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gillian marchenko

Author and Speaker


5 mistakes I’ve made as an adoptive parent


5 mistakes

5 mistakes I’ve made as an adoptive parent

Our daughter Evangeline came to our family three years ago through international adoption from Ukraine. After our daughter Polly was born with Down syndrome in 2006, our family sensed God’s urging to bring another little one into the fold with a little something extra (a chromosome, to be exact).

I will say this up front. It has been totally worth it.

We love our daughter to the moon and back.

But it has also been way harder than expected. Our preparation for adoption included hours of paperwork, home visits, fundraising, breathless prayer, excitement, and the general adjustments made to house and heart when you are expecting a child.

I have done things right as an adoptive parent

I’ve been open about my feelings which helped me not get stuck in bad thoughts and struggles. I’ve signed us up for bonding therapy. I’ve prayed, I’ve spent hours hugging my girl, looking her in the eye, telling her I love her and that more importantly, Jesus loves her.

But I’ve made mistakes as an adoptive parent

I offer these mistakes to you because  perspective adoptive parents need this information. They need the good, the bad, and the ugly to be prepared, but for some reason a lot of parents hide the hard stuff.

Hopefully this list will be helpful. As always, this list is from personal experience. Please feel free to agree or disagree.

5 mistakes I’ve made as an adoptive parent

1. I didn’t think about how I would bond with her.

Before we adopted Evangeline, I thought about what it would be like for her to bond with her new family but I never thought about how it would be for me to bond with her.

My inability to bond with my daughter took me by surprise and made me guilty and angry. I felt like a failure. I wish that I could go back and tell myself that it is OK. I wish I could go back and tell myself to give it time. It will come. It’s a process.

2. I pushed her to be close to me.

At first, I forced myself in the way of hugs and kisses on Evangeline. I yearned for her to want me. I read adoption books that encouraged skin to skin contact and holding time. I’d take off my shirt and sit with her in a dark room, humming ‘Jesus loves me’, as my three-year old thrashed around my lap.

It just didn’t work. I’m sure these methods help many families, but for Evangeline the more I pushed the more she cowered. My tactics weren’t helping but hurting. She needed space to trust me. I needed to approach her on her terms. My mistake wasn’t that I tried these things. My mistake was not taking queues from my daughter.

3. I didn’t realize rejection would be so painful.

Evangeline was closed up like a tight fist when we brought her home. As mentioned in #2, I pushed her to want me and that only pushed her away. Her rejection seared me. I convinced myself I wasn’t the right person for the job. I was suddenly back in Junior High, desperate for approval and acceptance, and instead ignored by the coolest kid in class.

And it hurt. It hurt so much that for a while I decided it wasn’t worth it. If she didn’t want me, I would try not to want her. Of course, that was faulty thinking. I was the adult, the parent, I should have known better. It took years to figure this out, to love in spite of rejection, and to forgive her for something she wasn’t capable of changing, and to forgive myself for trying to make her change too quickly.

4. I had no idea about regression.

There has been progress off and on in our relationship. Every time we have a breakthrough, say, she comes to me for a hug, she looks for me in a crowded room, she cries on my shoulder when she gets a boo boo, I assume we’ve arrived to the beautiful, emotionally fulfilling part of our mother daughter bond. But then the next day, she falls down and wants nothing to do with me.

I had no idea that we would progress and regress like we do in our relationship. It is painful, but I’ve learned to blow my breath out of my cheeks, to hug her anyway and tell her it is okay. I’m here when she needs me, and I’m here when she doesn’t need me. And that whoever she is or can or cannot be today is more than enough, because she is my daughter.

5. I didn’t know our relationship and her security in our family would take so much time.

Just recently, in the last half of the year, my husband and I realized that Evangeline seems more comfortable at home. Although she is non-verbal, she makes her needs known. She yells when her sisters are bothering her. She smiles and laughs when we go outside for walks. She leans her head in for a kiss when I ask for one. We’re still not completely there yet, in regards to a well-bonded relationship, but we’ve come far. All the same, I had absolutely no idea it would take so long. It’s been over three years and we’re still not completely there. I was naive.

I offer five mistakes I’ve made as an adoptive parent to you as a warning and as an encouragement.

I am a firm believer in creating space in our heads to prepare for what’s around the bend. If you are thinking of adopting, are in the process, or have already adopted, try to take a step back from the crazy, mundane, daily life you live and learn from my mistakes.

Adoption is hard, but it is worth it.

*Note: I also wasn’t aware of the array of struggles and issues that come up with adoption. My friend Renee has tackled this big, important issue on her blog Life With My Special Ks. Read it, and thank you Renee, for sharing your experience with us. 

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  1. Shannon Pinkerton says:

    Thank you for sharing it’s nice for new adoptive parents to get as much info as possible

  2. carpertrek says:

    What an encouragement to find your blog! Thank you for your thoughtful, honest words. We are in the process of adopting a baby with Ds and are always on the lookout for folks who have “been there”. We will add your blog to our list of resources as we continue to read, pray, and prepare as best we can for our new addition-yet-to-be.

  3. Sue says:

    It’s a long process of trial and error and break throughs and breakdowns. My daughter is now 27 and we still haven’t got there. Perhaps we expected too much. The rejection still hurts a lot.

  4. Angela says:

    Oh so true, all of it, no matter if your adopted child has an extra chromosome or not, these totally apply. And thank you for voicing them, it’s always good to hear that there are others feeling the same struggles.

  5. Nancy says:

    We have adopted several with DS but as mostly newborns. They came with no baggage. 2 were placed with us at 9 months. Our 17 yo still has some attachment issues. Our 6yo is very medically involved. Not sure if her issues are to do with her dx’s or low function. We just keep on keeping on.

  6. Lynn says:

    I’ve made all these same mistakes myself. It’s good to know I’m not the only one.

  7. Michelle says:

    Thank you so much for writing about your experience. Tonight was an all-time low in our relationship. We’ve had my 4yo daughter for 2.5 years. Your experience is very similar to mine. It’s such a comfort to find someone who shares this pain. I’m eager to explore your blog. (This is the first post I’ve read.)

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