Resilience in Adoption

hands and puzzle pieces

The words resilience and adoption go hand in hand. Each person in the adoption triad: birth parent, adoptive parent, and child, need resilience because adoption by its nature involves the experience of profound loss. Resilience also allows people to experience healing and profound peace, joy and love.

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), “resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity . . . .” and, surprising to many, “research has shown that resilience is ordinary, not extraordinary.” Resilience does not mean the absence of distress or sadness, and usually the road to resilience takes time and involves an emotional journey.

We all know people who have come back from difficulty or loss, and while some people may seem to be more resilient than others, anyone can develop resilience through a variety of strategies including observing, identifying and managing strong feelings, having a positive view of ourselves and our strengths and capacity to solve our own problems, and making realistic plans and communicating well (APA).

The good news is that “resilience is not a trait that people either have or do not have. It involves behaviors, thoughts and actions that can be learned and developed in anyone” (APA). When individuals seek help from friends, counselors, family, or support groups, they are taking positive steps toward resilience. Life is full of changes and challenges. Resilient people accept these as facts, remain hopeful and take care of themselves while putting plans into place that meet their goals for themselves and those they love.

First parents who make the decision to place their child with an adoptive family do so because they feel it is best for themselves and for their child. This can be a gut-wrenching process, and when the decision is made and the legal paperwork is signed, grief and loss are normal and completely understandable. Pre-placement, prospective birth parents nurture resilience by allowing themselves to feel all the emotions that accompany the decision they are contemplating, making sure that the decision is right for them, communicating how they would like the plan to unfold through time, and seeking support to move forward with their lives after placement. Post-placement resilience comes from self-care, moving forward with daily life and future plans, and communicating when support is needed. Grief does not always move in a straight line, so planning for emotions to come and go over time during healing is a practice of resilience.

Adoptive parents may have come to adoption after adversity of infertility and loss. They may need to grieve the loss of the biological child(ren) that they will not parent. They may need to weather difficult storms while they wait for a child to be placed with them. They may have to accept a loss of control over their lives. Adoptive parents also deeply feel the profound loss experienced by their child’s birth parents and sometimes by their child. Resilience for adoptive parents means a continual refocusing on the goal of healthy parenting and placing the child’s well-being over their own. Resilience for adoptive parents is fostered in the recognition of their strength and all they have to give to a child. Prospective adoptive parents are most resilient when they focus on the future with optimism and joy for all they visualize will come in the future. Adoptive parents, as all parents including birth parents, must be resilient for the sake of their child(ren).

Children are remarkably resilient. Children who are adopted journey through life as they come to understand why and how they began with one family and grew up with another. In open adoptions, resilience can be cultivated by both birth and adoptive parents. After all, in an ideal world, can a child have too much love? In less open adoptions, children can develop resilience through support and good, age-appropriate communication to develop a strong sense of self and an experience of love from both biological and adoptive families. Even in relatively closed adoptions, the spirit of openness and resilience can be intentionally nurtured.

A lifelong adoption agency like Friends in Adoption can be a great scaffold for resilience for every person in the adoption triad. As the passage below illustrates, life is full of changes and the need for resilience may be greater at certain points along life’s path than at others. Sometimes people may need to “phone a friend” for help with managing strong emotions or for getting ideas on how to solve a problem. Friends in Adoption is available post-placement as a community resource, whether that takes the form of an ear to listen or a referral to further support services. And, in the process, people are often reminded that they have the strength and skills and strategies to be or become resilient! Resilience is something we can all develop and do for ourselves as well!

“Think of resilience as similar to taking a raft trip down a river. On a river, you may encounter rapids, turns, slow water and shallows. As in life, the changes you experience affect you differently along the way.

In traveling the river, it helps to have knowledge about it and past experience in dealing with it. Your journey should be guided by a plan, a strategy that you consider likely to work well for you.

Persevere and trust in your ability to work your way around boulders and other obstacles are important. You can gain courage and insight by successfully navigating your way through white water. Trusted companions who accompany you on the journey can be especially helpful for dealing with rapids, upstream currents and other difficult stretches of the river.

You can climb out to rest alongside the river. But to get to the end of your journey, you need to get back in the raft and continue.” – American Psychological Association (APA)

For more information on the topic of resilience, visit source (APA):

—— Nan Pasquarello

Friends in Adoption Alumna