Please do / Please Don’t

 Welcoming a new child into the family is an exciting and overwhelming time for everyone. The new parent(s) are busy imagining how their lives will change, trying to prepare bedrooms, toys, clothes, coordinating plans for their new arrival and lying awake at night full of questions, anxiety and anticipation. Grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends are often caught up in the whirlwind of preparation too, or may be struggling with their own worries as to how this will impact their growing family.

We found that creating some guidelines was helpful as we looked for some “non-traditional” support from our family and friends.

Please Do:

  1. Offer household help (running errands, preparing meals that can go right from the freezer to the oven, etc.) so the parents can spend more time holding and bonding with the child. This new addition to the family has created a significant change. Suddenly, the smallest task may take on a life of its own when there is a child demanding much of the parent’s energy and patience. Initially a new adoptive parent may not be sure of their child’s responses in typical daily situations, line ups, grocery stores or even a short walk or drive
  2. Trust the parent’s instincts. Even a first time parent may notice subtle symptoms that well-meaning family and friends attribute to “normal” behavior.  These children are wonderful little individuals, but they have not been through “normal” things and do not simply have “normal” behaviors. Due to the trauma that they have all experienced in their short lives, many behaviors may have a different motivation than that of their peers
  3. Accept that attachment issues are difficult for anyone outside of the mother and father to see and understand.  Each child is different and each situation may look different to the new family. The bonding process requires a great deal of time, commitment and energy. This young child is learning new boundaries, trust processes and starting to figure out the context of new relationships in the world. Initially, their world needs to be kept quite small to allow them to re-establish their place in this new context and to include their forever family. To create a solid foundation of a healthy attachment, the parents must be seen as the “safe” place. This can be difficult to do while setting boundaries and disciplining a toddler who may be presenting some challenging behaviors
  4. Be supportive even if you think everything looks fine to you.  Understand that even for a new toddler that may sleep through the night, each waking moment of the day requires a great deal of energy and thought
  5. Allow the parents to be the center of the child’s world. One grandfather, when greeting his grandson, immediately turns him back to his mom and says positive statements about his good mommy. This is important to help establish the attachment process. Though many members of the extended family may have been supportive and excited about the new addition to the family, the relationship of the immediate family must always be the focus initially. This means that all others need to take a “backseat” role. There will be a time to create healthy relationships with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. Until this little person has had a chance to form a healthy attachment with the parents, pushing the additional relationships may create confusion, anxiety and stress for them
  6. Tell the child every time you see him what a good/loving/safe mommy and daddy he has. This will help to reinforce the strength in the entire extended family unit. It also supports each parent in their new role through the child’s eyes
  7. When the parents need someone to care for the child for a night out, offer to babysit in the child’s home. (After the child has been home for a substantial period of time.) Especially if the time will include the child’s bedtime, it may be helpful to do a practice run at the home with the parents. Routines can be important and it may allow the child to become familiar with you during this time and will prepare both you and the child for the upcoming evening
  8. As hard as it may be for you, abide by the requests of the parents. Even if the child looks like he really wants to be with Grandma, for example, he needs to have a strong attachment to his parents first. Something as simple as passing the child from one person to another or allowing others, even grandparents, to hold a child who is not “attached” can make the attachment process that much longer and harder. Some parents have had to refrain from seeing certain family members or friends because they did not respect the parents’ requests. When the child is comforted and/or having their needs met by someone other than his/her parents it can create confusion as to who will take care of them. It is especially important during the process of attachment that the parents are the “first responders” in meeting and anticipating their child’s needs. If you see something or would like to offer something (like a treat) it is a good idea to discuss this with the parents without the child present. Many adopted children have an incredibly keen sense of hearing and will also gauge a situation to determine who the “boss” is in the room. Without guidance, these children may simply focus on the person they feel is in a position to keep them safe, or the person who they may need to establish dominance over to maintain their own control. When the extended family shows support of the parents, it can help these children learn that they can be safe and secure by relying on their forever mommy and daddy
  9. Accept that parenting children who are at-risk for or who suffer from attachment issues goes against traditional parenting methods and beliefs. Parenting methods that work for many children can be detrimental to a child with attachment issues. Parents will know what methods do or do not work for their child. They may look different than those you have used or than those you may be familiar with but this new family needs your support and buy-in to support them on this journey. If you have the opportunity to sit down and discuss any questions or concerns you may have with the parents it can be a wonderful time to regroup and create an open and supportive atmosphere for the entire extended family unit
  10. Keep in mind that the attachment process is cyclical. “Two steps forward, one step back”
  11. Remember that there is often a honeymoon period after the child arrives. Many children do not show signs of grief, distress, or anxiety until months after they come home. If the parents are taking precautions, they are smart and should be commended and supported!
  12. Allow the new parents to vent in a safe, non-judgemental environment. It may be difficult to simply listen without providing advice or input, but it can allow adoptive parents to feel supported and united with the important people in their lives. Tackling this adoptive journey can be a challenge. Though rewarding, it can also be filled with heartbreak, guilt, isolation and overcoming many previously held (internal and external) beliefs and values towards adoption and adopted children. Much of the attachment process is geared to supporting the child in attaching to the parents, but an important part of the equation is supporting the parents in attaching to the child as well. Though not often talked about, it can be difficult in bonding with a child that swings from physical aggression towards the parents, to overly affectionate and smothering in an effort to manipulate the situation. Just as each child requires a great deal of love, patience and support on this journey, so do the parents

 

Please Don’t

  1. Assume any child is too young to suffer from emotional issues related to attachment. Even babies are not immune. This may not always present itself in predictable ways but it will certainly color many interactions for this new family
  2. Underestimate a new parent’s instincts that something isn’t right. They are spending 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with this child
  3. Judge the mother or father’s parenting abilities. What looks like spoiling or coddling may be exactly what the child needs to overcome a serious attachment disorder. Managing controlling behaviors is also a large part of many family’s challenges, especially those adopting toddlers and older children. Parenting methods that work for many children can be detrimental to a child with attachment issues
  4. Make excuses for the child’s behaviors or try to make the parents feel better by calling certain behaviors “normal”. For example, many children who suffer from attachment issues may be labeled strong-willed by well-meaning family members. While being strong-willed can be seen as a positive personality trait, this type of behavior in an attachment-impaired child may signify problems
  5. Accuse the parents of being overly sensitive or neurotic. They are in a position to see subtle symptoms as no one else can
  6. Take it personally if asked to step back so the parents can help their child heal and form a healthy and secure attachment. You may be asked not to hold the child for more than a minute. This is not meant to hurt you. It is meant to help prove to the child who his mommy and daddy are. Up until now the child’s experience has been that parents are replaceable. Allowing people to hold the child before he has accepted his forever mommy and daddy are can be detrimental to the attachment process. These children and their forever parents need your support in redirecting the child back to the parents consistently. If the child falls down, bumps their knee and is crying, you can check in with them as you are bringing/directing them back to their parents for comfort (“Oh my, that was quite a bump! Let’s find your Mommy and Daddy and make sure you’re okay.”). If they are asking for something that an adult can provide, please redirect them back to the parents while providing a neutral response (ie. “Can I have a cookie?” “Let’s find your Mommy and Daddy!” “Can I go downstairs?” “Let’s see where Mommy and Daddy are!”)
  7. Put your own timeframes on how long attachment should take. One mother was hurt when she was chastised by a relative who couldn’t understand…after all, the child had been home six months. It could take weeks, months, even years. Every child is different
  8. Offer traditional parenting advice. Some well-meaning family members will tell a new parent not to sweat the small stuff, that it’s a phase or that the poor child has been through so much in their life already. At the beginning, new adoptive parents are getting to know this child so nothing is too small or insignificant. As they develop a sense of this little person, trust the parents to address the things that need addressing. Each “phase” that an adopted child may go through, will likely look a little different. For a baby, new parents may be told not to pick the baby up every time he cries because it will spoil him. A child who is at-risk or who suffers from attachment issues may need to be picked up every single time he cries. He needs consistent reinforcement that this mommy/daddy will always take care of him and always keep him safe. All of these children have gone through experiences in their short lives that may have a lasting impact to some degree. Follow the parent’s lead on the ways to best support their child
  9. Fall into the appearance trap. Some babies/toddlers with attachment issues can put on a great show to those outside of the mother/father. What you see is not always a true picture of the child. Even babies as young as 6-months-old are capable of “putting on a good face” in public
  10. Lose hope. With the right kind of parenting and therapy, a child with attachment issues can learn to trust and have healthy relationships. But it does take a lot of work and a good understanding of what these children need

This article was adapted from an article on adoptionjourneyhelp.com

Fears of Motherhood

Three reasons I’m terrified of motherhood:

1) I worry that my kids won’t think I’m good enough, or that they’ll be upset at having a single parent and no father figure
2) I would like to add a husband & father to our family someday, but I’m afraid that meeting someone who will accept both me and my children will be difficult
3) It is really expensive to raise kids, and I hope I can strike a balance between work and family life without struggling financially

Three reasons I can’t wait to me a mom:

1) I was born for it. My maternal instincts have always been apparent and I can’t wait to have little people to guide as they learn and grow
2) My house needs a family to live in it; noise and chaos and lots and lots of love
3) Family has always been important to me, and I’m so ready to have one of my own. I’m ready to switch gears from career to mommy mode

Posted By: Sarah

Are you following me on Twitter? @sarw1985

Nesting

 

I always thought that “nesting” was a hormonal thing that only birth mothers went through, but as I inch my way closer to bringing home my own (adopted) children, I am re-thinking that theory.

I can’t seem to stop doing projects at home. In the last couple of months I’ve painted both kids bedrooms, turned the basement into a games room, re-built a safer fence and built a new deck. Part of this is probably due to the recent purchase of my new home and my love of decorating, but I feel like it’s more than that. I’m finding myself cooing at babies more, looking through the adorable children’s clothing in the stores and having to physically stop myself from purchasing every single item I think they might need one day (so far I’ve only allowed myself to purchase one piece of art work for each bedroom, a book of Christmas carol’s – it was on sale – and a box of crayons). I’ve had to start drinking less coffee because I’ve actually been sitting up a night wondering about things like which of my lamps are more gender neutral and if they’re going to fight over the bigger bedroom with the really cool chalkboard wall. I just can’t seem to turn it off.

I was really hoping to spend these last few months enjoying my life as footloose and fancy-free; but those days seem to already be long over.

Posted By: Sarah

Are you following me on Twitter? @sarw1985

Making the Right Choice About Potential Matches Despite Everyone Else’s Opinion

As I go through the matching process I am constantly reminding myself to take outside opinions with a grain of salt. It’s not the easiest thing to do, especially when those opinions are coming from the people closest to me.

Not many have come right out and told me I’m crazy for considering certain things, but I can sense their hesitancy. It comes from a place of love and worry (for me), so I don’t take it personally, and I do consider their points, but at the end of the day I know myself better than anyone and I’m confident I’ll make the right decision.

Someone with more sense than me might adopt children with less severe needs or choose to take on only a single child, but I have always been of the opinion that if someone has to do it, why not me? That’s not to say that I will take the hard road simply because it is hard, only that I won’t close any doors before they have even opened.

It frustrates me about myself when I see I’m not taking the road that demands more of me. Judith Light

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

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

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

Are You Sure?

I have a beef with the question “are you sure?”. It gets under my skin. It sends creepy crawlies up the back of my neck. It makes my eyebrow twitch.

I don’t know that I can speak for all prospective adoptive parents, but I imagine a good chunk of them feel the same way that I do.

OF COURSE I’M SURE!!

I’d always wanted to adopt, but before I submitted my application, I spent months mulling it over. I thought up every possibly life scenario, every horrible outcome, every risk, every reward, I confided in my closest friends and I had many, many sleepless nights. I assure you, I thought this decision through thoroughly. By the time I started telling people I was in the process of adoption, I was well past the point of  no return. My mind was made up and my heart was set on following this path.

Like I’ve already said, I’m not sure I can speak for all prospective parents, but this isn’t a decision one makes hastily. The next time someone tells you they’re adopting, please, please, pleasssse don’t ask them if they’re sure. Instead, squash that little voice of concern, put on a smile, and tell them you look forward to supporting them in their decision.

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

“There is…nothing to suggest that mothering cannot be shared by several people.” – H. R. Schaffer

After submitting my application, my life became entirely about preparing for the arrival of my future children. I was (and am) determined to raise my children in a “home” where they can feel safe and loved. I immediately started house hunting. I went to therapy to work out some resentment left over from my parent’s divorce. I read books about abuse, adoption and attachment. I went to a couple of free courses offered through Alberta Health Services, and I talked about it a lot with my family and close friends.

When it came to my family, I knew I was going to need their help and support. I called my mom, my aunt, my cousin and my best friends and I asked them outright if they would be able to support me. I hadn’t ever really shared my plans with many people before (probably because I hadn’t really thought of it as something I was going to do but as something that was just going to happen), but every single person was as thrilled about my decision to adopt as I was (albeit some of them were caught a bit off guard).

My mom is just delighted at the idea of being a grandparent. That probably has something to do with my telling her for years that I wasn’t going to have kids (I didn’t want to turn a certain age and get nagged about it all the time). She’s already prepared to help me with before/after school care and I’m so grateful that she just lives down the street.

One of my best friends is a social worker turned parole officer as well as a mother of three, and has a wealth of knowledge about anything and everything I can possibly think of to ask her. She also lives just a few minutes away and I know will be there for me in a pinch.

Watching my brother get on board is pretty cool, too. He’s just 20 so I don’t expect too much from him, but in the last while he’s been spending a lot of time with our family and seems to really be growing up. I can’t wait to see him as a proud uncle; I think he’ll do a great job.

I’ve always been lucky to have a close family and a small group of amazing friends. Having that support in place really does make all the difference when you’re adopting as a single person. Even though I’m doing this on my own, I really don’t feel alone.

“There is…nothing to suggest that mothering cannot be shared by several people.” – H. R. Schaffer

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