Guest 1: Samantha Feuss, adoptive mother of two.
Topic: When adoption doesn’t work out.
Issues: The risks of international adoptions; what agencies don’t tell you about your adopted child’s background, age, and more; worries about being judged if an adoption goes bad; finding support from other parents and social workers who understand what it’s like.
Dear Mr. Dad: When I married my husband, my biological son was 5. My husband adopted him two years later. My husband is financially and spiritually supportive, but he doesn’t seem interested in playing or doing “dad” type stuff with our son. I would love for him to initiate catch, going to batting cages, or anything family oriented, but he doesn’t. I’m starting to resent that all he wants to do is work on the house on weekends. Help me understand him.
A: There are all sorts of reasons that could explain your husband’s behavior. When he became part of your son’s life, he had already “missed” five years, along with the familiarity, confidence, and competence that comes from being there from the very beginning. As a result, he may simply not know what to do with the boy. This is especially true if he was an only child or had little or no experience with young kids.
Dear Mr. Dad: My daughter is 19 and has been in rehab three times. When she was five, her mother died and my daughter was placed in foster care because I wasn’t mentally stable enough to care for her. She was then adopted by her foster parents, but they divorced. Now I’ve got my life together and she’s coming back to live with me. How do we re-establish trust and rebuild our relationship after all these years? I’m scared and don’t know what to do.
A: Wow, what a difficult situation for both of you. But most of all for your daughter. She lost her mom at a young age and has been shuttled around between different homes and families ever since. You don’t say what kind of addiction issues she had that landed her in rehab so many times, but it’s pretty safe to assume that it has something to do with her unstable life. You also don’t mention whether the two of you had any contact at all over the past 14 years, or whether you’ll be building your father-daughter relationship completely from scratch.
Dear Mr. Dad: My spouse and I adopted a 14-month-old baby boy. What can I do as a working father to build and cement a strong bond, since we have missed the early stages?
A: The best thing you can do now is read everything you can about child development. You need to know what’s been going on so far, what’s reasonable to expect from a 14-month old, and what’s not. (My book, Fathering Your Toddler, is a good place to start.) Don’t put a lot of pressure on yourself to “make up for lost time.” You can’t. But you can—and should—focus on the future.
It’s also very important that you not set your expectations too high. It’s tempting to get the baby’s room all set up, and to imagine that you and your spouse will be able to start providing your child with a wonderful life (especially if he came from a less-than-wonderful environment). And, of course, it’s natural to imagine that you’ll fall immediately in love with the baby and that he’ll fall in love with you. It’s extremely unlikely that will happen. So give yourselves plenty of time to get used to each other and your new situation.
Don’t forget to pay special attention to your relationship with your wife. Having a new baby can take a real toll. You’re going to need plenty of time alone–individually and as a couple (away from the baby).
Finally, I’m sure you’re already in contact with adoption support groups. If not, though, there are some great resources for adoptive parents at Adoption Connection (adoptionconnection.org) and Adoption.org (adoption.org/)
Dear Mr. Dad: My wife and I have been trying for years to have a child of our own. We’re now considering adoption. But there’s so much to think about: Should we take in a foster child first, just to see how things go? Can we trust the State adoption agency? Will we be able to afford all the associated expenses? What if we discover months or years later, that there’s something seriously wrong with the child?
A: What great questions. Adoption certainly isn’t for everyone, and the decision to adopt isn’t one to take lightly. The risks are real: you hear nightmarish, heartbreaking stories everywhere. Many prospective adoptive parents go through the training that’s required by certain adoption agencies and drop out, realizing that it might not be for them. But there are plenty of successes out there too.