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Adoption Chat: “Support in the Wait” for Prospective Adoptive Parents

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Adoption Chat: “Support in the Wait” for Prospective Adoptive Parents

The adoption corner of the internet can be a fiery place. Much of the indignation is rightly stoked; the history of adoption in the United States shows that birth families and adoptees have not always been treated with respect. In modern, open adoption (which you can read more about here in one of our previous articles), professionals seek to better serve the entire adoption triad and learn from history’s mistakes.

As necessary changes are made to adoption policy, it is easy to make large generalizations about how we got here and paint the adoptive parent as the big, evil archetype in adoption history. And this, while in some instances it is deserved, is not always fair to the group as a whole.

Adoption is hard. It begins with loss and is steeped in trauma from the get-go. I am thankful that individuals with adoption hurts have spaces where they can discuss their stories with openness and vulnerability.

But the longer I observe the adoption world online, the more I become concerned for the emotional well-being of the men and women who are what we call prospective adoptive parents (see our list of Terms to Know at the end of this article).

We could write books upon books (on top of the ones that already exist on the topic) about what a prospective adoptive parent must understand about adoption, trauma, loss, parenting, transracial families, and the importance of openness.

These things are all major aspects of adoption education, and I do not suggest that a prospective adoptive parent take any of these topics lightly.

But I also think that the wildly disparaging narratives about adoptive parents can start to demean the conscientious men and women who are doing this difficult work of learning and preparing with all that they have.

It can be discouraging for a person to feel as if they have failed before even beginning. I believe that active support for prospective adoptive parents during the “waiting” phase of an adoption journey can provide positive outcomes for the entire triad.


Let’s consider for a moment the host of differences between the typical waiting period to birth a child (aka, pregnancy), and the wait to become a parent through adoption. Some of these differences exist because they include good and very necessary steps to prepare parents for the adoption journey. Yet, these differences still come with their own set of normal emotional responses.

As a prospective adoptive parent:

1. The timetable of your “wait” is completely uncertain (as opposed to an expectation of 9 months of pregnancy).

2. You have little control over the health and well-being of your prospective future child in utero

3. You are not yet considered a parent. Prospective adoptive parents is not only a cumbersome title, but a very inconclusive one.

4. You are not able to bond with your child yet.

5. Even if you have been matched with birth parents, you may feel very unsteady regarding your current role

6. You are being required by an agency to learn aspects of parenting that you may not have previously known existed, such as the effect of trauma on behavior, or the complexities of existing as a transracial adoptive family. While it is super helpful education, you cannot help but think about how little “training” your friend who is growing a family by pregnancy is required to do.

7. Your life has been cracked open and peered upon by strangers who are deciding if you are fit for this journey. It feels raw.

I have never met an adoptive parent who did not wholeheartedly agree that these experiences were worth it in the grand scheme of things. And yet that does not negate the host of emotions and experiences that the waiting period can bring.

Waiting is often an emotional roller coaster.

There is an unending list of logical things to do during the waiting period, including organizing a nursery and pursuing more specific education about adoption (And if you only do one of these things, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE do the latter).

But oftentimes it is more difficult to focus on the heart and soul work of parenting. I hope that these suggestions spur you to delve into some internal places of healing and growth while you wait.

How to Mentally and Emotionally “Wait Well” for Prospective Adoptive Parents

1. Utilize available counseling services. Not sure what to talk about in counseling? First, discuss your own attachment style and how this may impact parenting and/or the marriage relationship.

Here are some other helpful questions posed by Christa Jordan, adoptive mother and author of the book, Before You Adopt: A Guide to the Questions You Should be Asking :

– What are some areas of your life you are feeling unsatisfied or lacking?

– Are there unresolved issues/pain from past relationships and/or infertility issues that need to be addressed?

– What are your fears/ hesitations/ “worst case scenarios” that you have about adoption or foster care?

– Do you feel any shame in growing your family through adoption?

2. Find people who have been in this season before. Find people who are currently in this season. Ask them all the things. Babysit their kids.

3. Read or listen to some parenting books both from both an adoptive perspective and a general perspective.

4. Cultivate your faith. Also, consider how your faith informs your vision of yourself as an adoptive parent. One book that we recommend is It Takes More than Love: A Christian Guide to Navigating the Complexities of Cross-Cultural Adoption by Brittany Salmon.

5. Allow yourself to grieve the fact that the adoption journey brings challenges. Allowing yourself this space to grieve is not only okay, but vital. Growing your family through adoption means that you will probably feel sad about missing out on aspects of growing a family through birth. You are not a terrible person for feeling that sadness. Experience it. Process it. But don’t dwell there forever. We would rather you process these feelings now than allow them to later impede healthy parenting.

6. Listen to adoptee voices. A DFW local writer, adoptee, and adoption professional Elena Hall is a fantastic resource to begin this endeavor. Her works include Through Adopted Eyes and Adoption is Both

7. Turn down the noise on social media

8. Spend quality time with your spouse. And then spend even more quality time with your spouse.

9. Talk to your spouse about your expectations for discipline.

10. Spend time intentionally praying for your child, your child’s birth family, and your own potential future as parents.

Now, a Personal Note.

As a new maternity caseworker a few years ago, I was actually quite intimidated by the prospective adoptive parents at our agency.

These are couples who just generally seem to have their lives together, I thought. I mean, sheer management of the massive stacks of paperwork that one must scale before even making it to a home study is wildly overwhelming. These were real adults. I felt so small.

It was not long before I learned that the internal world of a prospective adoptive parent is not all confidence and perfection, even if their profile books appear to be so. There are often feelings of doubt, worry, lack of self-confidence, pain, fear, bewilderment, and even shame.

Entering into the world of adoption is not for the faint of heart. But these parents-to-be are willingly facing potential emotional upheaval head-on.

To any Prospective Adoptive Parents out there, I want you to know that we care about you and we want you to be successful in parenting well. You are not just a scapegoat for the adoption community, but an avenue for someone to experience love and attachment following the most incredibly treacherous loss.

Even silly, intimidated maternity caseworkers like me are here to support you. Thank you for the heart and soul that you pour into loving others well.

Terms to know:

Prospective/ Hopeful Adoptive Parent(s): A person who is somewhere in the process of becoming an adoptive parent.

Waiting parent(s): A person or family who has been approved by an agency and is waiting for a placement.

Waiting period: The time that a person or family is waiting has been approved with an agency and is waiting on an adoptive placement

Adoption Triad: the triangular representation of an adoptee’s relationship to his or her birth and adoptive family, with the adoptee at the top and the birth and adoptive families as the bottom foundational corners. Together, all three parties make up a triad.

Birth Mother: A mother who has placed a child for adoption and relinquished legal rights to parent that child.

Expectant Mother: A woman who is pregnant. Even if she is currently making an adoption plan, she is never called a birth mother until she has relinquished her parental rights. This distinction is made to honor a mother’s agency to choose to parent her child at any point prior to signing relinquishment.

Birth Family: Other biological family members of an adoptee

Adoptive Family: A couple or family who has legally adopted a child.


It Takes more than Love: A Christian Guide to Navigating the Complexities of Cross-Cultural Adoption by Brittany Salmon.

Before You Adopt: A Guide To The Questions You Should Be Asking by Jonathan and Krista Jordan

Adoption is Both by Elena S. Hall

Through Adopted Eyes by Elena S. Hall

Note: There are so very many educational resources for Prospective Adoptive Parents. Make sure to follow @adoptionworkscw to stay up to date on recommended resources that our team suggests