Transcript #56 – The Adoptive Mom
Today we talk to an expert on parenting adopted children. This podcast is not just for Dads who have been through adoption. Instead, we dive into topics that many Dads face, such as not being too hard on yourself, living your own best life for your family, and why you need to give yourself more grace.
You should find value in this episode, no matter your life’s path.
Highlights of our conversation include:
What happens when you don’t immediately fall in love with your child?
How to mentally adjust when your kids’ actions change your plans.
What is Reactive Attachment Disorder, and how can you minimize its impact on your parenting?
Why it’s important to give yourself more grace.
The trick with the mindset that tomorrow is going to be different. (Not necessarily better, but different.)
Like this episode? You can check out more of our Dad Podcasts.
Will Braunstein, A Dad’s Path: Hello and welcome to another episode of A Dad’s Path Podcast. I’m Will Braunstein. Today I’m here with Alex Fittin, the host of The Adoptive Mom Podcast. You can find Alex at www.theadoptivemompodcast.com or at Instagram@alexfittin. Welcome, Alex. We’re really excited to have you.
Alex Fittin. The Adoptive Mom: Hey, thanks, Will. I’m really excited to be here.
Will: Very cool. Before we dive in fully, we had a podcast that was really popular. It was called The Estranged Heart. It was about parents who are estranged from their adult kids, and most of the audience, our listeners, have younger kids at home. It’s not totally aligned with– you would think, but again, it was one of our most popular episodes. The reason when I talked to some people is, one, they wanted to avoid being estranged, but two, there were a lot of lessons to be learned in different situations.
Just because they’re not estranged and they’re in a different season in their life doesn’t mean that there weren’t things to learn. Likewise, here we are talking to an expert on adoption and parenting through adoption, we’ll say. While some of my listeners I know have adopted, there’s also a lot that haven’t, and I haven’t, for example, but this podcast is for both groups. I hope you’re going to find value no matter what path your life is on. That’s what I wanted to start with, and again, welcome Alex. Nice to have you.
Alex: Yay, thanks. I loved that intro. Everyone can be involved in parenthood no matter what that looks like, and we can all learn from each other.
Will: It’s amazing sometimes how the more different you can find these similarities, but with all that being said, I know about adoption obviously, I know what it is. Could you give me a quick synopsis of what an adoption looks like when you just say, “Hey, I want a six-year-old.” I’m sorry. I don’t mean to be tried about it, but you know what I mean? I’m just understanding what that looks like logistically to start, and I want to dive in on some of the emotional stuff too.
Alex: Sure. There are four main kinds of adoption. Three of those are probably a little bit more familiar to your audience or just whoever than others. You’re going to have international adoption, and that is where you are going to go through an adoption process. Usually, those adoption agencies have people in the states that work for them, or that can be their advocates to help do home studies for you to go through an interview process, and then you are going to go through–
We did not do international adoption, so I am nowhere near an expert on this, but I did interview a lot of people who did international adoption. I’ve learned a lot about it, but you’re going to look through dossiers, you’re going to be matched, people can wait a really short amount of time or a really long amount of time.
Usually, once you’re matched, you can actually legally adopt a child and then still not be able to bring them home yet, and so that process can look like a lot of different links just because of visas and paperwork and level of corruption in the country. It doesn’t matter. There are countries that do adopt to the United States and there are countries that do not, and that can vary and change, and each country has its own different laws.
There’s a lot of hoops to jump through with international adoption, but some people just really have a heart for that, which is amazing, and of course, there’s all kinds of ethical things to say about that, which we could go into if you wanted. Then there’s foster care adoption that is what we did personally. We adopted a baby through foster care and we also adopted a teenager through foster care. We’ve run the gamut there.
That is going to be where you train as a foster parent. You can either be an open foster home where you have kids that might reunify, which is always what you’re going to support. You’re going to support reunification or family placement priority every time, and then you can also be an adopt-only home through foster care, which is the route that we went.
We were only available to match with children who were post TPR, which is termination of parental rights. That was where they had already been in the system for a while the court or an advocate had already determined that it was not safe for them to return to their biological family, and that there was no family available to be placed either that they weren’t available, they didn’t exist, or that they weren’t safe as well. That’s another route.
There’s also domestic infant adoption, which is probably what we in America are the most familiar with of deciding that you want to adopt and going to an adoption agency or inquiring at an adoption agency, putting together a profile book and then matching with an expectant mother. Those adoptions that’s still we advocate for open adoption as long as it’s safe through domestic infant adoption, every single time, that’s better for the child. We see that when they have the freedom to ask questions and get to know their biological family, even if that’s from a distance they’re going to be healthier and just develop better.
Then the fourth kind, which is getting popularity. I feel like popularity is a weird thing to say about adoption, but it’s becoming more and more known and that is embryo adoption. When couples go through IVF, they can create multiple embryos and they can decide to implant some of those, all of those, none of those at times, and then there are leftover embryos that they can either have destroyed or they can place them for adoption. Then a mother could adopt that embryo and actually become impregnated with it, so you would carry and deliver and birth and feed and all of the things that child. Yes, those are the four main methods of adoption.
Will: That’s great. That’s very helpful just to break it down like that for me. Let’s dive into, I think you had this on your site, but people choose adoption for different reasons.
Will: Whether that’s your original plan or not, I think you called it planned versus our purpose on one of your blog post, or podcast. I’d love to talk both adoption then in a bigger sense, in a grander sense as a mom, as a parent, how we have our plan and how sometimes our plans go astray, but how you land on your feet and deal with that. I’d love to hear that in the context of adoption, but then also grander in your experiences.
Alex: Yes, for sure. Goodness, that topic could be plucked and applied to so many different things. Just plan versus the outcome or whatever. I think just speaking from personal experience our plan was to adopt older kids because those are harder to adopt out. We did not have children at the time, biological children I mean, and I had just such a big heart for adoption. I still have such a big heart for adoption, but I think that understandably, there’s a level of naivete with that, which can be beneficial.
It can make you do things that you might have said no to if you had all the answers or if you knew all the risks. We were thinking like seven, eight as an age and we ended up with 14 and that just is how it happened. Talk about plan versus outcome, and we ended up being placed with a child who had reactive attachment disorder, which was something we were incredibly unfamiliar with.
Will: What is that? Yes, I’m not familiar either.
Alex: Attachment disorders are fairly common in adoptions through foster care. When you have kids who have significant trauma in their lives, it’s understandable that they would have an attachment disorder. We’re learning a lot more about that now. Because I think that there is the, I don’t know, I think that maybe like the old school view of adoption of “This child should be so grateful, they’re in a loving family,” and the more we learn about the brain and about trauma and how kids experience their adoption journey, and how much of their story it is, we’re just seeing how many gaps there are in those kiddos.
When we’re talking specifically about RAD or reactive attachment disorder, it’s basically where the actual brain pathways were severed, because of so much neglect and trauma in their lives, and so they just don’t form normal human connections with people. They struggle to relate, to empathize, like I said, form attachment or connections, and so the reactive part is that they mirror what they see.
They can be what they are in the moment, what they need to be to survive because everything feels like survival to kids with RAD. When they’re in situations where they are needing to connect with someone, they’re just going to mirror that person to react to whatever the other person is doing even if that’s not actually how they feel. It can be really, really difficult.
If they’re a parent listening with RAD, or with kids with RAD, you guys know how crazy RAD can make you feel. On my podcast I’m a big transparency person, we talk about the hard stuff. We do not sugarcoat things, and as much as we can share about our journey as adoptive parents without oversharing our child’s story, we do that.
I’ll just say like parenting a kid with RAD can feel like being a prisoner in your own home. You feel like you’re actually going crazy, because they can be a different person to the rest of the world than they are at home. It’s very difficult for adoptive parents to get resources there. Because other people are not seeing what you’re seeing, such as counselors, psychologists, schools, extended family, even babysitters, friends, all of the things.
Once you actually get to the point where you discover a diagnosis, such as RAD, oppositional defiance disorder, that’s another attachment disorder, then you can start building your toolbox, but it can take time to get there. It can be really lonely.
Will: Wow. Thank you. That’s really interesting. You were sharing in the context of, as you said, you were trying to adopt a seven or eight-year-old and ended up with a 14-year-old.
Will: Can you choose the ages? Obviously, it doesn’t work or it’s not 100%. What was going through your mind when it went from seven to 14? How did you deal with that?
Alex: It’s definitely always fun with DHS. Some states call it CPS. States call it different things. Basically a–
Will: Child Protective Services or, yes.
Alex: Yes. In our state we call it DHS, Department of Human Services and then Child’s Protective Services is a division of that. It’s always up in the air with DHS. That’s the joke among foster parents is they laugh at our plans and we laugh along with them because we’re going to do what we can for those kids, if we have a heart for it.
For us, our journey was that we were looking at our state’s heart gallery, which is just a collection of photos, of kids who are post TPR. They are available for adoption. We were specifically looking at older kids. We saw a picture of these two boys that looked like they were probably seven or eight, which was our age range. I was pregnant with my first biological child at the time.
We inquired about them and found out that it was an old picture and they were actually 12 or 13, but they wanted to know if we were still interested in the inquiry. We were like, “Yes, I guess. Sure.” Then that fell through, they actually were adopted by their current foster placement, which is amazing. That’s great. They already had attachment with their parents, so awesome.
Then that put us in a bracket. Then DHS saw like, “Oh, they’re willing to take teenagers, we see.” When we got the next call or when we did our next inquiry, it was about a 13-year-old and then that fell through.
Then that 13-year-old’s roommate had just turned 14 and the group home leader called us and said, “Would you be interested in his roommate? Would you like to meet him?” That’s how that process went. [laughs] I don’t want to say slippery slow because that makes it sound negative, but it just happens.
Will: Absolutely. I just, gosh, admire that so much that you went through with it, but they’ve gone through this journey and teenagers we joke about on the podcast are not easy. We complain now with young kids and just jumping into a teenager without any disorder, et cetera, is enough. [laughs]
Alex: Sure. We got a crash course on having awkward conversations, and having to shove deodorant in his space and stuff like that. I’m only 11 years older than him and so it was just a really funny, I had a baby and then all of a sudden, I was a teenager mom and having to learn the ropes there. My husband even more so had having all the fun conversations that dads get to have with their teenage boys.
Will: That’s super interesting. As you’ve been parenting, so you have four kids, is that right?
Alex: Yes. Including him, he does not live with us anymore. He’s actually 21 now and he has a family of his own. He moved out when he was 18, but we have three in the home now, so that makes four total. Yes.
Will: Awesome. How does the growth of the love and your family dynamic change? How does it come together? I guess I should say with everyone. Are there differences? Or is it just, “Hey, this is like, I love my sister and I love my son and they’re different people,” and it’s different love and that’s okay. I’d just be curious for you to chat about that a little bit, if you don’t mind.
Alex: That’s a great question. That’s one thing that when I look back on my story, I wish I had given myself a lot more grace on, just that it takes time and attachment isn’t necessarily automatic, even for your bio kids. There are parents who deal with postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety who struggle to attach to their biological babies. Attachment and connection and love can look different to everyone. Everyone’s different story.
When I had my biological children, I attached instantly. I call it the love explosion, which I’m sure you’re familiar with. It’s just like, “Oh, I didn’t even know I could love another human this way.” I think that I really wanted to get adoption, whatever that means. I put a lot of pressure on myself to feel the exact same way immediately with my adopted kids.
When I didn’t, I gave myself a lot of shame there and definitely didn’t give myself the space and grace to say, “This is a journey and it’s okay if I’m not there yet. It’s okay. If I’m never there. It’s okay. Like it’s okay.” I tell the story on my podcast, so if you’re coming from my podcast, you’ve definitely already heard this, but the day our teenager moved in, I had been so excited. I had been the main advocate. I had been calling and pursuing and pushing, because the system is very slow.
Then he moved in and I thought it would just be this love explosion and everything would feel complete. All of my hard work and advocacy and all this stuff would be done. It’s the emptiness that I felt was so real. I remember standing in my closet and crying, because I was just like, “Why don’t I have the feelings? Where’s the love?”
That was just really scary for me, because I was like, “Am I a monster? What’s wrong with me?” It was that feeling. That was a huge reason why I started the podcast. Because I realized that if I’m feeling this way, other parents have to be feeling this way too.
They’re just being quiet about it. Because I knew how crazy and alone I felt and it was only through being transparent and talking to other parents and calling them crying, saying, “Am I supposed to feel this way about my kid? Because I don’t.” Then being like, “Oh no, that’s normal.” Then I’m like, “Then why is nobody talking about this?” I just decided I was going to talk about it.
Then when we adopted our baby, that was very different. I bonded with him differently and still differently than my biological children, but differently even still than the teenager. I think that even now we have a very different relationship with our teenager. That was a long journey of being okay with that, because I gave myself so much shame for not feeling the same way about my teenager that I did about my little kids.
Of course, I didn’t, he spent most of his life away from us. He doesn’t even call us mom and dad and that’s fine. That’s okay. Getting to a place where I was able to say, “That’s okay. This is our own story. Not the world’s not parenting magazines, not the mommy blogs. This is our story.” As long as we’re doing what we’re supposed to do and we’re following God and we’re following the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and all of the things, then we’re doing a good job and getting to that place definitely took a long time.
Then even with our baby, he was withdrawing from drugs and he was having a really hard time and I was pregnant with my second biological child. There was so much going on at that time. When I look back at that, now I can laugh at myself for putting so much on my plate to be like, “You have to bond with this child that was dropped on your doorstep and love them now.” Like, “That’s ridiculous.” At the time that’s how I felt, I was like, “What’s wrong with me? I can’t.”
That’s the message that I just want to tell adoptive parents is just like “Be on your journey. It’s okay. You’re doing a good job. Don’t compare yourself. Don’t feel like you have to attach the same way as your friend did or the same way that the books tell you should.” I don’t know. There’s just too many messages out there that are hurting people.
Will: You articulated it really well. You need to give yourself more grace and I’d love to talk about grace. That’s a nice word. Nice way of putting it. We always say, just don’t be so hard on yourself. I’d be curious, not in the context, just in adoption, but just in your parenting journey, it’s always hard when you’re not doing the best you can do or something feels like it’s not right.
How do you give yourself grace? Just curious, not tricks, but what goes on in your head when you’re successfully saying, “Hey, calm down,” or whatever it is?
Alex: Oh, man. I don’t know.
I’ve certainly gotten better at this, but that’s the ever journey. That’s hard. I think me and my husband joke, because he likes to– his bar of success is like, “They got fed today, so good job.” I’m like, “I did so much more than feed them, that’s so rude.” [laughs]
When I’m just done, I think that something that– okay, here’s an answer for you. Sorry, as I’m processing this aloud. One thing that I’ve had to learn to remember is that tomorrow is going to be different. Not necessarily better, but different. That’s one place where I’ve had a lot of shame for myself is when I’m having an off day or I’m having an off week where I am just cranky and burnt out and I am not being my best for my kids. Not that that’s okay or great, or like, “It’s fine. Just drink a glass of wine and get over it.”
Not that. We should always strive to be better, but how can we do that while also giving ourselves the grace that this isn’t our best day and that is okay in the long run and tomorrow will be different. You’re not going to feel this way tomorrow. Just that feeling of like, “You’re sick today. You’re not always going to be sick. It’s okay to be kind to yourself because you’re sick.”
I don’t know about other moms, but I know for myself I feel like, “Okay, I cannot take this day off because I might feel worse sometime.” If this is my bar of measurement, then where is when I feel worse? That’s silly. I hear it when I say it, but it doesn’t stop me from feeling it in the moment. Yes, just remembering that tomorrow is going to be different.
Will: That’s brilliant. It’s that simple and that complicated. It’s not that easy to let go, obviously, but that’s what you need to do and not being so hard on yourself. I think like you were saying, the other aspect is once your kids are a little bit older and once they’re able to understand to communicate that, it’s okay to say, “Hey, I’m tired.” Or, “I’m sorry I acted this way, that wasn’t right.”
That one, makes you maybe feel a little better, but two, it’s teaching a great lesson. You’re teaching your kids, “Hey, everyone makes mistakes and can’t really do anything about that except– you can’t move back. There’s no time travel. All you can do is move forward. How are we going to move forward in the best way? That’s apologizing and doing what we can so it doesn’t happen again, that sort of thing.
Alex: I think it’s funny. I don’t know about you, I’m at the age now, I’m 32 and I remember my mom being this age. This is maybe the youngest I remember her being. I just felt like she was so smart. She had it all figured out. She had all these amazing lessons. I tell her that now and she laughs because she’s like, “Oh if you only knew.”
It’s funny because I’m now feeling not that I’ve learned it, I’m done, but each little lesson that I do feel, I’m like, “Oh, okay, I get it now.” My kids are in school now and I’m able to tell them when they have a bad day or when their friends been mean to them, I can say that, like, “Hey, tomorrow is going to be different. Tomorrow is going to be better. You’re going to wake up and you’re– This day is crappy and it’s okay to let it be crappy for today. Then tomorrow let’s wake up with fresh eyes and let’s reassess.”
It’s funny because I didn’t know that when my kids were babies. I hadn’t learned that lesson. When I think back now like, “Oh, this is probably why I thought she was so smart because she was just now learning.” Where I thought my parents had learned this a long time ago, and I’m just so behind, I’m like, “Oh, maybe they had just figured that out for themselves and they were able to hand that to us at the right time.”
Will: That’s interesting. That’s probably not too far off. It is a journey, all this education. You learn something new and then boom, your kids outsmart you and on to the next lesson. One thing I want to close with here, just being respectful of your time and of our listeners is how should people who are thinking about adopting, I guess, think about it? Is it the kind of thing where it’s either hell yes or no? If you’re on the fence it’s probably not a fit. I’d love to hear your thoughts and how some of those conversations could go between spouses.
Alex: Of course, I’m going to say you should totally adopt but I think that–
Will: Only if it’s right for you. You don’t want someone to go through the process and say, “Oh, man,” not what I expected in your situation but you got through the other side. You wanted to, you had that in your heart. If someone doesn’t have that in the heart, that’s a terrible situation where they have to– I don’t know what happened, you know what I mean? I know you’re being tongue in cheek. [laughs] How do you make that decision if you’re not as sure as you were at the time?
Alex: I don’t know. That’s a really good question. I think that being an adoption advocate, I’m going to say if– You’re right, not everyone is calling us to adopt. Not everyone is going to feel like that’s what they’re supposed to do. I would argue that I think there’s probably a lot more people that could adopt. There’s a lot of kids who need that, who need people to stand in the gaps for them, and who need them to advocate for them. However, you’re right. That’s not for everyone.
Everyone doesn’t have the financial ability or doesn’t have the season of life ability and that’s fine. I think that you can start having those conversations of how can we help. Look at your friends who have adopted. Look at just information that you can pull in about it and see how you can support them. If you are considering adoption, ask people who have adopted.
I would say, ask people who have adopted in different ways. Talk to your friends who’ve adopted a baby. Talk to your friends who have done foster care. Talk to your friends who’ve done an international adoption. If you don’t have friends, figure out how you can get connected to those people, because I guarantee you, there’s only a couple of degrees of separation between you and someone who has that experience.
I would say avoid things that look really pretty. There are a lot of great movies out there and great blog posts and TikTok accounts and stuff like that that make adoption look really dreamy. That’s okay. They don’t have to be out there saying, “Here’s the crappy parts of adoption,” because it’s supposed to be a funny TikTok account. That’s not their job. If it is something that you’re looking at doing, figure out all the information, find out.
I feel I would’ve been so much more equipped for the attachment stuff for the shame that I was going to feel. If I had just been more aware, if someone had told me, “Hey, this might happen. You might struggle with attachment. You might struggle beyond this journey of love and to what degree is the love.” Those are semantics that are actually not that important but you really feel like they’re important at the time. I would say talk to people who have lived it.
Will: That’s awesome. That’s great advice. I love this. I found this really, really interesting, Alex. I didn’t know much about adoption and I learned more logistically just on this podcast through our talking but also more emotionally. Like I said, I think there’s lessons about love to be learned like the one you just said. Don’t put a label on it. Love is love and it goes through stages and ups and downs and–
Alex: There’s no finish line to love. [laughs]
Will: That is right. That is fantastic. Again, you can find Alex on Instagram @alexfittin. She’s the host of The Adoptive Mom Podcast. Alex, thank you so much for joining us.
Alex: Hey, thanks for having me. I love what you’re doing with your podcast and what you’re reaching. I think that there are a lot of dads who really, really benefit from resources like this. Get men talking about stuff, I love it.
Will: Awesome. We’re trying. Thanks so much, Alex. Talk to you soon