The adoption agency worker was on the phone, pleading with me. “Please, just meet this child. She would be perfect for your family and we really need to find someone for her.”
I glanced around. My oldest daughter was cradling our newly adopted baby boy with Down syndrome in her lap and laughing at a joke I hadn’t heard. My second oldest was overseeing her younger brothers as they made lunch.
Do we really have the space? The energy? I looked down at my very pregnant belly. Am I ready to take on another baby with Down syndrome as well as the baby on the way?
Because no matter what the social worker said, I knew what it meant if we were to “just meet” this baby girl. The kids would fall in love with her, my husband and I would fall in love with her. My husband would say it’s my decision. And the decision would already have been made in everyone’s mind…
This same scene happened again 1 year later…both times, I said yes.
Have you ever wondered what makes a person decide to adopt a special needs child? There are as many different reasons as there are parents of adopted special needs children. Each situation is unique. There are selfless reasons and selfish reasons. Good reasons and bad reasons.
Reasons born out of need—as in “I need to have a child of my own” or “That child needs a family”. And rosy, romantic sounding reasons- as in “We have so much love to give” or “I want my life to count for more”.
But almost universally, people who adopt special needs children have 2 things in common. 1. They are prepared to love fully and completely this child as their own. And 2. They enter into parenthood with blinders on.
And isn’t that how parenthood begins for all of us? Blinders on and a heart ready to love? There is much about parenthood that we cannot prepare for and must simply experience- even more so with special needs children.
But here are a few things I wish someone had mentioned to me as I considered adopting my three special needs children:
Specific Research: When adopting a child with special needs, do some research first. What are the common needs a child with this disability has? Might they have a secondary issue- i.e.- Down syndrome children often get early onset dementia, they can have physical problems requiring surgery, seizures, autism, etc. This does not mean the child you adopt will have any or all of these issues, but know that it is possible and think through how you would answer these issues with your time and resources.
Marriage Strain: If you are married, you MUST be on the same page when adopting. If you are a person who usually just goes along with your spouse and you have reservations, SPEAK UP! If you tend to railroad through your spouse’s objections, SLOW DOWN and LISTEN! Help your partner feel safe to speak their mind. This is a commitment for life. It is not a time for unvoiced reservations.
Make sure your marriage is in good shape. See a marriage counselor prior to adopting, and discuss not only the adoption, but money, discipline and how to resolve conflicts in a healthy manner. The bottom line is this- adoption will put stress on the relationship and if there are already cracks in the marriage they will be significantly bigger cracks once this lovely little person enters the picture. Be prepared!
Other Children: If, like me, you have other children in the home, consider how this change will affect them. There will, of course, be positive changes in their lives. Children who grow up with special needs siblings tend to be compassionate, patient, sacrificial caregivers. Pretty great traits, right?
But siblings of special needs children can also feel displaced, rejected, second to the “needy” sibling, and experience a loss of personhood. Keep close tabs on your children. Have one on one dates with them. Make it safe for them to express their feelings and don’t try to talk them out of their feelings. You will have days when you doubt you made the right decision. So will they. It’s ok for them to express that. Build positive family memories with your children- Game nights, reading aloud as a family, singing together, road trips. These kind of regular activities can go a long way for keeping your children- and your marriage- in a healthy place.
It is important to consider that your special needs child will likely outlive you. That means the care of their sibling with special needs will likely fall on your other children. You are choosing this lifetime responsibility for them. Be certain that is the right choice for your children. And be certain you have the resources to make that care possible- both financially and by having people in their lives who will support them.
Resources: Examine your resources. Do you have the finances to not only support this special child until they turn 18, but for their whole adult life as well? There are federal and state financial benefits that can help alleviate the strain, but what if those financial resources change in the future? The bulk of the cost will still fall on your family.
Be sure that you have a good support system in place. Do you have extended family? A church family? A solid friend base? Contact those people and explain the decision you are considering. Ask them if they would be willing to help support your family in this. Be as specific as possible as to what your need would look like. Having someone who commits to giving you a night out every 2 weeks or babysitting your special needs child once a month so you can take your other child out for a “Mom date” is an invaluable resource. Get people on board early and know who you can count on. Having solid support will make your decision so much easier.
Experience: Finally, experience what families with special needs are like. Connect with someone who has a special needs child and ask to come over and talk. There are special needs support groups in almost every community. Give one a call and ask for someone to talk to. If you have a friend with a special needs child, ask if you can babysit for them once a week. Doing that for a few months will really help you see whether this is a good fit for your family.
My children with special needs are a joy, and I can’t imagine our family without them. I highly recommend special needs adoption. But bringing them home to a stable environment means getting the facts and weighing them honestly.
Whether you choose to adopt, decide to wait, or decide it’s not the right fit for you, my heartfelt respect to anyone who considers adopting a special needs child. You’re my kind of people!