Monday, October 1, 2012

10 Things To Considering Doing as a Newly Adoptive Parent

I am not a therapist, doctor or professional. 
I am a mom.
I am a teacher.

I don't know what big books with scary titles say about adopted children (well, I actually do, and find it rather defeating) but I do know what we have personally experienced and what has worked for us and our children over the last year. My "10 Things to Considering Doing" are not mandates or moralism, but more of a list of what we did do that worked and didn't and wish we had. Take or leave as you please.

Like my dad always said, much to my teenage annoyance, "It is either pay me now, or pay me later..." Such is the case in parenting and life in general. What you put into things initially pays you back ten fold later on. This is true in adoption as well. Put all yourself into it, enjoy the sweet fruit of your efforts later on!

10 Things to Consider Doing as a Newly Adoptive Parent...

1. Be prepared. Read the big books with scary titles and be personally ready for anything that might come your way. Either commit to it or stop the process and become a parent of a child who has a history you can commit to (really any child could come to you with issues, even bio/birth children). Don't you dare think for one moment you will be "the lucky one" or get the "easy child"... no one can promise you that (not even wishful thinking)! But, I can promise you one thing, you will get your child. Either commit to them and any array of struggles, issues or labels they may have, or walk away and devote your attention and energy to something else. Then as we say in our house, "You get what you get and you don't have a fit!" Prepare and learn about common adoption issues: food, sleeping, behavioral issues, family integration issues, sibling issues, racial struggles, etc.... Realize that you will deal with them (all or some) and that they may or may not go away in time. Prepare and expect the worst. Be joyful if it is any better than that!

2. Start preparing your child for his or her adoption as soon as you are able! All types of adoption have varying levels of connection/communication before a child comes into your care. If you are at all able to talk to, meet, write letters or send care packages to your child do it... throw the money out the front door and just do it! Even if you have to spend obscene amounts of money sending a care package (making long distance phone calls, taking an extra trip, etc...) to them I will guarantee (your money back) that it will be THE best money you spend in your adoption preparations! Just think that you most likely spent upwards of $500 taking classes to teach you about how to parent your child... wouldn't spending a similar amount actually learning who your child is be just as important? It will give you the gift of awareness and your child the gift of understanding and beginning processing the changes they will be going through. That is invaluable!

Allan looking at a photo album we sent to him.
We were told he said after looking at it "I want to go there."

3. Don't assume to know who your child is. Resist the urge to day dream about that perfect roly toddler who hugs you with his chubby arms around your neck and looks long into your eyes. Instead, visualize how you as a parent will meet your child's needs when they are scared, sick, traumatized, angry, and unsure of you with patience, compassion, forbearance and grace. Do a Bible study on compassion and read Henri Nouwen's book on Compassion. You will help yourself become the parent your child needs instead of being consumed by the child you desire to have. Meditate on this thought: I do not need fulfillment from my new child, I am here to give them all of me and be what they personally need as a parent.

Adoption Dream - Baby Snuggling
Adoption Reality - Baby Pushing Away
(head butting, raking you with their claws, biting, spitting, etc...)

4. Take time to learn about your child's birth language, culture and foods. Make a book of simple phrases, things you might need to say to your child (I love you, yes, no, please, thank you, you are my son). Take a class in their language (if possible), find an app (they have one for Luganda so they probably have one for mandarin). Learn about the words they hear, speak and think in. Then, use them when you meet them. Make food that speaks comfort to them (rice, beans, corn meal, porridge, borsht or haggish ((just joking)). Find music on the internet that is in their birth language and play it around your home. Put up photos of common sights they saw while in their birth nation. Surround them with sounds, sights and tastes that encourage them that not every thing is changing in their life.

5. Prepare games, lessons and activities for your first meeting, days and weeks together that help your child understand who you are, what is happening to them, and where they are going. Use play to help them understand and feel safe about the changes that are turning their world upside down. Have fun together, laughing bonds people.  Be interactive and intentional about the changes your child is going through. Ideas here.

Fun is therapy.
Playing is productive.

6. When you get home treat your new child (in an age appropriate way) like a new born in your home. Respond to them. Cocoon, shelter and surround them with family. Remove all activities from your life for a season of time. JUST practice being a family. Practice loving each other. Do it longer than the honeymoon and longer than you think is really needed. Teach your child what it means to be a part of a family. Be intentional and devoted to this and don't cheat yourself and your child out of this important and special season of time (one you can't get back later on). Don't be frustrated at the awkwardness that older children (or babies) show in receiving and giving love. Keep hugging your stiff, limp-armed child. Keep kissing them good night despite the awkwardness, keep trying to make eye contact... and one day you will realize, "Hey they are actually looking in my eyes... when did that start?"

Getting comfortable together takes time.

7. Recognize when it is time to start teaching, training and disciplining their personal sin. For us, this was that our child was comfortable, unafraid and acted like they trusted us in smaller matters. We knew their sin needed to be corrected by us in order for them to further learn to trust us and to be a "true son or daughter" (Hebrews 12:5-12). We found that our correction had to meet our child where they personally are, yet also truth filled, consistent, and showing them the true condition of their heart.

We didn't worry too much weather their behavior was adoption related or not. All behaviors (even adoption/trauma related) is a reflection of the heart. Just respond (not react) to it, teach/train them and lead them to the Gospel who can heal all heart issues (sins).

Thoughts About Discipline That Help Us...
  • Do discipline and train your children according to their needs and personal temperament.
  • Do be consistent... err on consistency.
  • Do not react to common adoption behavior that is annoying (pickiness, selfishness, demandingness, whining, pouting, raging) Ignore it and think instead: "What is the root of this behavior?" Address that. Not the behavior.
  • Do not give an adopted child the "advantage" of preferential treatment, inconsistency or excusing their personal sin/heart issue. It is very unfair and dangerous to do that to them and reaffirms that they are still an "orphan" or not a "true son or daughter".
  • Do treat their sin as sin and their behavior as a personal heart issue that is telling you what they are thinking, feeling, and truths that they live by (adoption/trauma related or not).
  • Do show them what love, forgiveness and grace is when they fail or sin.
  • Do show them who has a solution to their sin problem... Jesus.
Fits, temper tantrums and "rages"... External behavior for the heart saying...
"I want it my way! I am mad! I want control over my surroundings!"

8. Be intentional about learning who your child is and what your child's "love language" is. 
Answer the following questions every few months about your child, keep a record of it and see how they may change and grow:

  • Who is my child?
  • What are my child's strengths?
  • What are his/her weaknesses?
  • How do they feel/think about their person history or adoption experience?
  • What are they most afraid of?
  • What do they most enjoy?
  • What kind of love do they most enjoy (words of affirmation, quality time, physical touch, gifts, acts of service...)?
  • How do they most readily show love to others?
  • How would you describe them?
  • How would they describe me or their other parent?
  • If they were an adult what do you think a good job for them would be?
  • Are they introverted or extroverted?
  • Are they an amiable, analytical, expressive or driver type person?
  • What ways do you think they mix well in your family and in what ways do you think they don't fit well?
  • What can you do today to help them feel safe and secure?
  • What can you do today to help them feel loved and treasured?
  • What can you do to day to help them become a healthier person and the person God has created them to be?
  • How do you personally like/love your child?
  • In what ways do you personally struggle to like/love your child?
  • What one thing you can change your perspective on about your child? (ie, "they are withdrawn and frigid to me..."  changed to... "they are protecting themselves from hurts or fears and I can help them be more open and warm through my love.")

9. Be what you know your child needs and give yourself grace when you don't. 
Be fun. Be light hearted. Be calm. Be gentle. Be consistent.  Be genuine. Be hopeful. Be you.
Your child was placed in your family with design. You are their parent by design. You will fail, you will falter and you will mess up. Start over. Ask for forgiveness and be what you know you should be. Study things like "compassion" and "perseverance". Stop reading the big books with scary titles and move on to things that promote your ability to mother and give grace to those around you. View yourself as a missionary to a very difficult people group, and live like it. Give yourself grace and don't live in guilt and regrets. Even if you don't love/like your child... right away, or ever, you are still their parent and it was not a cosmic/divine mistake they were placed in your home. Do what is right by them. Seek out help. Seek out others. BE what you know you ought to be. And start over daily with no regrets.

10. Look to God and your spouse for support. Lean on them both. Cry to them. Ask them for help. Pursue them and make time to keep connected with them. When we deal with other's brokenness it has a way of exposing our own brokenness. That is hard. I think my biggest challenge in adoption is realizing that I bring issues (sin) to the table, not just my children. 

When we focus our attention on the Healer we have hope amidst the pain and struggles, we focus less on the issues and more on Who heals the issues in both parent and child. Colossians 3:1-4 says, "Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory."
God has a purpose in all of this... primarily to bring Himself glory. How is God best known for bringing Himself glory? Through the redemption and restoration of broken down things... that is what He is doing through adoption, in your child and in you!

Be honest about where your heart is in all of this, share it with others who understand. Remember that, "I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you." (John 14:18) wasn't just written to your child, but to you too. You aren't alone and He hasn't left you. 


You rock!
You are a parent of a child who has been hurt, experienced loss and grief and trauma! 
You are loving, teaching and walking with them on a very hard, rarely traveled road.
You rock! Because you are standing on THE Rock!
He has made you to do this thing! 
You CAN do it! 
You ARE doing it! 

Don't forget that most of all...

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