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

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!

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

“Cherish your visions and your dreams as they are the children of your soul, the blueprints of your ultimate achievements.” -Napoleon Hill

“What made you decide to do that?” is the most common question I’m asked when I tell people about my ambitions to start my family via domestic (government) adoption, and that’s where I’m going to start my story.

I never really “decided” to adopt. It was already decided for me; be it by early life experiences, my subconscious, or God, I don’t really know.

Honestly, I can’t really remember a time when I didn’t simply envision adoption being a part of my life. As a kid, I loved playing “house” with my friends. We had dolls, but much of the game was made up of imaginary people. My make-believe husband’s name was always Steve, I had a baby doll named Samantha, and each time during this little game of grown-up, I would somehow welcome more imaginary “adopted” children into my pretend-life. The circumstances behind my pretend adoptions were never played out; I was too young to understand those kinds of things, but my longing to be a mother to anyone who needed mothering was always very apparent.

As I grew into my teenage years, this image of Steve, Samantha, and my adopted children remained in the back of my head; I assumed that someday that would be my life, and I didn’t think about it any further than that until I was well into my twenties.

Going from the point of imagining I would adopt to actually filling out the application wasn’t really the smooth and natural process you would assume. For a few years in my twenties, I forgot about my childhood dream. I was doing a lot of “growing” as a person; finding my place in the world. I focused on my career, had a few relationships and got my heart broke once or twice. There was even a period (however short-lived) when I wasn’t sure if I wanted kids at all. I was finally past that point in life where every day was a struggle to survive. I was enjoying my career and making decent money and I liked the freedoms that came with it. I wasn’t sure if I would ever want to give it up. That feeling didn’t last very long however and soon I was once again under the impression that I would one day find my “Steve” and have a family of my own. At that point, I hadn’t considered adopting on my own, and I wasn’t really in a rush for a family, so life went on for a couple of years with nothing in particular happening.

It’s strange how sad things in life can turn into really amazing opportunities. In November of 2011 I unexpectedly lost my father. The year following that was an emotional roller-coaster but I took the necessary steps to work through my grief and I came out the other side with a lot of clarity. I was a different version of the same person; I had “grown up” you could say.

I realized that waiting around for life to happen is stupid. I had goals, dammit and there was nothing but fear standing in between us. I didn’t have my “Steve” but I had a good job, a supportive family and a lot of love to offer. I was ready to move into the next phase in my life, and if I had to do it on my own then I would.

“Cherish your visions and your dreams as they are the children of your soul, the blueprints of your ultimate achievements.” Napoleon Hill

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