Checking Your Expectations, Part 1
Remember the best-selling book, “What to Expect When You’re Expecting”? It was hugely popular because of a simple truth: When you’re embarking on a new and life-changing experience–such as adding a child to your family–knowing what to expect is crucial and comforting. We all have hopes and dreams about our families: the things we’ll do together, what our kids will look like, what they might achieve, how our lives will unfold. Having realistic expectations is one of the most effective predictors of success as a foster-adoptive parent. Sierra Forever Families provides orientations and training to prospective parents with this in mind.
But training is a two-way street. Even if your trainer spends several hours exploring the joys and challenges of raising a traumatized child, the most attentive listener will understand and interpret that information through his or her personal filter of beliefs and biases. As the writer Anais Nin said: “We don’t see things as they are; we see them as we are.”
This feature of human nature almost guarantees that your adoption experience will not match perfectly with your vision of it. When our experience doesn’t jibe with our expectations, the result can be disappointment and even despair. From the very start, the process of a successful foster-adoption is one of identifying and managing expectations.
Author Jayne Schooler has identified 10 expectations of foster-adoption commonly held by prospective adoptive parents:
- Our love will be enough.
- We will feel love and connection to this child quickly.
- This child will step into our family and easily learn how to function within our rules, goals and ambitions.
- This child’s needs will be just like those of our biological children.
- Our biological children will embrace this new child as a sibling.
- Our child will fit well into our extended family and be welcomed by them.
- My friends and acquaintances will validate our role as parent in our child’s life and support us through the adoption process and beyond.
- Our child will see us as his or her family and forget about his or her birth family and her past.
- We can do for this child what was not done for us, or we will not do to this child what was done to us.
- I will never feel any regrets or ambivalence about adopting this child.
Holding some or all of these expectations is a perfectly normal part of foster-adoption! Such expectations emerge from the loving hearts of people who want nothing more than to create a family and help a child have a stable life. But when reality hits, holding onto them too tightly can bring disappointment and discouragement.
In an upcoming post, we’ll explore practical, successful ways families can manage their expectations to make foster-adoption and parenting a joy-filled experience for them and their children. Many of these methods can be found in the book “Wounded Children, Healing Homes” (Jayne E. Schooler, Betsy Keefer Smalley and Timothy J. Callahan), a spectacular resource for foster-adoptive parents.