptive parents are scrutinized for everything from what type of adoption they choose to pursue to their choice to bottle or breastfeed, to their discipline methods, to their stand on Immunization, to their changing or keeping their child’s first given name, to the way in which they choose to incorporate their child’s culture, to their decision to be or not be a multi-racial family, to their methods of attachment, to the foods they feed their children. People stare at us in public and come up and ask us questions almost every time we go out. Add to that the pressure to be the best parent possible because a birth mother is entrusting you to raise the most precious thing imaginable or an entire country has allowed you to take one of their most important natural resources and that’s a pretty weighty thing!

And then of course there is that most intrusive scrutiny of all – the home study. This is where a complete stranger comes into your home and because they have the title of Social Worker, they are allowed to ask you all kinds of intimate details and give their opinions of your parenting (even if they are 19 years old and have no children or nieces or nephews, but I digress!) and they ask about your sex life and about your childhood and about the whys of all the decisions you’ve made. I am not saying that checks and balances should not be put in place. I am merely pointing out that all this public scrutiny and pressure can put a strain on a relationship over time.

Sleep Deprivation – This is not unique to adoptive families but can be exaggerated by things such as time change/jet lag in the case of international adoption, drug or alcohol exposure of a baby prenatally, and of course the most obvious – that adoptive families tend to have larger families, making their years of sleep deprivation longer. Lack of sleep can change your perspective on many things and if you’re too tired at the end of the day, you don’t take the time to talk or perhaps to do other things that may be critical for a healthy marriage.

Special Needs – Adoption increases the chances that you will have a child with special needs and this alone ups your chances of divorce. Of our five adopted children, five have special needs. Among the most obvious special needs of adopted children are those related to prenatal exposures such as FASD (fetal alcohol spectrum disorder) and Fetal Drug Effect, sensory processing disorder, ADHD, Reactive Attachment Disorder, and Developmental Trauma Disorder or PTSD.

Parenting a special needs child creates less time together as you run around to specialists and appointments and make decisions that most parents don’t even have to think about and you and your spouse may not agree on the answers. Then there is dealing with the everyday, be it medical crisises or behavior or safety issues. It can be exhausting. You can also read these tips for parenting a special needs child.

Infertility – Many come to adoption after years of infertility. The stress of that and the strain that can put on a relationship, on a sex life, on finances, is significant. Some infertility treatments cause mood swings for the wife which can be pretty unpleasant in a marriage too. So now these couples who have already suffered so much hurt and loss and grief embark on another road of ups and downs where the outcome is not always clear and the scars of the years of infertility are still there. The hurts are often still raw and for some, that pain never goes away. For others, they come to the realization that adoption wasn’t meant for them to be Plan B but was God’s plan A for their family all along.

Financial Strain – The number one cause of divorce in Canada and the United States is conflict over finances. Adoption affects this in the following ways…infertility treatments are very expensive and some couples have already wiped out all their savings on that before they even get to adoption…domestic open adoption, private adoption, and International adoption are all very expensive…adoptive families tend to be larger which is expensive in itself. So adoption costs more (unless you adopt kids in the care of the Canadian or U.S. government in which case that is free but their risk of Special Needs is much higher and caring for Special Needs kids is more expensive, so the rule still applies) than birthing your children which could lead to additional financial stress.

Disparity – In almost all cases of adoption, one spouse wants it more than the other. Sometimes, they both really want it, but often one is the driving force while the other is going along with it to make their spouse happy. That can obviously cause tremendous strain later on if there are problems adjusting. This type of disparity gives room for a lot of resentment to build.

Conflict – In any marriage, there are so many potential areas for conflict but the ones added by adoption may include things like disagreeing on birth family contact, discipline with really challenging behaviors, how to work on attachment, how to deal with questions in public, what to tell your children regarding their history, and adopting future children from the same birth mother.

There is a lot of talk in the adoption world about preparing yourself for attachment issues and toddler tantrums and parasites but preparing your marriage is rarely, if ever, mentioned.

Those that are still waiting could add some books to their reading list other than the typical parenting and adoption books. I would recommend starting with “Love and Respect” or “The Five Love Languages“. For less financial stress, I would HIGHLY recommend you getting “The Total Money Makeover” by Dave Ramsey. Not only will it help alleviate some of the financial stress, but it will get you communicating as a couple about it.

The first year home with your child may be difficult on your marriage.  As a couple, you will have far less time for each other and your relationship will undergo some major changes. As a family, there is a lot of adjustments to be made, so if at all possible, just get through that first year any way you can and don’t make any life-changing decisions until after that first year.

I am by no means an expert on marriage. There were years where my husband and I barely managed to stay together, but we held on and have now been married for 21 years. When we were at our lowest point, marriage counselling helped, as did changing our communication styles, but what we found to be the most effective prescription for our marriage was instituting a weekly date night. I have suggested it to other couples who have seen it turn their marriages around as well. We have some set rules for our date nights to increase the impact they have on our marriage. We have a set night each week that is our date night regardless of circumstances. If we can’t find a babysitter, we have an at-home date night. If we don’t have much money, we do something that’s free. Putting in that time commitment and being able to be a couple once a week instead of just parents was the magic for us.

Protect your marriage by:

– working on your communication,

– putting in place weekly or at least monthly date nights,

– budget, attend marriage counselling or marriage retreats or seminars,

take care of your own self-care and encourage your spouse to do the same.

Join me for a free 5 part email series, Little Hearts, Big Worries offering resources and hope for parents.

Date Night Ideas

Self-Care for Foster and Adoptive Families

(This post may contain affiliate links. For more information, see my disclosure policy.)

We have all heard the parenting analogy of having to put on our own oxygen mask before putting the masks on our children. The thinking behind this being of course that we must put our mask on first to make sure we are conscious to put the masks on them. As caregivers, we must take care of ourselves so that we are able to give full and proper care to our children. However, actually putting this into practice in our everyday lives is difficult for most parents and it can seem nearly impossible for foster and adoptive parents. 

Self-care for foster and adoptive families is critical. It can make the difference between success and burnout, thriving or breakdown.Self-care is even more important for foster and adoptive parents than it is for other parents because foster and adopted children require more from their caregivers and the stakes are much higher.

Foster parents are in very high demand. There are not enough foster homes in this country to meet the growing number of children entering into foster care. There are even fewer foster parents who are qualified to meet the needs of the growing number of children entering the child welfare system requiring specialized care. This results in greater demands being placed on existing foster families, which often results in foster parent burnout. With such overwhelming demands being put onto foster parents, how do they make time for self-care?

Adoption disruption rates are also on the rise. Adoption disruption occurs when an adoptive family is unable to continue to care for their adopted child and that child is placed into foster care or another adoptive home. Though a failed adoption is obviously a worst case scenario for a child who has already lost his or her birth family, it is also devastating for the adoptive family. It is not something that any family resorts to lightly and the judgment and guilt the family experiences during and after the failed adoption is both heartbreaking and debilitating. 

Not all adoption disruption and foster care burnout can be prevented, but by laying and maintaining a solid foundation of self-care and making it non-negotiable in your household, you can help protect yourself and your family from some of the pitfalls that may otherwise await you. Consider self-care the best shield of protection your family can have.

I am not an expert in self-care. After our two sons were born, we were foster parents for eight years. We went on to adopt three of our foster children and then adopted two children internationally. In the course of what would be eleven years between when we began the journey to expand our family and when we brought our last two children home, I made a lot of mistakes when it came to self-care. Later, when I began my work as an adoption advocate, I heard first-hand countless stories from others who were suffering because of what boiled down to a lack of self-care. 

It is my hope that others who are on the journey to adoption, have already adopted, or are fostering can implement solid self-care strategies to help protect their families. I still am better at talking the talk than walking the walk, so writing this has also been a good reminder to myself. Self-care is something that is a conscious decision and something that doesn’t come naturally for me, so I hope that you will join me on the journey and we can find our way together.

Self-care is both simpler and more complicated than people realize. Particularly when it comes to the dynamics involved in foster care and adoption, there is a lot to consider. I have written a book on the topic of self-care for foster and adoptive families that addresses such things as:

  • things you can do regarding your home, relationships, finances, and education in order to prepare
  • building a support network
  • 12 steps to survive the triage stage
  • Post Adoption Depression Syndrome (PADS)
  • loss
  • actionable, sustainable ways to practise effective self-care

You can read more about the book as well as hear from those who have read it by clicking here or clicking the image below.

For today, you can begin by ensuring that you are taking care of your body and that your basic needs are being met so that you can better care for your family.

Join me for a free 5 part email series, Little Hearts, Big Worries offering resources and hope for parents.

This is part of a series written by moms of special needs kiddos on the topic of self-care. You will find wonderful self-care suggestions shared by these moms.

7 Practical Self Care Activities for Stressed Out Special Needs Parents | My Home Truths

Self-Care for Foster and Adoptive Families | The Chaos and The Clutter

What Happens When You Ignore Self Care | This Outnumbered Mama

50 Self-Care Activities You Can Do Together With Kids | And Next Comes L

Why You Should Keep a Journal as a Part of Your Self Care Routine | Kori at Home

7 Tips to Surviving Judgment as the Parent of a Child with Special Needs

(This post may contain affiliate links. For more information, see my disclosure policy.)

It’s a Tuesday morning and you head to the grocery store. You’ve specifically chosen a Tuesday morning because it’s the least busy at this particular store. You have your list organized according to the layout of the store. You spend half an hour preparing your child for what to expect on the outing. You drive there armed with fidgets and stress balls with calming music playing softly in the background. You even let them wear the superhero costume without saying a word because you know it helps them both feel braver and feel more regulated because it fits tightly.

7 tips you need to survive the judgment from others when you are parenting a child with special needsYou have done everything you can think of to ensure this grocery trip is as pain-free as possible. You park. Take a deep breath. Turn around, smile at your child and together you walk in.

You get through the produce section with all its smells and unexpected mini sprinklers without issue. You mentally congratulate yourself for remembering to prepare your child for those potential pitfalls this morning!

You get through most of the aisles without anything dramatic happening. Even the cereal aisle is navigated without distress. You’re starting to breathe a bit easier now. You can see the end in sight.

You swing by the pharmacy where the kind pharmacist is very familiar with your family. Your child knows them well enough to respond and say hello. You can see that this has raised their anxiety just a bit and as you walk away from that counter, you check in with your child to see how they are managing. You tell them that you appreciate how well they are doing. You encourage them by showing them how much of the grocery list is complete.

In the dairy section, you see signs that the tension is mounting. There’s a temperature change and the lights are bright. It’s starting to get a bit more crowded in the store by now. Your child is touching everything you pass by and has knocked an item off the shelf.

You hand your child the list and a pencil and ask them to cross off what’s been found so far. You know that in doing so, you will give them a visual and tangible reminder of how close they are to being done. You will also give them something to do with their hands.

Your child comments that the wheel on the cart is squeaky. You are reading the back of a box trying to determine if it’s gluten free so you don’t respond right away. You move on towards the checkout but your child is standing back where you were, hands over their ears, screaming. You judge the distance between yourself and them and know that you will not make it in time to stop this from becoming a huge meltdown.

As you rush towards them, you mentally play back the trip to the store. Playing detective is an important part of your job as the parent of a child with special needs. You decide based on the evidence that it’s the squeaky wheels on the cart that were the final straw so you abandon your cart mid aisle and rush faster towards your child to help them calm down.

Out of the corner of your eye, you catch glares, a man shaking his head disapprovingly and a woman is approaching you, bent on sharing her “wisdom”. You know what’s likely coming. Not “good job mama”. Not “can I help?”

Judgment.

You’re well acquainted with the whispers, the glares and the outright rude comments. Years ago, you may have left the store in tears over her ignorant words, but not today. Today you know that her words are more a reflection of who she is than who you or your child are. Today, your only worry is your child. You’ve got this!

Tips to Surviving Judgment as the Parent of a Child with Special Needs:

  1. Breathe.
  2. Choose and practise a mantra that you can say internally. “They cannot steal my joy.” “I am the right mom for my child.” “They do not have the privilege of knowing my child.” “This is them, not me.”
  3. Know that you do not need to respond. It is not your job to educate the world at the moment your child needs you most.
  4. Better they judge you than your child. Often, it is tempting to explain your reasons, your methods, your child’s needs to save face. Sometimes it is appropriate to do so, but if your response is only going to further isolate your child and make them feel more different, you may need to risk being judged.
  5. Surround yourself with those who “get it”. Create a network of support people who understand. Those who have also walked this road are safe to share with. They can offer encouragement in a way that no one else can. If there is not a support group in your community, find one online.
  6. Keep track of your wins. Parenting a child with special needs can be discouraging at times because it’s often two steps forward, one and three quarters steps back. Celebrating your wins will help you rise above the judgment because you will have confidence that your child is moving in the right direction.
  7. Remember that you know your child best and that your child is doing their best. “They’re not giving you a hard time. They’re having a hard time.”

Join me for a free 5 part email series, Little Hearts, Big Worries offering resources and hope for parents.

This post is part of a Parenting a Child with Special Needs series with special needs moms who share their thoughts on “managing public situations.” These articles may help you navigate your way through your next time out in public.

How I’ve Learned to Manage Public Situations as a Special Needs Parent | My Home Truths

10 Tips for Running Errands with a Special Needs Child | Every Star is Different

7 Tips to Surviving Judgment as the Parent of a Special Needs Child | The Chaos and The Clutter

Navigating the Store with a Child with Sensory or Anxiety Issues | The Chaos and The Clutter

Dear Mom at the Park | This Outnumbered Mama

Dear Mom Who Is Afraid to Leave Her House | Kori at Home

How to Help a Mom When Her Child Suffers a Public MeltdownI Finding the Golden Gleam

To the Mom Whose Child Sabotages Mother’s Day

(This post may contain affiliate links. For more information, see my disclosure policy.)

If you clicked on this article expecting cute stories of burnt toast and other breakfast-in-bed mishaps, this is not that article. If you are parenting a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder or early childhood trauma, this is for you.

For most moms, Mother’s Day is a day to be recognized, to be celebrated, or perhaps just an average day. For moms of kids with Reactive Attachment Disorder, Mother’s Day comes at a price.

My first five years or so of being a mom, Mother’s Day was breakfast in bed and sweet homemade cards. Once we began our journey of fostering and adopting, Mother’s Day changed. There was still the dog-pile of little ones jumping on my bed too early in the morning to wish me a “happy ‘movvers’ day” and gifts of macaroni necklaces or handprint art. But the holiday became significant in other ways as I considered the birth parents of my children and as I came to fully realize what a tremendous privilege it is to be a mom.

After our first three adoptions, Mother’s Day was a day that in my heart and in my words, I shared with other moms as I acknowledged the significance birth moms (though I just refer to them as moms) held for my kids and even for me. Were it not for them, my kids would not have life and I would not have the gift of loving them.

And then came our last adoption of two siblings who had a complicated history and who both suffered from Reactive Attachment Disorder and early childhood trauma

Mother’s Day was no longer breakfast in bed and sloppy kisses. It was walking on eggshells and dodging the most hurtful words imaginable. It was having gifts broken and plans foiled. It was hours-long rages and buckets of tears. It was spite and venom. It was love rejected. It was dreams dashed. It was spending the day away from my kids rather than with them. It was questioning my abilities and worth as a mom.

If you are that mom whose child sabotages Mother’s Day, this is what I want you to know:

  1. It is not you they are rejecting. You are not the one who caused the trauma or inflicted the hurt. You represent the possibility of more pain if they risk loving fiercely again. It is that pain they are rejecting, not you.
  2. You love them well. If you didn’t love them so well, you wouldn’t be perceived as such a threat. In a way, their rejection is a reflection of just how effective your love is. Good job momma!
  3. You did not cause this. I’m so sorry that you have to bear the brunt of it.
  4. It’s okay for you to take a day to yourself. 364 days of the year, you give all that you have and then more than you have to give to this child. You deserve one day.
  5. I know that in an ideal world, you would want to be spending Mother’s Day with your children, but if you are parenting a child whose past causes them to sabotage this day for you, plan to be away for the day. Taking care of yourself doesn’t make you less of a mom.
  6. Stay off Facebook on Mother’s Day. Trust me on this one. You can thank me later.
  7. You are doing an amazing job. Parenting is never easy but parenting a child with trauma is hard, hard, hard and you are doing it. You need to give yourself more credit. You rock!
  8. Remember that their hurt comes from a place that is very real. This day is likely even harder for them than they are making it on you.
  9. It’s okay to acknowledge the pain that this causes you. You don’t deserve this and frankly, neither does your child.
  10.  You are not alone. There are other moms crying in their bathrooms at the same time you are.

What Mother’s Day looks like now in our house:

For a few years, we tried to continue our usual Mother’s Day traditions. It was just too painful and hard, not just for me but for my kids, both the ones suffering from RAD and for the others. For a few years after that, my husband would take the kids out for the day and I would spend the day alone which was better and not quite as triggering for our kids, but still left me feeling quite sad.

Then, I decided to make Mother’s Day more focused on others. I began making a nice brunch for my mom and my mother-in-law and keeping the focus on them, making it more of a grandmas’ day. This helped my kids somewhat. They were still triggered, but not to the same extent. I have since continued that tradition and added reaching out to a single mom each year and inviting them and their kids to the brunch. I find that by keeping the day focused on others, I don’t fall into the trap of feeling sorry for myself as easily. I do still feel nervous leading up to Mother’s Day and I have to work hard at not comparing mine to others (see #6 on the list), but the sting isn’t as strong as it once was.

P.S. If you want to be able to celebrate a Mother’s Day, make a secret one another day. Ask your spouse or a close friend to create your own special day midweek. Just be sure not to tell your child about it.

Join me for a free 5 part email series, Little Hearts, Big Worries offering resources and hope for parents.

What I Wish You Knew About being a parent to a child who has RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder)What I Wish You Knew About Parenting a Child with RAD

Recognizing the Signs of Reactive Attachment DisorderRecognizing the Signs of Reactive Attachment Disorder