Dear Mr. Dad: My wife and I have been trying for years to have a child of our own. We’re now considering adoption. But there’s so much to think about: Should we take in a foster child first, just to see how things go? Can we trust the State adoption agency? Will we be able to afford all the associated expenses? What if we discover months or years later, that there’s something seriously wrong with the child?

A: What great questions. Adoption certainly isn’t for everyone, and the decision to adopt isn’t one to take lightly. The risks are real: you hear nightmarish, heartbreaking stories everywhere. Many prospective adoptive parents go through the training that’s required by certain adoption agencies and drop out, realizing that it might not be for them. But there are plenty of successes out there too.

One parent told me that when she and her husband made their decision to adopt, they felt as if they were plunging off a cliff in Mexico. They had the same racing heartbeat and empty screams in their heads, wondering where this was going to take them. Their new daughter was already ten months old. They had never met her, and she had never seen them. A year later, their daughter challenges her new parents every day, but they love her as their own. I hear stories like this all the time.

So how do you know whether you should proceed or not? Here are some suggestions from the experts as well as adoptive parents I’ve spoken with:

Locate Living Resources.
You don’t need to wear a button saying, “I’m considering adopting: tell me your story.” Just bring up the subject in conversation and you’ll be surprised at how many experiences will pop out of people you barely know.

Locate Your State Resources.
Depending on the State you’re in, there’s a good chance that before you can adopt, you’ll first have to take a training session at your local Department of Human Services office. Pay close attention. This won’t affect the moral, mental, and emotional decisions that you make on the way towards building a family, but pay special attention to the parts that deal with all the things you’ll need to do to access State services.

Examine Your Heart, Home, And Hospitality.
There’s no denying that adopting a child of any age is going to be stressful for everyone concerned. It’s at least as difficult as having and raising your own kids. It can also be tough on your marriage.

So consider these things:

  • Can you be patient with a child who acts out for no reason that you see, exhibiting fears in what seem like inappropriate ways?
  • Are you flexible enough to take time to attend to this child’s emotional needs, even if they don’t make sense to you?
  • Do you (or anyone else in your family) have any issues with taking in a child that isn’t yours biologically? For some this is a big issue.
  • Can you deal with the possibility that your child might not initially bond with you? Can you be patient through the process of building lost trust?
  • Finally, are you and your partner on the same page? Avoid the chaos that disunity creates.

Opening your home to an abandoned child is a tremendously emotional experience. There’s no other way to put it. Clinically considering the pros and cons can’t outweigh the needs and desires of hearts. Through all the considering and pondering, don’t forget to accept the fact that you are saving a life and building your future. There can be no con to that.