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Adoptive Parent Shame

Written by Ryan Fontaine, CCAI’s Florida director and licensed mental health counselor

Although rewarding and often filled with moments of joy, adoption is not without difficulty. A common concern we hear when we speak with families is feeling a lack of connection with their adopted child compared to the bond with their other children, adopted or biological. However, while many parents feel this sense of disconnection, it is often not discussed. This likely stems from several different places, including difficulty confronting such a reality – verbalizing it might feel like failing and bring up feelings of guilt or shame. Adoptive parent shame over not connecting with your child is not unusual. Therefore, it is crucial to normalize such emotions as a normative part of the adoption process, recognizing that the lack of connection may wax and wane over time and does not imply defeat as an adoptive parent.

When we consider our relationships with others in our lives, it is generally easy to identify with whom we feel strongly connected, likely our partners, best friends, and close family members. Additionally, we know with whom we do not prefer to spend time, with whom we feel less close, and what qualities we do not appreciate in others. For most, thinking about this will not bring up negative emotions. We know we cannot expect to like everyone or for everyone to like us. With our children, there is an unspoken expectation that we should like them despite behaviors or qualities we may not enjoy.

Children are different

Children are different. We love them differently than other people, but the relationship is impacted in the same ways – off-putting behaviors disrupt connections. When we add behavioral concerns into the relationship, it can make things feel more complex. You might find that you spend so much time managing behavior that you have less time for the more rewarding aspects of parenting that help build strong bonds. It is entirely realistic to struggle with enjoying one of your children at any given moment or even for chunks of time, and this does not lessen our commitment to them or our love for them.

It is important to remember that just as our relationship with ANYONE we spend time with is different, so is our relationship with our children. The activities we enjoy with one child may differ from what brings about a connection with another. Some children thrive on a physical connection (the child likes to snuggle and read with you), while other relationships are built on quality time and activities (it is the most fun to play sports with this child). Just as each child is different, each relationship SHOULD have its qualities and specialness, and we can strengthen relationships by honoring those differences.

Identify your feelings

Before working on relationships with our children, we must work on our feelings about our journey as a parent. Often, the difficulties we experience with a child trigger something within us that requires processing. It can be helpful to spend some time considering WHY you are less connected with this child, asking questions such as:

Why am I bothered explicitly by this child or their behavior?
Do other people feel similarly about this child, or does the difficulty lie with me?
What does this child’s behavior bring up for me now?

After giving space to work through the WHY, we encourage you to reflect on what this child needs from a caregiver and identify if you can provide those things. It may be overwhelming to believe that you are not enough for this child, that they need something more or different than you can offer as a parent. However, adoptive parents are experts at supporting and connecting to resources, and identifying other ways for this child to get what they need may be what works best for both of you.

Try to be intentional with your child

Be intentional with the kids you have a hard time connecting with and drop adoptive parent shame

One way to navigate a lack of connection as a parent is to be very intentional about your time with any children with whom you feel a weaker bond. Make sure to carve out special time to spend with this child doing things that will be the least triggering of problematic behaviors so that the experience can be rewarding for you and the child. We recommend spending time on your own reflecting on what all your children bring to the table. Expect this to be more difficult with the children who have more struggles – remember it is harder to see strengths when the maladaptive behaviors are so “in your face.” Then, work on finding ways to promote each child’s strengths. This exercise will benefit the child and may change your view of who the child is, positively impacting your relationship.

Remember that we may never feel the same bond with one child as with another, which is normal. Sometimes, giving a child a safe, loving home is the best we can offer because of their attachment difficulties. Still, it is crucial to demonstrate a commitment to their lives in whatever capacity makes the most sense for the child and your family.

Be honest

Finally, be honest with yourself about your feelings. Hiding from feelings causes a barrier to addressing those emotions. How we feel is a reality and nothing to be ashamed of. Adoptive parent shame and guilt are taught emotions versus innate emotions like happiness, sadness, or fear. In US cultures, we are raised to feel guilt and shame about many events, while in other cultures, those same experiences do not bring up these feelings.

Our family culture and societal messages help us learn these taught emotions. Therefore, if guilt and shame are taught emotions that come from family culture and societal messages, we have control over those feelings, even if those feelings feel out of control. We can change our internal learned scripts from “I feel bad about this” to “This is a feeling I have; I see it and accept it, and I am working to manage it.” We must be comfortable with our feelings before we try to improve relationships
with others.

The journey of adoption is multifaceted and boundless, so it’s important to drop the adoptive parent shame. Often when we feel like we have it “figured out,” we encounter a new hurdle to overcome. Both adoptive parents and their children are resilient and well equipped to manage all the challenges that influence our connection and bonding. On the worst days, promote safety, and surround each other with love on the best days. It may never be easy, but it will allow you and your child to grow!

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Colorado Expenses

ExpenseAmountPmt MethodPay ToDue
Application Fee$250Check/ACH WithdrawalCCAIApplication submission
Child Abuse Record Search$35/FamilyCheckCO Dept of Human ServiceApplication submission
IAAME Monitoring & Oversight Fee$500Check/ACH WithdrawalCCAI (Sent to IAAME)After App Approval
First Program Fee (Includes Home Study)$5,700Check/ACH WithdrawalCCAIAfter App Approval
CBI/FBI Fingerprint Search$39.50 per personMoney OrderColorado Bureau of InvestigationAfter App Approval
USCIS Filing & Fingerprinting$775 plus $85/adultCheck/Money OrderUS Dept. of Homeland SecurityUpon I-800A submission
Dossier PreparationApprox. $450-$900Check/Money OrderSecretary of State(s), Chinese Consulate(s)As preparing Dossier
Second Program Fee$5,050Check/ACH WithdrawalCCAIDossier Submission
CCCWA Fee$1,270Check/ACH WithdrawalCCCWA via CCAIDossier Submission
Third Program Fee$5,500Check/ACH WithdrawalCCAIPrior to receiving child match acceptance letter
CCCWA Post Adoption Translation Fee$300Check/ACH WithdrawalCCCWA via CCAIPrior to receiving child match acceptance letter
Court Validation Deposit$200CheckCCAIPrior to receiving child match acceptance letter
Post Adoption Deposit (Refundable)$450Check/ACH WithdrawalCCAIPrior to receiving child match acceptance letter
Visa to enter China$140 (plus courier fee)Check/Credit CardChinese Consulate via a courier/travel agencyApproximately one month before travel to China
US Domestic & International Airfare$1,000 – $2,000 per traveler (adopted child over 2 requires full ticket)Credit CardA travel agency/airline of your choice

Approximately 7-10 days prior to China departure

In China Travel & AccommodationsApprox. $4,000-$4,400 for two adultsACH WithdrawalCCAI (wired to China)Approximately 7-10 days prior to China departure
Adoption Registration and Notarization$800 – $1,000CashLocal government in ChinaIn China
Orphanage Donation(Voluntary)Cash or WireOrphanageIn China
Child’s Passport$100-$150CashLocal passport agencyIn China
Food$700 – $800 per coupleCash/Credit CardHotel(s), restaurant(s)In China
Child Physical & Photo$130-$150CashClinicIn Guangzhou, China
Child U.S. Entry Visa$325Cash or CheckU.S. ConsulateIn China
Court Validation Fee$167CheckCounty CourtAfter U.S. Return
Child’s Colorado Birth Certificate$37.75CheckColorado Vital Statistics OfficeAfter U.S. Return
Lutheran Family Services$250CheckLutheran Family Services via CCAIWhen Home Study is approved by CCAI