So much effort, planning, time and care go into the process of adopting a child. By the time the child is in the home, many parents are emotionally spent, financially taxed and physically exhausted.
Many do not realize how difficult the first few months or years can be for a family who has just grown through adoption. The transition from strangers to family does not happen “automatically” and even when adopting an infant, the differences between adoption and childbirth can be significant. Here are suggestions that may make the transition go smoother.
Prepare, Prepare, Prepare!
There is so much to do during an adoption just to make it happen. The reams of paperwork, appointments and background checks can take a tremendous amount of time.
Even in the midst of the process, it is important to think in terms of what life will look like once your child is home. How will your schedule need to change? What sort of impact will this have on your biological children? How will this impact time with friends and extended family? How will the new addition affect your ability to participate at church? If you do not know the answers to these questions, you need to speak to someone who can help you figure it out.
An adoption counselor or your social worker at your adoption agency can help you think through this process. Then you need to communicate these changes clearly to everyone involved.
Most experts recommend that adoptive families take time for “cocooning” for the first three to six months the new child is home.
In short, this means limiting outside interactions and intentionally focusing on family relationships. The newly adopted child’s whole world has just changed.
Foods, smells, sights, sounds, climate, language and a hundred other things could all be radically different. Exposing them to too much too soon will be very overwhelming.
Keeping their world small helps them adjust in small increments.
Major on Relationships, Minor on Rules
Structure is incredibly important during a time of transition like this, but the rules that provide structure should not be emphasized above the relationships. Finding this balance is important. There needs to be enough structure (rules, principles and procedures) to make life predictable, intentional and repeatable.
However, the point of the exercise is to build relationships. The whole point of the cocoon time is to allow the flexibility to go with the flow sometimes. If your child seems to be perfectly content cuddling with you after lunch, there is no need to hurry toward naptime. Linger on the couch and enjoy the quiet cuddle. The same goes for engaged playtime.
Let supper wait that extra 10 or 15 minutes if the new little one has suddenly really engaged with you over a puzzle or a toy. When you feel that connection, stay with it and ride that wave as far as it will take you. When you feel it beginning to fade or if you sense the child is getting too wound up, then it is time to gently transition to the next thing.
Play, Play, Play, Play, Play!
This one cannot be emphasized enough. Dr. Garry Landreth, founding director of the Center for Play Therapy at the University of North Texas, said play is the language of children, and he is right. If you put two toddlers in a library, they will not likely solve the nation’s debt problem or discuss theology. They will figure out a way to play together.
Books will become cars or boats or footballs, and they will play. Your new child needs you to enter into his world through authentic, joyful, relaxed, engaged play.
He needs to see you have a spontaneous laugh. She needs you to be surprised when she plays peek-a-boo. They need you to imagine great things, go on adventures and work up a sweat all in your living room.