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Good grief: Finding strength in facing grief and loss as an adoptive parent

Woman with dark hair sitting on the floor and leaning on a bed

We focus a lot on the grief and loss children in foster care experience. But you, as a parent, likely experience grief too.

As an adoptive parent, you may have had a different idea of what parenting would look like than what you are experiencing now. Maybe you came to adoption due to infertility. Or you decided to be a single adoptive parent when that wasn’t your original plan. Even if you had always hoped to adopt, maybe your child is experiencing significant challenges and you’re struggling to help. Or, you’ve lost sight of your own interests and former sense of self. 

When we, as parents, reckon with our past expectations and current situations, we can better show up for our families and ourselves. That all sounds pretty great, right? And it may not be as impossible as it seems.

Adoptive parents’ grief and loss: the five stages 

You may know about the five stages of grief. There’s:

  • denial,
  • anger,
  • bargaining,
  • depression, 
  • and the oh-so-sweet but seemingly elusive stage of acceptance.

It’s true that the process isn’t linear, and you may jump around these stages or re-experience them later. But knowing these five stages provides a way to understand how grief shows up in your life. To reflect on this, ask yourself the following questions: 


Do you feel that your child is capable of something beyond their abilities? You might be in the denial stage, where you’re holding on to unrealistic expectations.


Picture this: You’re in a meeting at your child’s school. While talking to their teacher, you’ve become so upset that you forgot what you were advocating for. You were just trying to get the school to meet your child’s needs, but anger has made you lose sight of this goal.

Does this scenario sound familiar? That might mean you are grieving lost expectations. 


Are you searching for any possible solution or “fix?” Maybe you’re looking for new therapies, are trying every possible intervention, have visited countless specialists, and are holding out hope for a magic solution to your child’s struggles. 

It makes sense to look into all possible options for your child. But continuing to seek unrealistic solutions may mean that you are in the bargaining stage of grieving. 


Have you been feeling lost, worn out, or unwilling to go to any more therapy sessions or school meetings? This may be a symptom of grief. Do not hesitate to seek help from mental health professionals if you are feeling depressed.


Can you take joy in the small victories—like your child getting themselves dressed without melting down, or going a whole day without a call from the school? 

As one foster parent says, celebrate everything. She explains, “The foster care community is always celebrating. There is so much growth and connection that many families not doing foster care would walk past and overlook. Instead, we are celebrating that kid who is finally tying their shoes. We are celebrating that kid who made a friend. We are celebrating that kid who is making it through a whole day of school.”

If this sounds like you, you are learning to face your grief with hope for the future, even when that future may be different than what you anticipated.

The silver lining of a hard process

There is no doubt that confronting our grief head-on isn’t fun. It’s hard and uncomfortable work. And for many parents, it might feel like acknowledging our losses discounts the joys our children have brought to our lives. But we can celebrate the many wonderful things about being a parent even while mourning the losses. 

The good news is that when you confront your grief, you will be better able to connect with your children’s experiences of grief and loss. There are many benefits of connecting to our grief if we just take that first step to try.