Review | Want to adopt?

Helen Oakwater – author of the hugely popular Bubble-Wrapped Children and creator of the FAB Parents website – has done it again. This time, a book aimed specifically at preparing people for the reality of adoption: the process, the trauma, the different style of parenting, and what is required of them. It is GOLD. I wish we’d had this when we were thinking about adopting. I recommend Want To Adopt? completely to anyone thinking about adopting/in the process/recently placed, and all their friends and family. Seriously – buy a spare to lend to others to help them ‘get it’.

Revolutionary potential

Want To Adopt? has the potential to revolutionise how people prepare for therapeutic parenting and receive appropriate support. Helen asks exactly the right difficult questions to help people examine themselves and their relationships carefully before making this enormous commitment.

Here’s an example – the warm-up, if you like – to some of the more challenging questions readers are asked to consider.

An epic adventure

‘Imagine you are preparing for an epic adventure. Travelling off the beaten track in foreign lands. I’m assuming you would look at maps, get medical advice about inoculations, health risks and relevant contents for your first aid kit. You’d buy suitable clothes, hiking boots, read guide books, connect to experienced travellers. You probably wouldn’t listen to people who only take coach trips close to home or just inhabit sun-beds at five star hotels in commercial resorts every year. Well, you wouldn’t if you had any sense.

‘Normal parenting’ is more like the coach trip or conventional holiday destination. Of course small things go wrong. Luggage is lost, the food disappoints, rain pelts, beds are lumpy, waiters are rude, flights are delayed. However, generally it’s all okay. There’s an alternative itinerary. Easy solutions. Standard stuff.

‘Adoption is the ultimate epic, risky adventure. It takes significant preparation and planning. Many will proffer ignorant, unasked for advice, based on stories from someone they once met in a pub or a programme watched on TV. Others suck their teeth and warn it’s dodgy. Some look incredulous and bleat “why would you want to go there”. I received all those reactions when I travelled to Antarctica and the Amazon. (Yes, I genuinely did, in real life; amazing trips: thanks for asking).

‘Are you equipped for such an adventure? Are you emotionally, physically and psychologically fit? Do you have a route map? Is your team strong? How flexible are you? How robust? How committed? What criteria will determine when you change direction?

‘Right now you don’t know if your epic adventure will be across the ocean, down a river, up a mountain, down a canyon, up a glacier or across a desert and whether conditions are icy, hot or temperate. That will be determined by your child. So, you need to sharpen your skills, attitude and sense of self. Become crystal clear on who you are, what really matters to you and drop some of the rubbish you’ve been carrying around for years, whether limiting beliefs, arrogance, self-pity or flakiness. Maybe revisit the Universal Cycle of Change again.

‘It’s time to take a long hard look at yourself. Your current life. Your desired life. Who you really are. Those personal qualities, values, beliefs, sense of self and emotional strength that are required, whichever terrain confronts you.’

Helen Oakwater, Want To Adopt? pages 72-73

The challenge

One of the things I love most about the book – and Helen’s style in general – is that she is very understanding of the reader’s feelings but doesn’t always seek to make them feel comfortable. This means that the text is, by necessity, sometimes challenging – a bit provocative, even. Countering this, however, is a reassurance that making a decision not to adopt is a perfectly acceptable thing to do, and better before introductions than further down the line. There is no shame in considering it thoroughly and then deciding it’s not for you.

Helen Oakwater's book 'Want To Adopt?' has the potential to revolutionise how people prepare for therapeutic parenting and receive appropriate support. Click To Tweet

The reality

There is no sugar-coating in this book. No guarantees of a happily ever after, no promises that love and boundaries will be enough to see you through. There is a large dose of reality about the experience of parenting children who have had a traumatic start and carry that legacy into their adoptive family. Like many others, as a prospective adopter I was sometimes wary of reading this type of content. I was nervous and didn’t want to risk being scared off! Looking back, that is a crazy approach, and I’m glad I did push myself to read what was available then. There is grit here, and better to encounter it in written form than for it to shock you when it happens in your own home later.

A sense of humour

Many would argue that being able to find something to laugh about even when things are tough is a vital skill for adopters. This book is a good illustration of that. Helen is queen of the acronym – anyone for some S.H.I.T. (Selective Hurts Internalised and Trapped) and C.R.A.P. (Charged Reactive Angry Particles)? See? Realistic. Relatable. Amusing. And as for the anecdote about the fertility clinic? I laughed out loud and it still makes me grin to think about it.

Helen Oakwater's 'Want To Adopt?' asks exactly the right difficult questions to help people examine themselves and their relationships carefully before making this enormous commitment. Click To Tweet

Still want to adopt?

If you’re in the adoption process, thinking about it, or have already had a child placed with you, this book really is invaluable as you get stuck in to the grit of what adoption is really about. It’s available from Amazon in both print and Kindle formats and at the time of writing is a bargain £6.50.


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