When considering adoption, parents generally take time to consider whether they meet certain qualifications, like age requirements or length of marriage, to adopt from a particular country. For example, to adopt from Ukraine, couples must be married and both must be at least 25 years old. But to adopt from Burkina Faso, couples must be married for at least five years or more, and one spouse must be at least 30 years old, and neither spouse can be over the age of 53. Qualifications to adopt domestically or from foster care may vary by state or agency. But in addition to meeting requirements to adopt from different programs, parents should also look at their own qualities to see if they have what it takes to be a successful adoptive parent. Adoptive parenting isn’t for everyone! While there isn’t a special formula to determine if someone will be a good adoptive parent, it is helpful to have many of the following qualities:
- Good Support System – Adoptive parents rely on a community of people around them to support them, provide assistance or respite when needed, or just offer a listening ear when things get tough. Parents should be willing to ask for help from their support system when and if needed. A good support system includes both friends and family members who can drop what they’re doing and lend a helping hand at a moment’s notice. In case of an emergency, who will be there to help?
- Committed and ready – In a home study for an international adoption, USCIS requires that parents are “prepared, willing, and able” to meet their adopted child’s needs. There are many ways to be “ready” for adoption, such as being financially secure, having a safe environment in which to raise a child, having a good support network, and being physically and emotionally stable. Any personal issues should be processed and dealt with prior to adopting. Adoptive parents cannot help a child process his or her issues if they haven’t already dealt with their own.
- Educable – Anyone considering adoption does not need to have all of the answers already, but they do need to be willing to learn, and keep learning, what it takes to be an adoptive parent. Every child is different, and requires parenting specifically tailored to them; it’s important to be open to learning new strategies and making adjustments for your child as needed.
- Sense of Humor – Having the ability to laugh off everyday events will help keep adoptive parents sane. Having a good sense of humor is the only way to deal with the many absurdities in adoptive parenting, such as the myriad of nonsense questions, frequent reminders, outrageous conversations, and incessant chatter. Children who join their family through adoption bring their own challenges, and parents will need to be able to look back and laugh at situations, such as the time their child poured lotion all over the floor, took a bath in leggings, or flushed a hand towel down the toilet.
- Accepting, understanding, tolerant and flexible – Parents will need to be able to accept each child as they are, and understand that they have experienced trauma and will need time and flexibility in order to heal. Adoptive parents should be able to compromise, share control, not hold grudges, and “roll with the punches,” figuratively and literally. It is important to be able to start each moment/day over anew and give second, third, or even a never-ending amount of chances/do-overs.
- Good communicator – Children pick up on behaviors, attitudes, values, and knowledge through observing their parent’s communication. Parents need to be able to effectively communicate with their children. Having good communication with children requires parents to actively listen, maintain good eye contact, get down on their child’s level and respond calmly and empathetically. Parents who engage with their children and listen to their concerns and ideas are communicating that their child is an important and valued member of the family.
- Patient – Changes in children’s behavior- especially children from hard places- do not happen overnight, and adoptive parents will need to be patient and allow for many re-dos. Parents should not take setbacks in their child’s behavior personally; be patient and keep at it! It will take time for a child to feel safe in their environment and trust their parents. For many children, this process can take months, but for others it may take years. At times it may feel like talking to a brick wall, so patience is a must!
- Consistent – Maintaining consistency and stability will help a child feel safe and secure in a home. Having a consistent routine will also comfort a child, because they will know what to expect. Make sure that parenting techniques and discipline strategies are implemented consistently in order to help gain a child’s trust.
- Secure Attachment – Attachment is a definitely a buzzword in the adoption community. Attachment is the “strong feeling of affection or loyalty” between a child and their parents. Attachment occurs when a child trusts that their needs will be met by their parents and feels safe in their family. Many times, problems in adoption attachment are rooted in the parent’s attachment style and the ability to attach to their child, so it is important for parents to have a secure attachment in order to promote attachment with a child whose past relationships have been disrupted, and who may not have experienced attachment in relationships in the past.
- Advocate – Adoptive parents will need to have a genuine concern for children from hard places, and the ability to put their children’s needs first and advocate for them. Advocating may require obtaining evaluations, seeking medical assistance, attending therapy sessions, and educating others about adoption and trauma. This may also require working with the school system to obtain an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or any appropriate supports in the classroom that may be necessary.
Adoptive parents who possess these qualities are more likely to be successful adoptive parents. However, not having every single quality listed above doesn’t mean that adoptive parenting isn’t possible, but rather that those are areas to work on improving. The adoption process can be lengthy, so take that time to work on education and self-improvement to be the best adoptive parent possible!