This week I was asked to give my opinion on a dilemma discussed on our local radio show BBC WM. Whilst I don’t like to make judgements on other peoples lives I have thought a lot since about this particular dilemma and how the essence of it impacts most adopters I know.
The basic outline of this couples dilemma was this – they had adopted a boy about three years ago I think and it had put a strain on their relationship as a result. The man in the relationship said how the woman devoted her time and energy to the child and as a result he had an affair. They since worked through that and seemed to be in a better place. The wife now wants to adopt again and the husband doesn’t as he is frightened of the same thing happening, in terms of the stress and strain on the marriage.
There was a torrent of opinion on this dilemma, as you can image, from people on both sides of this argument – some saying the husband was in the wrong and others saying the wife was in the wrong. I was asked to comment as an adopter. Many of the other people who were commenting, whilst I’m sure they can understand the pressures any kind of parenting can have on a relationship, very few of the people passing judgement on this family were adopters and in a position to identify with some of the issues concerned. And I must point out every family is different – I certainly don’t have the answers or the monopoly on this kind of subject – but I do have my own personal feelings and can identify with the complex issues involved.
So for any of you out there thinking about adopting – especially couples – here’s my observations and experiences. Also for those with children placed who can identify with this – please know you are not alone – there is help out there – with no judgement and no condemnation.
- Start healthy patterns and habits now. It’s easy to say “we’ll make time for each other once the child arrives, we’ll make sure we spend time together and focus on our relationship too”. I’d encourage you to do that NOW. If you are waiting for a child to be placed then start building in habits that will keep your relationship a priority. Establish a date night. Line up a babysitter for that night each week or every other week. When you’re tired now and don’t want to go out – go out anyway. I can guarantee once the child comes if you don’t have healthily habits set up it will be so much more difficult to set them in place later.
- Be honest and real with each other. I know you probably try to do this now but it will be so much more important later on. If you have doubts about any aspects of adoption talk about it now so there are fewer surprises.
- Find a trusted friend to be accountable to. If you have someone you can talk to now then cultivate that relationship to be one where you can be truly transparent and get them to make you accountable. It’s easier sometimes to talk to a best friend then to your partner, but they can help you stay on the right track and hopefully encourage you in the right direction when things get difficult. If you don’t have such a person now then find one.
- Commit to see the best in each other. You may feel your relationship is rock solid now and that’s great, however children who’ve experienced early trauma have a way of splitting adults. Due to their lack of trust and insecurities they may very well be different with one parent than the other and this can make things difficult between couples. Notice that and commit to give your partner the benefit of the doubt.
- First sign of trouble get help. If you sense things are starting to become difficult in your relationship seek help. Very early in our relationship we had a few sessions with the counselling service called RELATE and it really helped us. This was even before we had our children and since they have arrived I certainly have had counsel from many wise people who have helped me keep things in perspective when needed. There is no shame in asking for help.
One thing I have found that seems to be quite common for us adopters is guilt. The adoption process can be such an arduous one that once we have a child placed with us any feelings of anything but gratitude can leave us with strong feelings of guilt – “how can we find it difficult when we wanted this so much?” “how can we be resenting the love or affection our partner has for this child when we know their background?” “why can we not just get over ourselves and have the empathy and compassion needed to raise a vulnerable child?” – very difficult questions and ones we may have to wrestle with daily sometimes.
Know that you are now alone – the dilemma couple local to me whose story was heard on the radio, others like them and sometimes my own experience – there are many of us who know all too well the light and dark shades of adoption. As with anything worthwhile in life there always seems to be a positive and negative side – that’s just life. I hope this helps you in your journey and my heart goes out to that couple in their dilemma.