MYTH: You and Your Adopted Child Will Feel Love at First Sight.


So many parents fall in love with their idea of what their new child will be like. They fantasize about what a life-changing event this adoption will be, especially for the child. The love of a committed family and everything that comes with that — nurturing, support, healthy food, warm clothing, good schooling, sports teams, art, a lifetime of safety and security. Sometimes, the family member who “discovered” the new arrival on Holt’s waiting child photolisting is a future sibling. This child also has ideas about what their new sibling will be like and what they will do together. Everyone is so excited about the new member of the family and cannot wait to meet the latest addition.

Then finally, the day arrives and you meet this longed-for child. And nothing. Instead of love at first sight, you may instead feel shock, shame, guilt, surprise and confusion. This is not what you are supposed to feel, but it is real.

You are not the first parent to hit the wall of nothingness when they first meet their child.

In the orphanage, an older child has seen friends adopted. The staff may tell them that if they are adopted, they will get everything they ever wanted. Sometimes, the aunties and nannies may also tell them to behave and love their parents or they will get sent back to the orphanage. Gaining a family through adoption for them is a whirlwind of thoughts and emotions: will my family love me? How will I communicate with them? Will I like the food? Can I keep in touch with my friends; will I ever see them again? Older children meet their adoptive parents full of hope and fear. They may not really understand what parents do or how they are supposed to act in a family. So much is unknown and they can’t even ask questions. They may appear a bit reserved or aloof or if their fear gets the best of them, they may be downright hostile.

When children join a family by birth, nature has paved the way for them. Mom is full of feel-good hormones released during birth for the express purpose of bonding with this tiny creature with the great big eyes. The baby sleeps a lot, allowing the family recovery time and the opportunity to get to know their newest member a little at a time. Then at about two months comes the smile and mom and dad are the best things in the world and can do no wrong. Arms are flailing and legs are kicking. The infant looks as if s/he could just bust right out of their skin with joy at the sight of mom and dad. There’s no room for doubt about all the love flowing between everyone.

Nature has not provided a path for an adopted child joining the family.

Absent are the hormones and the overwhelming joy at the sight of the child’s new parents. There is nothing facilitating the development of love between these new family members except for the dedication, maturity, mindfulness and knowledge of the parents. But with dedication to make this new relationship work, like an arranged marriage, the love will grow. Maturity gained from persevering through rough spots in other relationships will also help a bond to blossom, as will mindfulness to acknowledge what parents are feeling or not feeling towards their new child. Families should hold fast to the knowledge that these feelings are just feelings, they will pass, other parents have been in this spot, and love will grow. Nature may not have paved a way for an adopted child joining a family, but parents can overcome nature’s oversight.

Abbie Smith | Director of Clinical Services

Click here to read one adoptive mom’s candid story about learning to overcome initial expectations — and take the time to let love grow.

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