Fears and Trepidations: Back to School for Adoptive Parents


As someone who works in the adoption field, I scour the internet for helpful articles or those infamous top ten lists that promise to help parents help their kids have a successful school year. Sometimes, I find a well written one on trauma or attachment or some other adoption related issue that can also be shared with your child’s teacher, principal, tutor, or other adult who’ll be spending time with your child.

This year it seems that the internet was rife with moms celebrating the start of the school year by lounging by the pool and enjoying a cocktail. I don’t begrudge anyone their break from full time parenting, but this post is not for those parents. It’s for the ones who have mixed feelings about another school year. Or outright dread.

On the one hand, lots of adopted kids do best with a schedule and it can be challenging to enforce one in the summer. Nothing screams schedule like the alarm waking everyone up to start the school day: eat breakfast, brush teeth, wash face, get dressed, pack school bag. And that’s just your child’s list. You’ve got to squeeze in walking the dog, packing lunches, getting yourself dressed and ready for work. If every little task is a challenge for your child, it’s your challenge, too. If you’ve got a kid who hates waking up, doesn’t want to go to school, still has homework to finish, everything is that much harder. Make a schedule and stick to it is good advice but our kids can rail against the very things we know are in their best interest. Although the schedule is the same every day, how they will handle it does not.

Once you’ve gotten past the hurdles at home, there is school. And it’s hopefully filled with adults who like and understand your son or daughter, but often times that means it’s your job as their parent to do some education, a lot of explaining, and ongoing advocacy. Maybe your child has trouble making friends or more trouble keeping them, and you worry that their past trauma will make it impossible for them to form meaningful relationships with others. That translates into them sitting alone at lunch, hiding out in the library at recess, or maybe it means getting into fights, being bullied, or at the center of trouble in their classes. Summer is a reprieve for the parents who get the phone calls from school, the reports sent home, the suspensions and even expulsions. So, you can understand your child’s trepidation about starting another school year, because you feel it, too.

Underlying the heartache and fear, there is room for hope, too. Once you become a parent, September replaces January as the month of fresh starts and new resolutions. So many parents I talk to hope this is the year their child’s teacher will like their child enough to teach them, overlook some of their behaviors, and address the more serious ones with compassion and creativity whenever possible. They want to believe that this time will be different, better. They want their child to feel connected…to at least one adult, one classmate, one person who makes school a welcoming and secure place for their child who may act out and make bad choices because they’re afraid of being hurt first. And adopted kids are really good at surviving and protecting themselves.

While it’s true that sending our kids back to school means someone else is charged with their care and we’re not responsible for most of the hours of their day, it means entrusting them to people who may not or cannot do the work we do. It’s not really a break for many of us. Parents know their kids best, and this couldn’t be truer than when it comes to adoptive parents. When your child has special needs, particularly unseen needs, it can be hard to take a break from the worry. There’s no top 10 list that’s going to remedy this or ensure a successful school year for your family, believe me I have looked, but there’s the knowledge that you’re not alone. We are all living and learning to be the parents our children need. I’ll raise a drink to that.


Author: Diane Tomaz

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