Friday, March 11, 2011

Cold Feet? Nervous Nellie/Ned? Otherwise Known As A Reluctant Spouse!

Often when couples get deeper and deeper into the adoption process, there is one spouse who seems reluctant to continue the process. Some of the concerns may be:
  • Age. (Am I too old to parent a child? Do I have enough time, energy, patience?)
  • Money. (Am I able to save for a college education when I probably need to start saving for retirement? Will an adoption clean out all my savings? Will we ever be able to go on vacation again?)
  • Time. (Will a child disrupt my lifestyle? Will I have to curb my work hours - and do I want to?)
  • Family. (Will my parents accept an adopted child? Will children from a previous marriage be resentful to me for starting a new family? Will I continue to make the same parenting mistakes?)
  • The Unknown. (What child is ours? What unknown genetics may arise? Am I able to love an adopted child as much as a biological one?)
These questions are important and valid - and often unanswerable until a couple is living with the changes a child brings. They may focus on the reluctant spouse's concerns: what may be lost as far as financial security, time with spouse, uninterrupted work time, and bonding with the child. Until the spouse experiences the benefits that come with parenting, there is really nothing to calm those fears. Even after a spouse agrees to move forward, there may be some backsliding. This is normal understandable when you contrast a pregnancy with an adoption. A pregnancy usually gives a reluctant spouse nine whole months to get used to the idea of parenthood and is greeted with joy and excitement by friends and relatives.  A pregnancy also inspires questions like: Is it a boy or girl? Have you chosen a name? How much time will you take off work?
But the issues that couples confront during the adoption process may be along these lines: What age will your child be? Boy or girl? What health conditions do you know about? What race? How much contact will you have with the birth-parents? How will you talk about adoption to him? What role will the child's ethnicity play in her life? How will you cope with disabilities? What if your relatives don't accept this child?
And that's not even the tip of the iceberg as far as procedural aspects. Lawyer or agency? Public or private? Open or closed? These questions not only put the issues of "baby" at a reluctant spouse again and again, but almost demand  that he opt in - or out. The upside is that this constant probing gives adoptive couples preparation for parenting that the biological way doesn't usually afford. The downside is that every new question and issue may reignite a reluctant spouse's reticence.
My own husband, Mat, had only one concern when we first considered adoption: would he feel the same way about an adopted child as he did our 4 biological children?  That fear was quickly and permanently erased the minute he held Meg in his arms for the first time.  Since then, I can't tell you how many couples we have talked with, had dinner with, or met with who have the same (or other) concerns as Mat did. And he is great to listen. He empathizes. He validates. And then he reassures them that their fears and concerns are legitimate. But then, he gently encourages them to take the plunge, if they feel it's right for their family.
Now if you haven't had the pleasure of going to dinner with Mat and me to talk all things adoption, here are some suggestions to ease the fears of The Reluctant Spouse:
  • Acknowledge your spouse's concerns and fears - then listen with interest. No judgments!
  • Discuss the differences between you: try not to cover them up or smooth it over.
  • Keep a balance in your discussions between the reasons for your wanting to adopt and your spouse's resistance.
  • Don't take your spouse's first reaction as the final word. When something is emotionally charged (as adoption is!), people often say things they may not really mean.
  • Give your spouse time and space to think over the issues as they arise. Remember people approach change at different speeds.
  • Don't expect your spouse to react to every development in the adoption process the same way you do.
  • Working with an agency like Heart to Heart provides a solid process for exploring adoption issues; don't assume that you know every angle and every issue.
  • If your spouse isn't providing enough support and encouragement for you to cope with the roller coaster adoption process, seek it from an understanding friend or relative.
  • Speak with a counselor or adoptive family worker at Heart to Heart if you're having difficulty navigating these issues. A reluctant spouse may hear questions and answers better from a neutral observer.
With good communication between you and your spouse, as well as your family and friends, the ability to work through the concerns and worries of your spouse are more easily worked through.  The adoption process is a roller coaster. Hang on for the ride!

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