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Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Helping a Family Who Recently Adopted

Now I actually kinda feel sorry for those sweet little church ladies... because they asked how they could help and I unloaded.  Too bad for them that they didn't realize what a dysfunctional, needy mess I was before they offered.  Heh.

Seriously though, I thought of several things that church members can do to help a family that recently adopted an older baby or toddler.  I wasn't quite so blunt with my words when speaking to them, but I figure if y'all are reading here, you are open to hearing my no-holds-barred opinions.  (And yes, y'all, I know that families who adopt newborns need help, too, but families adopting older babies and children typically require more non-traditional forms of assistance.)

Here are a few of my ideas ... please add to the list.

1. Support the family in their need for attachment parenting.  Many newly adopted older babies, toddlers and young children are not capable of feeling safe and secure within a church nursery or Sunday School setting.  Welcome the family into the worship service, doing everything you can to support them while still minimizing the distraction to the larger congregation.  Allow them to set up with quiet toys in the rear of the sanctuary, if needed.  Spread the word through the congregation that the family is doing what it needs to do in order to teach the child about what family means.  Most children are able to separate from their parents within three to six months, but some children require much longer.

2. Pray for the family.  Pray for grace, mercy, strength and patience for the parents.  Pray for the newly adopted child to experience healing and to begin trusting the family.  Pray for siblings, that they grow in relationship with their parents and newly adopted sibling throughout the coming months.  Let the family know that you are praying for them fervently and frequently.  It will be a balm to their souls.

3. Families who recently traveled internationally will be jet lagged and possibly ill when they return home.  They'll also be adjusting to life with a new family member.  Many newly adopted children feel terrified at night.  Many feel overstimulated and truly struggle to wind down.  Goodness, some even pee through the night.  It is just as exhausting, perhaps more so, than bringing home a newborn from the hospital, since the children are older and don't typically sleep through the day either.  Which means mom and dad might be getting around five or six hours of interrupted sleep each night, with little to no opportunity for naps.  Which means y'all need to do what any decent church-going woman does when a new momma is exhausted... make her meals.  Bad casseroles, good casseroles, pot roast and soups.  Any and all food will be much appreciated.  I promise.

4. Unless you are well-versed in adoption parenting, or parenting traumatized children, do not offer parenting advice, especially in terms of allowing the child to "cry it out," spanking or any other form of discipline, unless the child has been home at least a year AND the parent asks for advice.  Just don't.  Adopted children are different from biological children.  They aren't less than, but they are different.  Some traditional forms of discipline will only further harm a traumatized child.

5. Many newly adopted children who once lived in an orphanage setting have significant developmental delays.  Floor time - time for the child to play - is essential to help the child catch up.  Many times pediatricians do not want children recently adopted internationally to be out and about in public, not until they have time to build up their immune systems with better nutrition.  You can help the family hugely by calling when you are headed to the store, to see if they need anything.  This keeps the child at home, with time to play and grow healthy, while still keeping the family stocked in milk, eggs and bread, among other things.

6. Avoid offering comments about adopted children being lucky or blessed by the adoptive parents.  These children are not lucky: they have been separated from their birth families, lived in orphanages or foster homes, were suddenly removed from all they have ever known and loved, and now are expected to embrace a new family, language, culture and values systems.  Not only that, but society expects them to feel grateful for all of it.  Ask yourself if you would want another person calling your child lucky if he or she suddenly lost you and your spouse, lived in a room with a ratio of 20 children to one caregiver for a year or more, and then suddenly was handed off to a family who spoke a different language and lived halfway around the world.  Then ask yourself if your child would feel grateful after all of that.

7. Consider offering respite care for the family.  This is very different from babysitting.  Respite care should not begin until a minimum of four months has past since the adoption.  Respite care providers need to already have a relationship with the child, before the child is left alone with the providers.  Being a consistent presence in the child's life will help to build trust with the child, which is essential before mom and dad leave the child with the provider.  Also, transitions are often quite difficult for traumatized children, so the care itself needs to be lengthy enough to make it worth the time and effort it takes to prepare for and recover from it.  In other words, it needs to be longer than a couple of hours.

8. If the adoption required travel, ensure that the grass is mowed, the snow is shoveled, the leaves are raked, whatever is needed while the family is away.  If the family is receptive, continue to help with yard work during their first few months together as a family.  Yard work and cleaning take away from family bonding time.  And, while many find it difficult to allow others into their homes to clean their toilets and fold their underthings, they typically feel nothing but relief when someone else is pulling their weeds.

9. During their first few months together as a family, do not overwhelm them with lengthy visits or play "pass the baby" games.  The new child needs time to bond with his or her new parents and siblings.  A revolving door of new faces does not teach the child the meaning of family.  Also, only mom and dad should take care of the child's basic needs until the child's attachment to the parents is strong.  This includes feeding, so do not offer the child snacks without first gaining permission from the parent.  Even then, during the first few months, it's best if you offer the food to mom or dad, so that he or she in turn can provide it to the child.

10. Share with the new adoptive parents some of God's Promises.  I clung to many of God's promises during those first few years after we adopted the Tongginator.  Be conscientious, however, when doing so because - while Christian adoptive parents do see the hand of God in adoption - not all feel that their child was predestined to join their family. (Some do; we do not - nor are we alone.)  Here are a few of my favorites:

because many adoptive parents think they know what they are doing (look! we passed the homestudy!) until they actually adopt, and then they completely freak out because it can be hard, Hard, HARD ... or maybe I might possibly just be projecting here, but whatever
  • Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and He will say, 'Here I am.'  Isaiah 58:9
  • I am the Lord, the God of all mankind.  Is anything too hard for me?  Jeremiah 32:27
  • I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you. Psalm 32:8
  • Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight.  Proverbs 3:5-6
because it is so very difficult to watch a child you love, or are coming to love, struggle so very much, in ways you never even anticipated, because how can you know what you don't know?
  • He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. Psalms 147:3
  • Perfect love drives out fear.  1 John 4:18
  • Your Father knows what you need before you even ask Him.  Matthew 6:8
  • I will cause all things to ultimately work for your good.  Romans 8:28
What else can y'all think of?


Kerrie (and Jason) said...

some great tips here. The only extra one I can think of is to just BE there when needed - as a friend, as someone for them to talk to, or NOT talk to as the case may be. Sometimes just having someone there who will listen without judging is the best gift of all.

Sharie said...

These are awesome. It has been so long now I cant think of anything to add. My favorite is the parenting advice!

Rebekah said...

I love this list!

Lori Printy said...

Great list. I would also add, Celebrate with the family. Send congratulatory cards, emails well wishes a gift if you like.
Celebrate an adoption much like you would celebrate a new child coming into the family by birth.

il panettiere... said...

Wow. This is an incredible list and should be shared a hundred times over....

Momma C said...

I would add if the adoptive parents express frustration or exhaustion or mention any difficulty they or their child may be having do not remind them that "they chose this" Would you say to a new mother (via birth) "Well you chose to deliver this baby" then don't say it to a new momma via adoption either. And this included ANYTHING that expresses that sentiment, no matter how "nicely" you think it is worded

Adoption & Fire said...

Perfectly said! You need to submit this to the adoption magazine.

Foxxy One said...

May I add that Post Adoption Depression is very real. As real as post partum depression. Please keep an eye on the Mom and make sure that she has a safe person (hopefully you) to go to with her stresses and angst and please do not blow it off and exhaustion or stress. It's hormonal and can, like PPD be treated. No one should have to suffer through PAD or PPD when there are remedies available.

susieloulou said...

What about entertaining the other kids? Is that a good or bad idea? Take the other kids for an outing?

Healy Family said...

I might add (to an already exceptional list!) - DO NOT buy the newly adopted children gifts!(unless the child is a baby...) - our children came to us at 10 and 11 and God bless our church for wanting to shower them with welcome gifts. We knew this would be the WORST idea as they already had a very entitled attitude. Folks who wanted to give something gave gift cards which we then in turn used to purchase things the kids needed (clothes, underwear, shoes and socks...). The kids come needing so much but to have it all dumped on them at once is overwhelming. In general and for reasons I don't understand, our girls are not good receivers of gifts.

Brooke Randolph said...

All excellent and I am sharing this... The only suggestion I would make is that part of meeting the basic needs mentioned in #9 is providing nourishment, one of our most basic forms of nurturing. I suggest for #3 that all meals shared are provided ahead of time in frozen form so the children see mom & dad preparing the meals for them, even if it is just the baking part of it. Even little ones can sense that someone else just brought this food... especially for kids that never know when or from where their next meal might come, this could contribute to continued anxiety. It's one of the examples I use in class often, so I wanted to share with you also.

Brooke Randolph, LMHC
MLJ Adoptions, Inc.

Captain Murdock said...

Great list. I would also suggest helping with the older kids. A lot of times older kids have a lot to adjust to and a mom and dad who have very little time for them (not to mention the fact that mom and dad have likely been gone for weeks and the kids really missed them). Offering to take school age kids to and from school, piano lessons or just out for ice cream is a great way to minister to a family and make the older kids feel special while mom and dad tend to the newly adopted kid without feeling guilty.

Tony and Lisa said...

Great blog - thank you! When we brought our son home a year ago, he was 18 months and we had a 4 year old in the home. We managed, but we didn't really have offers from friends to bring over meals, etc. Lots of support, but really no offers to help w that. I was even asked to make a meal for another friend who had just given birth! I politely declined and said that our family, too, was in a big adjustment period, and it was difficult enough for me to get a meal on the table for my own family. :) I think lots of folks, while very excited for us, didn't connect the dots that adoption, even if it's not adoption of an infant, is a change to a family just like the birth of a bio child.

Semi-feral Mama said...

This is a wonderful list. And I am finding the comments equally enlightening. Clearly as adoptive parents we share some of the same experiences/opinions, and also have some very different experiences.
Because we moved to a new community seven hours away from our closest family members and days away from any friends the same week we brought our son home from Ethiopia, our experience was unique.
What I ended up needing the most, was friends who would chat with me on the phone every single day for 10 minutes while I had the kids strapped in the car and was headed out to the park.
I know I was whiny, repetitive and probably a bit of an inconvenience, but my friends who answered the phone every day and let me blather a little kept me sane.

Martha said...

Amen and amen...too bad we can't post this in EVERY church bulletin in the world, but then of course all the well-meaning folks would have to read it and take the words to heart. LOL

Deb said...

I would add-

1. respite care in a different way- come in and do laundry or clean for the family - that way the new parents can actually spend time resting- be that on the couch, talking with you while you do the task.

2. come over and just socialize- for a new mom, of any age, being isolated is hard. For a single parent it may be extremely difficult. I would have loved having some one just sitting with me while I played with my son, or someone talking to me while I did tasks.

All of your list should be required to be posted monthly in church bulletins.

Janet said...

Oh, this is VERY good, TM. VERY, VERY good. When our kids came home, we put a letter in our church newsletter sort of like this, but this one is MUCH better.

Kristin said...

I agree with this list. One thing I would add that deals more with pre-placement is acknowledging the upcoming adoption.

I still remember how incredibly touching it was to have one member of our church who would ask me, "How's the Mom-to-Be?".

I have 4 bio kids and know how much a pregnant belly can bring out the excitement of some of the sweet church ladies, but it often felt like I was a bit alone in waiting for this child.

Aus said...

Outstanding post TM - maybe even should be required reading and posted over at NHBO?

hugs - aus and co.

Aunt LoLo said...

I love how all of these CAN apply every new mother...regardless of her path. Thank you!

Alison said...

Great post, TM. Love you and the way your mind is always searching for ways to encourage all who are involved in the care of children: either through laughing, teaching, or standing strong beside. -GP

The Byrd's Nest said...

I think you did an excellent job! To this day people do not "get" my daughter's. I don't expect them to if they haven't adopted and quite frankly there are many adoptive parent friends I have who don't get them either;) We spent a week at a mission meeting with all of the missionaries in Mexico who work for our organization. Lottie is almost 7 but has incredible issues with being away from me. She was just a wreck the entire week. VBS workers had to pull her off of me each morning and to make matters worse we had to pick them up for lunch and them take them back for the afternoon. She sucked her thumb 24/7 and was on my body the entire time. When all of the other missionary kids were playing together, she was on top of me. She is terrified, no matter what I say, that I am never coming back. I try and try to explain to people why she feels this way but they still offer advice that you would ONLY EVER use on a bio child. I wonder why people can't just give you a hug, offer words of encouragement and be on their way???? Sometimes I seriously get tired of educating people so I am grateful to you because you at least continue to try!