Guest Contributor: In the Beginning: The Supporting Cast (to be a Grandparent)

This post is from a guest contributor who plays a very important role in her family… the role of a grandmother!

I am having such a blast as a grandmother! All the perks of parenthood, without the responsibility. I am in my third childhood (the second, of course, occurring with my own children) and relish the opportunity to play and be silly once again with my grandchildren. Their innocence and ‘joie de vie’ is energizing. I have been reacquainted with Uno and Sorry, playgrounds and giant bubbles. Together, we have constructed Marshmallow Shooters, and assembled S’mores in celebration of summer. Every season brings its own pleasures and opportunities to play. Fall and leaf battles. Winter and snow painting and snowman building. Spring and puddle jumping. What is not to love?! And when my energy dwindles (long before the grandkids’ does), I take great pleasure in stepping aside and observing Pappa teasing the grandkids and our children parent and play with their kids. It is an amazing and privileged role I get to play as grandmother…

We have both biological and adopted grandchildren. They are all precious to us. We do not make distinctions – no need to – there is plenty of love to go ’round. Nevertheless, it would be dishonest of me and most naïve to suggest to you that there are no differences in the ways in which we grandparent each.

Particularly at the outset, the journey begins quite differently. This is not something I would have anticipated initially. Adopted or biological – they are all kids – right?! Just love them all, big hugs and kisses, lots of sugar treats, spoil them like crazy (a grandparent’s prerogative :), and then send them home to Mommy and Daddy, end of story. Sound right? Well, not quite. (I must confess I am not the ‘spoiling’ type, with any of our grandchildren. A few treats here and there – certainly. More important, though, Pappa and I prefer to spoil our grandkids with love and affection, with time and experiences, rather than with too many treats or things. We are (and always were) just too darn pragmatic!)

The hugs and cuddles are a very natural beginning for a biological grandchild. Along with Mom and Dad, the bonding for us began long before baby was born. It was a natural greeting into the real world.

For our adopted grandchildren, however, because they were no longer babies when they entered our family, the rules were quite different. Fortunately for us, our own daughter and son-in-law took the time to educate us prior to the arrival of their adopted children. They offered us reading material. They provided a list of things they wanted us to know as we embarked on this adoption journey together. This education had many benefits and should not be understated here. Because of it, we did not take it personally when they opted out of family events for the first while; they explained to us that they needed time to bond as a family unit, prior to introducing other family members into their circle. While we missed our own children hugely and were beyond excited to celebrate this incredible event with them (the creation of a family), we were able to step back because we could appreciate that developing this primary bond with Mom and Dad was of utmost importance to our grandchildren and would only come ‘in time’. Attachment is a huge challenge, not one often discussed or appreciated and we had to be patient – not my strong suit! Was it tough to be on ‘the outside’ in the early phase? So incredibly tough. But thanks to our kids (daughter and son-in-law), the conversation had begun.

When Pappa and I finally met our grandchildren, it was love at first sight! (Can I gush for a moment here to tell you how precious they are? 🙂 We were desperate to pick them up in our arms, give them big squishy hugs and tell them how lucky we were to meet them. Instead, we had to check all our instincts to cuddle and nurture at the door. We could love them, certainly, but we were cautioned to move slowly and follow Mom and Dad’s prompts. Good advice, I promise, as our primary role is and should be to support Mom and Dad. However, that is translated into specifics: we refrained from physical contact for the most part. We held back instead of rushing to a grandchild’s rescue when he/she scraped a knee or bumped a toe. We even deferred from offering a drink or snack when our grandchildren were hungry. Pretty tricky! And completely counter-intuitive!! Nevertheless, we understood the reasoning behind the request to ‘step back’ and allow Mommy and Daddy to move in to provide those basic needs, that comfort and sympathy; these children needed to learn to lean on Mom and Dad – to trust that Mom and Dad would be there for them. It can be a huge hurdle/challenge for an adopted child to learn to trust those around them to take care of them; they have spent critical developmental years learning that they can depend on none, other than themselves. Hence, initially, instead of being a hands-on grandparents, jumping in with both feet, Pappa and I hovered around the periphery of this blossoming family, becoming the ‘cheering section’ and celebrating all the small, but monumental milestones of our grandchildren – as when a child sought out Mom or Dad of their own accord when they were hurt, as when a child stepped between his/her parents to hold both Mom and Dad’s hands.

The exciting news is that we have moved past those first tenuous meetings as the bonds in this new ‘forever family’ strengthen. Pappa and I continue to work hard to follow Mommy and Daddy’s lead, but there are now ample opportunities to engage with our grandchildren, to love and nurture them. And as I watch and play with these amazing grandchildren, I register how far they have come in their own journey. There is new confidence emerging alongside their sense of belonging. There is a sense of humor revealing itself as they remember how to play. They are children first and foremost-the path to creating those family bonds is just different for an adoptive family.

I am so grateful that our children had the wisdom and the courage to advise us as to how we could best support them in their role as adoptive parents, even when, at times, it must have been extremely hard to do so… I feel even more blessed that the dialogue is ongoing, for it is because of that dialogue that we are able to work together, parents and grandparents together, to ultimately provide what is best for our children/grandchildren and to celebrate ‘family’.

Now, if you will excuse me, I have a game of Uno to play… 🙂

Guest Contributor: The Home Study and Your Therapist

This post was submitted by Christine, a guest contributor. Christine and her husband are in the process of adopting domestically through Child and Family Services.

***

My husband and I started our adoption journey in December last year and have just completed the home study. We are waiting to be matched with a sibling group. We were married later in life and children were just not possible when we were ready for them.

We had both been going to see the same therapist separately to work out some issues with our relationship and to help my husband deal with his PTSD and ADD. When we talked to our home study worker, I found it natural that she might want to talk to our therapist and/or doctor, particularly as we are both on depression medication. We had no problem signing the consents, although I do admit to a feeling of trepidation about it, afraid we were going to be rejected because of something they might find out. I didn’t have anything to hide, but what if..?

Around that time, someone in an adoption support Facebook group I am a member of posted that their home study worker was asking for the same thing and they were expressing reservations. My first thought was why not? But as I thought about it some more, I understood a bit better. We have no control over what they will say and how the home study worker will interpret it. Prospective adoptive parents are very vulnerable throughout this process and terrified that we will be told we are not ‘good enough’ to adopt. Scary.

When I got married the first time (this is my second marriage), during our pre-marital counselling I was scared I would be told we shouldn’t get married. So I considered every answer and made sure I answered the questions in the best possible way. I didn’t lie, but I may have moulded things to look and sound better than they were. Of course, that was a mistake, I later learned, as the marriage didn’t last.

So, back to the home study – its tempting to orchestrate our answers to put us in the best possible light, but are we doing the children any good? Why are we adopting, anyway – is it more important that we get a kid or that the kid has a great home?

I have learned through this process and through discussions with our home study worker that they really don’t want to reject anyone. In our particular case, although there were some ongoing anger issues due to the PTSD, there was far more good than bad and they were willing to help us with the anger issues so the kid(s) they place with us won’t be affected.

So, have no fear to fully open up, give the home study worker access to everyone and everything. They are not looking for reasons to reject you, they just need to know ALL the information so they can match the right kids with you. In our case, we took a couple of things off the list of things we would look at to avoid any problems (ie. FASD, domestic violence, etc.)

We meet with our support worker next week to sign off on the report and take the next steps – we are so excited!

The Many Faces of Adoption

When you start researching ways to adopt, the terminology can be quite confusing, especially if the information you’re gathering is not Alberta-based. If you’re looking to adopt a child, there are really just *three types of adoption.

They are, in language we can all understand:

1) Government Adoption: Adoption of (typically older) children in government care (foster care). Facilitated by Alberta Adoption Services / Child and Family Services

2) Infant Adoption: Adoption of an infant through a private agency (when a birth mother surrenders her child). This is often referred to as “private adoption”

3) International Adoption: Adoption of children (typically infants) from outside of Canada. This is facilitated through a private agency

The phrase “domestic adoption” can refer to both government and infant adoptions; it simply means that you are adopting from home and not internationally.

*Some agencies also handle adult adoptions, adoptions of step-children, and “private direct adoption” (when a birth parent places a child in the care of someone they know) These types of adoption have not been included in this article.

Adoption Frustration: The Timeline

I think the most common frustration we have as parents who’ve pursued adoption through Child and Family Services is that nothing happens as quickly as you think it will. Knowledge is key however, so I’ll share a bit of what I’ve learned to help you prepare for your own journey.

From the time you submit your application to the time you are approved; your file will change hands several times. Each time it does, someone new has to take the time to review it and contact you. In my case, it took six months to receive initial contact and an average of three weeks to be contacted by each new worker thereafter. Your start to finish timeline will vary throughout the province, but in the Calgary area it is currently taking a year or more from submission to approval.

Here are a few examples of unforeseen things that held up my application:

1) It took six months to receive the first phone call after submitting my application. This was due to a staffing issue.

2) When I finally received the initial contact from the intake worker, I had to delay our first meeting as I was preparing to move into my new home. My house was mostly in boxes and of course, they want to meet in your home. I delayed this meeting a little over a month, until I took possession of my new home and had a couple of weeks to unpack.

3) It was late November when I finally had my first meeting with the intake worker. The next step was to attend the several days of parental training, however there is no training scheduled for December so I had to wait until January. That was another month long delay.

A tip for keeping things on track:

While I personally didn’t have any issues with the paperwork side of things, I’ve met with many people who have. I’ve heard stories of paperwork being lost, placed in the wrong person’s file, or not being received by Child and Family Services. These things happen, so do yourself a favour by having all of the paperwork filled out and submitted right away, and make sure to keep copies of it handy (in your email, on a flash drive, etc.) so it can be quickly rectified if something goes missing.

Also, your Criminal Record Check is only valid for six months, so find out from your worker when yours expires and make sure to allow enough processing time when submitting a new one.

Posted by: Sarah
Are you following me on Twitter? @sarw1985

Summer of Structure

Every year I spend my spring planning out my summer. Days at the beach, camping and long weekends out of town. Now that I’m planning to have children, I’m wondering how much those kind of activities are going to wreak havoc on the high structure lifestyle that I’ve read is critical to adopted children’s success.

I wonder if taking them away from home will rock the boat too much, or if maintaining parts of their schedule (like bath time and bed time) will be enough to keep them at their best while we’re soaking up sun at the lake.

As we head into the long sunny days of summer and no school, how are you planning to manage your adopted child’s schedule? Do you have any advice for a newbie like me?

Posted by: Sarah
Are you following me on Twitter? @sarw1985

Three Ways to Shut Down Intrusive Questions About Your Adopted Children

As human beings we have a natural curiosity, so it’s expected that as the parent of an adopted child, you’ll at some point be asked a question that you aren’t comfortable answering. Most people don’t realize they’re being intrusive, but innocent as it may be, it is still important to maintain your child’s right to privacy. Below are a few ways to avoid answering invasive questions:

1) Politely pointing out that the details belong to your child is a good way to cue the asker into viewing the question from the child’s perspective, which they likely hadn’t considered. Try using a response similar to this one: “I appreciate your curiosity but I prefer not to share too many details as I’m sensitive to my child’s privacy”

2) Provide a generic but factual answer. For example, if someone asks for specifics in your child’s past, you might respond with something like “Most children in care have suffered some form of neglect, abuse or other trauma”. This satisfies their curiosity without invading your child’s privacy

3) It’s natural for people (especially women) to overshare information, but it’s not often necessary for people to know that your child is adopted. If it isn’t imperative to the conversation, simply leaving that detail out altogether will spare you the uncomfortable questions that follow