Adoption and the Expat Family – 6 Challenges Adoptive Families Face

Part 2 of a 3 Part Series

Many challenges and opportunities arise for families who desire to adopt – during the process and parenting through the years. Today we look at some of the greatest challenges. If you want to read part one of the series, it’s looking at reasons families adopt and why it’s important to understand and process the heart motivation for adopting.

A continuation of our adoption story… Our son was adopted 17 years ago next month. My worry was not knowing who to choose and I purposely stayed away from the orphanages because at that time there was much child trafficking. Friends living in Cambodia helped connect us to children who didn’t have parents. We didn’t go through an adoption agency because it was far less costly and we had connections. After meeting several children I felt I could love, I went to meet ‘Munchy Crunchy Bar’. The first time I saw him, my heart leapt. This is him. It was so clear. A deep knowing.

Becky and AaronWhen he and I arrived in Canada on December 20th, after 5 weeks away, I think he was terrified and curious, and I was exhausted and joyful! He met his 3 older siblings and dad for the first time.

The process getting to that day was challenging – one step forward, three steps back. Just when we thought we were close, Cambodia shut their borders for adoption. Discouragement had us wonder if it would ever happen. We read what we could on adoption – most on the process only. Where were others we could glean wisdom from for parenting? We were naive. Unrealistic. I wish we had been so much more prepared. Yet that week of Christmas 1997, I thought with delight “it’s over. We’re together.”

Little did we realize the journey had really just begun.

What are some of the presenting challenges that families face when they adopt? How can you be prepared and resilient through them?

6 Challenges for Adoptive Families

There are many factors that influence adoption and the parenting of an adopted child/teen. Here are the most impactful:

• Navigating the adoption process. The adoption process takes guts, perseverance and a perspective called ‘long view’! I’ve read, heard and seen it take anywhere from 6 months to 7 years. Ours took 9 months – that seemed an eternity. There’s much paper work that often gets shuffled or lost on someone’s desk. Patience and endurance are the greatest virtues during the adoption process. Surrender to the Divine and to the process is also important.

Hague agreement countries can mean the process may be smoother, yet at any given time it can be stalled or changed. For expatriate families, it is important to understand that:

– There will be steps that require more time or additional work for those who reside outside their passport country. This is reality, so accept it. If you’re adopting a child from outside the country you live, there’s often additional wait times – processing from your passport country and extra time between the shuffle of paperwork. Trust the process of the adoption agency or the government you’re working with. Be proactive, keep checking. However you’ll soon learn that being anxious doesn’t speed up the process!

– If an expatriate family is living in the country that the prospective adopted child is living, there can be advantages. Sometimes the paperwork can be processed quicker when you’re in country. Showing up at government offices, if acceptable, often helps. Or having a host mentor or ‘runner’ is a good idea. Check what processes work best where you are.

Visa– If you follow procedure in your host country, know you will ALSO need a visa for your child from your passport country. Check into this while going through the adoption procedure so that you know how long it takes. I know of families who have been caught unable to go on home leave because they waited too late to obtain a visa for their adopted child. Another family was evacuated from an African country only to have to flee to a nearby country because they didn’t have a “home” visa for their newly adopted child. If you are being processed by an adoption agency, ask for their direction. That’s what you’re paying them for, however, if they don’t regularly work with expats, you will need to advocate for yourself.
Info for Canada –
Info for US –
Info for UK –
Info for Australians –

• Price of adoption. If an adoption agency is used, families are looking at anywhere from $25,000-$45,000 US or CDN.
Info for Canadians:  and
Info for Americans –
For British –
For Australians –
The good news is that it can be considerably cheaper for expatriates when they’re living in the same country if they can use cultural mentors/runners within the country, rather than an international adoption agency. However do your research into the integrity of such people.

Baby Girl• Incomplete or unreliable background and/or health information. Family background is important when it comes to hereditary diseases or mental health issues.

Munchie Crunchie Bar was significantly malnourished when he joined our family. Within 6 months, he grew almost 8 cm and gained 4 kg. We prepared ourselves for learning disabilities/diseases. Within 6 months of coming to Canada, it became apparent that he had TB and multiple eye infections, all of which were very treatable.

ADHD, and other mental health issues, are a common diagnosis with adoptive children. Ask as many questions and get as many answers as you’re able in the adoption process. Then be observant and vigilant in regular medical assessments. One of the strongest protective factors in adoption is a positive family environment and the opportunity to form a secure attachment relationship. Do all you can to foster that and you will be able to face whatever comes.

• Change in family dynamics. Part of the process for adoption is a home study, and the social worker will make certain in the assessment and recommendations that the entire family is on board for the adoption.

– Needs of children already present in the home are always given first priority.
Given those needs, is there realistically time, energy, effort and financial resources to address an adoptees needs? Address concerns that are present or creep up with all children. Listen to and help them process feelings and fears.

Our biological children wondered what the cost would be in time spent with us when Munchie Crunchie Bar was adopted. These are fears which need validation and reassurance. First Born needed to know that he and his dad would still go to games together. The girls wanted to know that we’d still have dates with them.

– Those closest to the age of the adoptee, often feel the greatest impact. Our youngest was bumped from her role of ‘baby’ in the family. This was more significant and difficult than we had predicted. She was at times jealous and unkind. Though she loved her brother, she also loved being the baby and it was a loss for her. Be aware of what roles shift and how the loss must be grieved.

– Adjusting takes time and effort, for the adoptee as well as other members of the family. This process can begin prior to the adoption by having biological children involved as much as possible in the process – of preparing the family and home, of naming their sibling if that’s an option. Once you’re a family, give space and time for the adjustment. Know that each will show some stress one way or another.

Our youngest was 8 years old when her brother was adopted. Having a toddler again meant his siblings weren’t used to his noise, disruptions and needed attention.

FamilyLoss is experienced by each member of the family. For adoptive parents it may be the loss of control, time, known routine or the loss of the child they fantasized joining their family through adoption. Adopted children have lost their birth parents and often ties to other significant people in their lives, their culture and everything that is familiar to them. Siblings have lost freedom, roles and a sense of security that is often threatened. Formal and informal rules of family living, which have developed over the years, may change and new patterns of interaction must develop. Allow each to grieve in their time and way.

• Incorporating elements of the child’s original culture into family life is an important consideration for identity development.

o talk to the child and teen of their culture
o adopt cultural rituals, celebrations, recipes for food
o give opportunity for friendships with kids of the same ethnicity
o allow for a trip back to their country and culture late adolescence or early adulthood if you have moved away
If the expat family lives in the country of origin of the adopted child, he/she can retain language and culture by staying connected to their people.

• Trauma is a part of an adoptees experience, to one extent or another. This is reality. A child’s personality and coping skills are an important aspect of how they process trauma. Families must take into consideration also the possibility of:

o poor prenatal care
o child abuse or neglect
o life in an institution or
o being passed from one family member to another
Abandonment, especially as an infant, is literally experienced at a child’s cellular makeup and takes years, if ever, to heal. Adoption itself is a traumatic experience. Issues of trauma will surface and feelings of grief will recur over their lifetime, even when adoption is a positive experience. Delayed development or learning disabilities can also be evident. Here are 10 keys to healing adoption trauma.

I encourage you to ponder these challenges – face them and plan how best you can address them if you have already adopted or desire to adopt. What do you have to add that would be helpful for others to know? What do you wish you have known beforehand? Leave a comment in the comment box below.

Aaron RunningLife with our adopted son has been a rollercoaster of love and fear, sorrow and joy, alienation and connection. Though the journey has been treacherous at times, it’s also been transformational for all of us. We’ve been resilient and learn more each time we face what we think may be the impassable or impossible.

And for Munchy Crunchy Bar – he is the most resilient of all, facing more than what any young adult should have had to face of hard things of life. We have told him often that he is our hero!

Becky Signature 2


  1. There’s now a Facebook Group to give peer support in this journey. There are prospective adoptive parents and veterans who have made this journey, and also faced the challenges of parenting children from hard places in a country that is foreign to them. It is open to parents who are living outside their birth country and have at least one child who has been adopted, or those living abroad who are thinking about adopting, or those who have adopted who are thinking about moving. 😉 We are a safe and supportive group; please join us!

  2. Expat Family Resilience Coach says:

    Great to know, Natalie! Thanks for the information. What a help to families!

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