Adoption and the Expat Family – 3 Challenges and Questions

Finale of a 3 Part Series “Adoption and the Expatriate Family”

Today we conclude our series on expatriate adoption, looking at added challenges that expatriate families face because of their choice to live abroad, as well as 3 questions that will lead to more effective adoptive parenting. In part one of this blog series, we looked at reasons families adopt and why it’s important to understand and process the heart motivation for adopting.

Last week, 6 challenges faced by all adoptive families were explained – both going through the process as well as integrating the adopted child into the family.

What Challenges Can Be Unique For Expatriate Families?

1. Transition stress and continual loss.

“The major risk factors for children tend to lie within
chronic and transitional events rather than acute risks.”
Suniya Luthar in her writing on Resilience and Vulnerability in Childhood Adversities

Those with a vulnerable trauma history will find transitions more difficult. Relocations, friends moving away, and developmental stage transitions can be triggers that put the adoptee into survival mode. Knowing this can help parents accept regression or emotional/behavioural upheaval and expression of stress. Be proactive in teaching coping skills.

2. Lack of available professional services, depending on where the expatriate adoptive family lives, can be an issue. Psychologists, Counselingparenting experts, therapists, psychiatrists and other health care professionals play a key role as a support network. The earlier the intervention, the greater the positive results for children.  I’ve worked with a number of families who have cut their assignment short because of this very thing.

We stayed in Kuwait only 9 months because of a downhill spiral with our son and the inability to find help in the region. It was an agonizing decision to make, and yet a necessary and willing one. Five years later, we are glad we returned to where resources were available.

3. Greater chance of ‘identity crisis’ somewhere along the developmental stages. Take a trauma history, add transitions, mix with a teen/young adult with TCK identity formation issues, whose brain is rapidly developing and hormones are raging and it can be a perfect storm. The question of “who am I?” is significant during teen years, and even more so with international adoptees. The good news is that some adopted TCK’s are what resilience researchers call “late bloomers”. Having a resilient family and loving home will eventually heal the wounds and allow them to come into their own. As a family, it takes fortitude, perseverance and grace. Some adopted kids hit their teen years and have a very rough ride. Others sail through.

Asking the right questions always leads to empowering answers.

3 Key Questions For Effective Expatriate Adoptive Parenting.

1. What information is to be understood and incorporated? Gaining knowledge and understanding aids in realistic expectations and empowers parents. Most beneficial areas include:

a. Attachment issues – Learn as much as possible about reactive attachment disorder and attachment challenges. These can show up almost immediately or through later developmental stages.
Reactive Attachment Disorderb. Trauma, its effect on the brain, on connection between family members, and on emotions and behavior is vital for proactive parenting of adopted children. Learn effective strategies to handle dys-regulated behaviors and put into practice ways to heal and manage trauma. A scared child is an aggressive child most often. Learn to recognize triggers for the child/teen and teach them effective coping skills.
c. Grief process. Know how to help with developmental and transitional grief as well as the grief that comes from abandonment and loss.

2. What parenting skills best support adopted children and teens? Parenting style must meet the child’s needs rather than expecting the child to meet the parenting style of mom and dad. Who is this child and how best can we meet his/her needs of safety, security and love? – This is the question to consistently ask, not unlike what we’d ask as parents with biological children.

3. What supports are available? Surround the family with a support network – other adoptive families, mentors, professionals. Early intervention is key to attachment, learning disabilities and the healing of trauma as already has been mentioned.

We’ve had 16 years with our adopted son. The journey, not only of the adoption process, but of parenting him, has pushed us past our limits many times. We are connected and caring parents and yet it’s been a challenge. The journey of being an adopted mom to Munchie Crunchie Bar, as he’s struggled with trauma, abandonment issues and the answers to “who am I?”, especially in his teen years, has taught me so much. I’ve developed empathy, grace and understanding. He’s been an incredible gift to our family and none of us could imagine life without him! We have seen him face pain and trauma and find his way, a little at a time. This is what I hear from other adopted families as well.

Cheers to adopted families around the world, who have made the difference in the life of their adopted child! If you’re one of them, I honour the path you’ve taken; I applaud your love and commitment, and I encourage you to keep serving in love and grace unconditionally!

Becky Signature 2



PS – Here’s a resource list of most helpful books/websites and tools I’ve found. Please add others in the comment box below.


Websites – A social network for anyone adopting as an expat. – An adoption agency working specifically with the military and expat community. – Great resources for an adoptive family – Resources for adoptive parents – Resources on grief and loss – Resources for adopting a teenager – Resources for Christian families

Books – Available on Amazon

Alperson, Myra Dim Sum, Bagels, and Grits: A Sourcebook for Multicultural Families
Atwood and Schooler The Whole Life Adoption Book: Realistic Advice for Building a Healthy Adoptive Family
Bartels-Rabb & Gulden Real Parents, Real Children: Parenting the Adopted Child
Cogen, Patty Parenting Your Internationally Adopted Child: From Your First Hours Together Through the Teen Years
Forbes & Post Beyond Consequences, Logic, and Control: A Love-Based Approach to Helping Attachment-Challenged Children With Severe Behaviors
Gray, Deborah Attaching in Adoption: Practical Tools for Today’s Parents
Keck & Kupecky Parenting the Hurt Child: Helping Adoptive Families Heal and Grow
MacLeod, Jean Adoption Parenting: Creating a Toolbox, Building Connections
Newton Verrier Nancy The Primal Wound: Understanding the Adopted Child
Purvis, Cross and Sunshine The Connected Child: Bring Hope and Healing to Your Adoptive Family
Ruskai Melina, Lois Raising Adopted Children, Revised Edition: Practical Reassuring Advice for Every Adoptive Parent

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