What You Need to Know About Adopting Toddlers.

If you follow me over on the Encompass blog, you may know about an adoption series I’m doing over there called “What You Need to Know”, featuring different stories from adoptive families. So far, I’ve had the privilege of “interviewing” two amazing sets of parents, who have shared their stories about fostering a child and adopting an older, waiting child internationally.

I’ve reached out to other adoptive parents who will soon be sharing their stories about their adoption experiences, and thought this week that it would be nice to feature a family who has experience adopting a toddler. Then I had an epiphany: I’m in the middle of Toddler Hell. My toddler is currently making me crazy. Sometimes at the gym, I’ll stretch my workout into over an hour and simply stroll on the treadmill and text my girlfriends because my toddler is in child care and I am so excited about not having to deal with ALL OF THE THINGS. Anyhow, upon having this epiphany, I decided I would share a little bit about the blessings and the challenges of adopting a toddler over here on my own blog.
adoptingtoddlers I read a lot of blogs before we brought Baby Boy home. Many of them were written by moms who had adopted toddlers and they shared beautiful pictures and stories about why adopting toddlers rocks. I saw lots of funny pictures of adorable, dimpled little ones who seem to be overflowing with joy. “This is going to be so fun!” I thought to myself.
To be sure, there are some really cool and fun things about adopting toddlers. But I’m not here to paint the perfect picture for you, because if you saw my house right now, you would know that I am lying. While I’m guilty of posting adorable pictures of my dimpled little one who is overflowing with joy because we do have lots of fun times, I can’t post the pictures of the purple welts and bite marks on my waist — caused by my loving toddler who seeks out constant stimulation — because this is a mommy blog and they’re kind of obscene.
(Full disclosure: our son was nine months old when he came home. Because of his small size and developmental delays — he was a lot like a newborn. We bonded quickly and easily, for this reason. His first three months home were blissful, but also a blur with all the various doctors’ appointments. And then he became a full-fledged toddler!)
So here are some of the blessings of adopting a little kiddo:
You get to be there for a lot of the firsts. Adoptive parents miss out on many of the milestones and early experiences of their child — and it makes us grieve and ache. But when you adopt a little one, you don’t miss out on quite as much. I witnessed the first time our little one rolled over, crawled and walked and was able to celebrate his first birthday with him. These are all special privileges that I don’t take for granted.
Attachment may come more naturally with a younger child. Your little one may have suffered less disruptions in his life than an older child who has experienced many different caregivers or lived at multiple orphanages, which puts him at less risk for things like Reactive Attachment Disorder. Plus attachment-promoting activities such as bottle feeding and baby-wearing are easier with a toddler than an eight-year-old.
Toddlers are super cute. My little guy is an absolute hellion at church, but when he grabs the bulletin, holds it like a choir boy and sings his heart out, it is pretty much the most adorable thing ever (even though I feel like getting through a church service with him is like surviving a war and wonder if we should re-baptize him because the first time clearly didn’t take).
And here are the honest-to-goodness challenges of adopting a toddler:
Toddlers are exhausting. REALLY exhausting. They are busy and physical and they scream and throw tantrums (and if your toddler doesn’t, then good for you and also I kind of hate you). Toddlers — whether adopted or biological — are a lot to handle. I’m going to be honest with you, adoptive parents, and tell you that the adoption factor adds an extra dimension of challenge — or at least it has for me. It can be difficult to feel bonded to a little one who is driving you crazy. (Confession: you will sometimes wonder, “WHAT HAVE I DONE?”)
Toddlers have likely spent their formative years in an orphanage. The Wise and All-Knowing Karyn Purvis describes “children from hard places” as children who suffered from inadequate prenatal care, difficult or traumatic birth, medical trauma early in life, abuse, neglect and trauma. If you’re adopting a younger child, the chances are high that he is in the orphanage BECAUSE of these things. Rather than spending the first, most formative years of his life with his birth family, he is spending them in an institution where he will most likely suffer from lack of stimulation, among other things. This inevitably changes his brain chemistry. Parents will need to do their due diligence when it comes to seeking out resources and aid with sensory processing disorders, nutrition and nurturing so that you can help your toddler heal from this early trauma.
Here’s what I’ve learned from adopting a toddler:
It is a roller coaster. There are times when I gaze at my sleeping son, sucking his thumb and clutching his giraffe to his face and I think, “Thank you, Jesus, for this beautiful gift.” And then there are times where I’m so physically and emotionally drained and I just think, “WHY DID YOU THINK I COULD HANDLE THIS GOD?”
People struggle with the same feelings I do. Sometimes I’ve put on a brave and happy face because I don’t want to seem ungrateful, but really I’m just tired and crabby and feel like an awful mom for not finding more joy in the child I longed for. Then one of my brave besties — who adopted her toddler more recently than I — admitted that she struggles with so many of the same feelings. And I felt better. Solidarity.
I have to work hard not to judge myself. Some days I feel overwhelming love that threatens to make my heart explode and I can’t get enough hugs and slobbery kisses. And some days the need for constant physical input from my toddler makes me want to scream and nap time can’t come soon enough. (It’s all part of that roller coaster.) But this is all part of the journey. As adoptive moms, we judge ourselves A LOT. We wonder if the things we’re feeling are because our kids are “adopted”. The adoptive moms I know read so many books and blogs and we know what we’re supposed to do to help our kids out — but how are filling ourselves up? We worry about how our kids are attaching, developing and adjusting but how are we attaching, developing and adjusting in all of this? Are we trying to give the impression of perfection because we want to be the poster family for adoption but we really feel guilt and shame because this is HARD? It’s okay to struggle with these things. It’s NORMAL even.
I need more breaks. When Yaya was a toddler I took her everywhere with me. We went shopping, hung out at the coffee shop and went for walks around the block. Baby Boy faces different challenges because of his difficult beginning, and it makes it so that I can’t do these things. And sometimes that means I have to do things like soak up extra time at the gym while he’s in the capable hands of others or beg ask my husband to take over bath time so I can sit in my room alone without anyone touching me. I used to feel guilty for needing this time away — but I’ve learned that unless I have these breaks, I’m too exhausted to be a mom who is fully present for my kids.
Here’s my bottom line, though: God picked me to be the mom of my two kiddos. I’m not perfect, and becoming an adoptive mom has forced me to come to terms with that more than ever. But Jesus is. And He’s enough for my kiddos and He’s enough for me.


  1. this is a really excellent post and I am sure it will help a lot of prospective parents. I am featuring it on the Sunday Parenting Party this weekend.


  1. […] I blogged about adopting toddlers last week, I shared that church is not exactly easy for us these days. While Baby Boy danced his way through […]

  2. […] guys! Yesterday, I took our “What You Need to Know” series over to my personal blog, where I shared the challenges and blessings of adopting a toddler. Today, I’m really excited to share with you my friend Megan’s story about adopting a […]

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