Embarking on an adoption journey is daunting. You are opening your life and home and heart to a stranger and choosing to love someone you know little about. It’s a decision we know you don’t take lightly. We also know it comes with its share of challenges. Choosing to adopt as a single parent adds another layer of complexity to the equation. You may have questions racing through your mind like, “Can I do this on my own?” “Will I be able to handle a child’s schedule and needs on my own?” “Who will help support me?” The good news is that, of course, you are not alone – lots of people adopt as single parents! There are plenty of resources and supports available for single parents – it may just take a little bit of time to find them. (But they’re out there, we promise!)
We asked some single adoptive parents for their advice and perspective on the process — what would they do differently? What was the thing they were most surprised by? What would they suggest other single people do as they prepare? We found their answers encouraging, and pretty accurate to real life — and they had so much good stuff to say that we might just have to turn this one blog into a series! (But for now, we’re sticking with one.)
The single adoptive parents we talked with reminded us that it’s important to keep in mind that any parenting endeavor is going to have challenges. Whether your family is comprised of biological children, adopted children, or a combination of both — there will always be unknowns. And at least with adoption, you get some training! Most families with just biological children can’t say that — they just had to learn by doing! It’s natural to feel overwhelmed at the idea of parenting by yourself – but reminding yourself that everyone is in the same boat, whether they’re partnered or not, may help make the journey a bit easier.
If you’re the kind of person who puts a lot of pressure on yourself to know the right thing to do all the time, or to make sure you’ve considered all scenarios before making a decision — well, single parenting may feel like more of a weight than if you were more of a happy-go-lucky, we’ll-figure-it-out type of person. You will have to accept that there’s a lot you won’t know as an adoptive parent, and yes, there will be some pressure as the sole decision maker. But, listen to the inner voice that reminds you to trust yourself. You chose this path for a reason, and you’ll be able to navigate it. Give yourself room to make mistakes, because yes, there will be mistakes. Lean on those around you as much as you can, and learn from those who have made mistakes and gleaned important lessons from them.
You’ve likely heard a lot in your adoption training about the circle of support, and making certain that you have a strong support network around you. The single adoptive parents we talked with couldn’t stress the importance of this enough. You will need people who can rally around you and help you through the process — and you’ll need people who aren’t just there when it’s easy. You’ll need your villagers — and you may need more of them than other parents do, but that’s okay. Every family is different in what they need. Having too much support when you’re just embarking on adopting? There’s no such thing.
Maybe you have a family member who’s willing to babysit when you need a night off. Maybe you’ve got a good friend who is your cheerleader, always in your corner, and able to look you in the eyes and remind you that you can do this. But, your support network may include people that surprise you. One of the parents we talked with shared how her circle of support included the biological parents of her former foster children! She’d maintained a good relationship with one biological mom in particular, and her former foster child was about the same age as her adopted child — so in addition to being able to plan play dates, the moms were comfortable with each other (after all, they’d co-parented before), and the single adoptive mom didn’t feel like she was being scrutinized or judged for her child’s behaviors. The mom of her former foster child understood that children who have had tough early childhoods sometimes behave differently, and just knowing that was a tremendous source of support and relief to the single adoptive mom!
One thing you should be prepared for, though, is that sometimes the people who would be able to step up and help aren’t able to. It’s not that they don’t want to, or that they don’t love you or your adopted child — but it could be that those people who are supportive in other circumstances just aren’t able to understand the nuances of raising a child with a hard background.
Another adoptive parent we talked with reminded us of the need for the adoptive family to have a very deep, solid understanding of trauma and how the brain works. You may encounter behaviors that seem alarming, but with the right trauma-informed understanding, you can identify where those behaviors are coming from. For instance, maybe your child hoards food in their bedroom and constantly lies about it – even in the face of evidence, like open wrappers, empty containers, etc. The hoarding may be concerning to you, and the lying as well. “Why would you lie if there’s obvious evidence to the contrary?” “Why not just acknowledge it?” you may be thinking. However, if you step back and look at the child’s history, it may be that they didn’t have enough food as a young child, and so hoarding it in their room was something they had to do to make sure they’d have enough to eat the next day, and the next. The lying may be an impulse deeply rooted in their history as well – in the child’s mind (and they may not even know this is happening), if someone in authority confronts them on a behavior, the best approach to avoid punishment is to lie. It may not make sense in every situation, but that may be how their brain instinctively responds. Think of your trauma-informed parenting training as a path to the growth and connection your child so desperately craves. Also, try to understand that this is a lifelong journey. You will see beautiful breakthroughs, just as you will see new behaviors and challenges show up at different phases of life. Equipping yourself with knowledge is vital, since, when you know better, you can do better.
Last but absolutely not least, show yourself some grace. You’ve chosen to embark on a rewarding yet very difficult journey and you’ve made the brave choice to do it alone. There will be missteps and hard days, but there will also be lots of lovely little connections and growth steps that you didn’t expect. You will get to watch your child grow emotionally stronger, your connection as parent and child will deepen — and ultimately, you’ll send them out into the world equipped with the deeply rooted knowledge that they will always have you in their corner, and that your home will always be theirs.