Three Essentials For Foster and Adoptive Parents

Endless patience over the months and years of waiting, an ability to give up the illusion of control, and enough seat belts – these are just a few things foster and adoptive parents need.

Far beyond these, three core essentials stand out to me:

Courage, Flexibility, and Endurance

Eleven years ago, Russ and I began the process of adopting two little boys from Ethiopia. We were hope-filled and a little nervous too.

We had no idea how our lives were about to change.

What we did have was experience.

With nineteen years of parenting under our belts and seven reasonably well-adjusted kids, we felt we had something to offer children needing a family.

I believed I was a good mom.

With a background in mental health and a particular love for the vulnerable and wounded, adopting orphans seemed in line with my life callings.

A few years later I wrote one of my most popular posts, I Used to Be a Good Mom, so that tells you a bit about how it all went down after we adopted.

I’m exploring more thoughts and writing about my process of being shaken to the core as a mother and then rebuilding again.

It may take time, therapy (or at least a long weekend away with insightful friends), and more conversation with moms like me before I have anything useful to say, but this is very present in my mind.

The good news is I believe we can be stronger and truer versions of ourselves than we were before. But I digress.

Back to 2006

Our family was busy and life was full. We weren’t without challenges, but we loved each other and felt we had more love to give.

In 2007, nine months after launching into our paperwork, we traveled to Ethiopia to meet not two, but our three new children.

While in the process of adopting our two little boys, we learned it was possible to adopt the little girl we were sponsoring at an orphanage for children living with HIV.

This came as a complete surprise and took us on a deep, soul-searching journey – one that changed our lives in ways far beyond the scope of this post.

The very short version is that God compelled us to move in a new direction, to step beyond our own plans and adopt Kalkidan. From the day she entered our lives and hearts, we were never the same.

I’ve written hundreds of posts about Kalkidan and the lessons we learned parenting her, seeking healing for and with her, and loving her.

Kalkidan taught me many lessons – she taught all of us. She changed me, and I know she changed many of you too.

She was a gift and we feel the loss of her deeply.

The day we met Kalkidan, Ebenezer, and Wogauyu, we met another little girl who captured our hearts. One year later we returned to Ethiopia and brought Beza home to join our family.

With four children added to our family in 16 months, life was a swirl of all things new. We pressed into the chaos with energy, hope, and optimism. I wrote, prayed, read books, searched the internet, and slept very little.

We tried to appear strong and confident, but as the effects of our children’s early trauma became clearer and behaviors became increasingly volatile and violent, our world began to crumble.

Our family’s story is particularly difficult; thankfully most families do not experience the degree of challenges we did, but while I am sorely tempted to gloss over the hard stuff, this is our reality.

We were exhausted, afraid, and ashamed of our inability to help our kids and stop the chaos in our home.

We weren’t prepared when our child raced out of a vacation house and ran down an unfamiliar road. Should we chase after her and risk her running into the road or wait for her to stop running?

Where would she end up? Would someone call CPS? Would they take away all of our children?

We had a split second to make this decision.

Rages lasting hours became a regular occurrence – one child’s trauma now traumatizing the other children in the family.

We became isolated.

I remember standing on my front porch weeping as I told a friend I had no idea what to do.

The darkness was thick around us. We didn’t sleep, but lay awake – hearts racing, afraid of what the next day would bring.

We wondered if we had destroyed our family.

As I write this ten years later, we have been on a long journey from the family we were then, to the family we are now.

We thought we were widening the circle of our family to embrace our new children and include them on our journey. Instead, we found to fully love them, our family’s path had to shift and change course.

We are not the same family with four more children, we are a new family altogether.

From Fear to Here

How did we get from fear to here?

Three essentials to our continuing journey are Courage, Flexibility, and Endurance.

Each is worthy of its own post in this series.

Most adoptive families don’t experience the severe challenges we’ve faced – thank God (truly)!

But writers who gloss over the hard parts of adoption and foster care for fear of discouraging others are doing the children a disservice.

We must be honest because adoptive and foster parents need to go into this with our eyes wide open. When we essentially lie by making it all look pretty, parents are unprepared, and in the end, the children are the ones who suffer.

This is not an easy “love is all they need” journey. This may be the hardest work of your life – so learn all you can, get serious, be wise, and buckle up for whatever comes your way.

You will not be in control.

That being said, every adoption journey, smooth and easy or challenge-filled, requires Courage, Flexibility, and Endurance.

Our details may be different from yours, but the principles remain the same.

Trauma rewires the brain, changing the way our children respond to the world. Thankfully, children’s brains can heal and we get to participate in that process. This requires a lot of work, patience, and often intense therapeutic parenting.

As for my kids, their stories are their own and as they’ve grown older I’m increasingly careful to respect their privacy.

Being an adoptee is a very difficult path. Being an adoptee with a traumatic history including life in an orphanage, adoption at an older age into a family of a different race in another country and culture, is uniquely difficult.

Being the sibling of an adoptee with a history of severe trauma is also uniquely difficult.

I believe Kalkidan would want her story shared in order to help other families. I’m profoundly thankful for the healing she worked so hard for in the last year of her life. God knew we needed this sweet gift.

More soon on Courage, Flexibility, and Endurance.

You’re not going to believe this BUT, I actually have a Tuesday Topic for you tomorrow! Yes, it’s true. I’m reviving the tradition because we all love it so much. Tomorrow’s question is particularly timely as it relates to back-to-school stresses and kids from “hard places.”

Also, if you would like a short, more personal email from me, delivered right to your inbox, you can sign up here. It only takes a moment to sign up, and I promise you can read it in a minute or so.

Thank you for reading, friend. Life is very full and I appreciate you letting me share a bit of yours.

With courage and love for the journey,



This post may contain Amazon Affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Let me introduce myself. Russ and I are the parents of twelve children by birth and adoption, and sometimes more through foster care. I'm the creator of One Thankful Mom which has been as much of a gift to me as to my readers. In 2011 I became a TBRI® Pracitioner* and have lived and breathed connected parenting ever since. I'm deeply honored to be the co-author, together with the late Dr. Karyn Purvis, of The Connected Parent; it is her final written work. I love speaking at events for adoptive and foster parents. I'm also the co-founder of The Adoption Connection, a podcast and resource site for adoptive moms. I mentor and encourage adoptive moms so you can find courage and hope in your journeys of loving your children well.


  1. Liz Copp
    August 14, 2017

    Giving our kids from hard starts, and ourselves, time and grace is so important. We are almost 4 years out from placement and 3 from adoption. It has been the hardest, most humbling, most rewarding journey. No amount of reading, classes taken, or prior parenting can prepare you to walk the road of trauma and healing with kids. My kids are the most amazing people and this many years out I can say Jesus held the boat together becuase we were ready to sink with it. All the things you described are where we lived for almost two years. This is a marathon though, and little by little things got better. It isn’t perfect, especially if I forget to parent from a place of attachment/therapy, but we all know we will survive the storm as a family now. We are stable enough that we are looking at the foster adoption journey again. Jesus calls us to an AMAZING life, but not an easy or safe one; He is after all wild at heart and bolder and more loving and more just than we can imagine.

    1. Lisa Qualls
      August 14, 2017

      Such good words, Liz. Good to hear the confidence in your voice, knowing you will survive the storm. It’s a wild journey.

  2. Beth
    August 14, 2017

    I would have never guessed, at the beginning of our foster journey, that we would need courage and endurance to weather the storm created by the adults, adults who should have been calming the seas not stirring the winds into a hurricane force! Life with traumatized children isn’t easy either. I always say this is the hardest, best thing we’ve ever done.

    1. Lisa Qualls
      August 15, 2017

      Really interesting point, Beth. Thank you.

  3. I think the hardest part of our journey (and we’ve had the harder, darker one like you) is that I want to help others but still protect our children’s story. It’s a fine line to walk…sharing enough so that others trust that you get “it” without throwing our children under the bus. Because for those who don’t understand their hurt and trauma, their behavior can make them seem like monsters 🙁

    1. Lisa Qualls
      August 16, 2017

      I really understand this, Melissa, and struggle with it a lot. In fact, I woke at 4:00 thinking about this post and went back to edit it, removing something I decided was just too painful, even though Kalkidan isn’t here to read it. It’s a constant tug-of-war in my heart and far more complicated as my children grow older.

  4. Jacki
    August 31, 2017

    I am so grateful to have found this blog. We adopted our son as a newborn (I was the first to hold him, as demanded by his birthmom!). 17 years later, I am just learning about the trauma of adoption. I naively thought he wouldn’t have much, if any, because it was an open adoption and he came directly to our family from the hospital. No foster care, no overseas orphanages, no violence, etc. Our son is now 17, and while he has had behavior issues since the very early days (ADHD and ODD) as well as significant problems separating to go to bed, or getting dropped off for a couple hours while I went to nursing school, burning all potential friendships, his behavior has only escalated since puberty. He has been suspended from 2 schools and expelled from one. He hates his high school because he has no friends due to his emotional hypersensitivity and inflexibility. I had attributed most of his problems to medical history from birth mom – 2 suicide attempts, depression, PTSD, agoraphobia, ODD, and borderline personality. But as I am learning more about the trauma of adoption – simply because a child does not remain with the woman who gave birth – all the physiological/biological processes that occur when that bond is severed…I have an entirely different perspective and new, deeper level of empathy for my son and his on-going behavior struggles. I so deeply wish someone would have told us that at the beginning, like being required to take a series of classes on trauma and adoption. It might have really changed how we parented him to this point, and even his state of mental/emotional health. It is not enough to provide a stable home life with two parents who love him, teach him about Jesus, provide for all his needs. There is a part that is missing that we will never be able to compensate for. Sadly, efforts to connect him to his birth mom and 2 half sisters failed miserably and they are all estranged now. For now, we are in counseling for his behaviors, but he also needs counseling related to processing his feelings around his adoption. The road ahead will be long, but at least I have a better idea of which direction to go.
    Philippians 4:13

    1. Lisa Qualls
      September 5, 2017

      Jacki, I really appreciate your comment and the way you share the insights you’re gaining. The trauma of that early separation is significant. Some children have resilience and don’t seem as affected while others are deeply affected. You’re wise to support your son as he learns and processes. I hope you can find support for yourself from other adoptive parents as well. It can be a very lonely journey, especially when it appears from the outside that your son’s adoption was “perfect.” People who are educated on adoption, trauma, loss, brain development understand what you’re expressing. You might love one of the Refresh Conferences if you could possibly attend – there is on in October in Chicago and another the first weekend of March in Seattle.


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