What would have helped you the most in the early weeks and months of adding a child to your family through adoption or foster care? If somebody had asked you, “What can I do to help?” and you were able to answer anything at all with no shame, guilt, or concern about whether they really would want to do it, what would it have been?
This is what you answered:
Many of you stated that having meals delivered allowed more time to focus on all of your children, but also gave you some contact with “the outside world.” It does not have to be dinner, as somebody said, even bringing cut-up fruit would help. Someone else mentioned having dinner brought by friends who then shared the meal and spent the evening with them. One person wrote that when they adopted a baby, friends brought meals, but when they adopted an older child people assumed it wasn’t as demanding and didn’t bring meals. I think we can safely say that every adopting/foster family will be blessed by meals.
We don’t need to make this complicated – simple food is a blessing. I remember a friend bringing us “Breakfast in a Bag,” a gift bag filled with yogurts, juice boxes, muffins and other little treats. Gift cards for take-out were also mentioned – a great idea. After one of our babies was born, a friend brought us Kentucky Fried Chicken and another ordered pizza to be delivered – what a treat that was! Cookie dough ready to be baked, homemade soup or spaghetti sauce, a frozen lasagna, will all be welcomed.
Provide Household Help
Several of you wrote that you needed help with laundry and cleaning. I know we all have a hard time letting people see our mess, but I for one, find it very hard to relax if my house is too messy and chaotic. A friend grabbing the vacuum or folding laundry while we visited was a big help. I had a friend once pick up all of our kids’ dirty laundry, take it home, and return it clean, dry and folded. A group of friends might want to go together to hire regular cleaning help for the first few months after new children join a family, or create a cleaning team themselves.
Along those lines, a number of years ago I was very sick and needed treatments that were an all day event. One day a friend came to my house while I was at the clinic, put new, clean flannel sheets on my bed, washed my other set, and cleaned my house with my older children. I came home and crawled into a clean bed with new sheets and it was pretty much one of the best gifts I’ve ever received. That was nearly nine years ago and I’ve never forgotten it. Friend, if you read this, thank you once again.
Picking things up at the store, or driving children to sports practices and appointments was also mentioned as a great help. If you are already out and about, or if you can add a child or two to the crowd in your car, you will make a big difference for a family adjusting to life with new children. The first year my girls were in school, a friend drove them home every day which not only simplified my life, but relieved my mind. As our little ones grow older, we forget how difficult it is to buckle multiple kids into car seats in order to pick up one child from an event. Waking kids from naps to take an older child to a practice is even worse. This is a great kindness if you are somebody who is already in the car and happy to run a quick errand for a friend with a new child.
Provide Babysitting or Respite
Many of you said that babysitting would have helped, even if it was just somebody being with the kids while you took a nap. Some said they needed help with their other kids while they took new children to multiple appointments. Others said they needed care for their new children while they gave some attention to their original crew. Of course, it all depends upon the unique needs for the family, but this seems to be a need for most families. Weekends are particularly difficult for Dimples, the lack of structure that she enjoys at school just doesn’t transfer to a long Saturday stretching before her. We try to fill her days, but one of the greatest gifts we receive are friends who invite her over for a few hours, or even all day. This Saturday when I’m in Denver, she has big plans with our youth pastor and his wife and she is already looking forward to it.
Respite is a great need for families whose new children have significant challenges. A family can quickly become exhausted when there is constant raging, arguing, and destructive behavior. A friend who understands children from “hard places” and is willing to give the family a 24 hour break, or even a four hour break, will have an impact far beyond what they may imagine.
Show Kindness to the Original Crew
I’m in the process of (slowly) writing an article for Empowered to Connect on “giving voice” to the siblings of children from “hard places.” Our original children struggled with our inability to give them attention and time when we added three new children to our family and one year later added another. They lost us for a number of months as we struggled to figure out how to live this new life.
My friend, Beth, welcomed Ladybug into her family and home, and nearly completely homeschooled her for a year after Dimples came home. Rusty and Ladybug joined the youth group of a local church and we were thankful for the encouragement and positive adult interaction they received. It was so meaningful, that we eventually made that our church our new church home.
Friends who will take the kids and do something fun is also a huge blessing when life at home seems to be a load of work or simply tumultuous. If a family has new children who are raging or crying for hours, the kids may need relief from the stress too. My friend, Sue, began taking Ladybug and Sunshine to the library once a week, which they still look forward to each Friday.
It is very easy to forget how hard this adjustment phase can be for the other children. Reaching out to them, or giving the parents a break from the new kids, so they can enjoy the other children, is a real blessing.
I have to admit, I was struck by the prevailing theme of loneliness and isolation in the comments. I hope you will read them yourself, because I can’t express the thoughts as well as the original authors did. Over and over readers expressed that once the initial excitement died down, they felt lonely. The needs of their children may have prevented them from getting out and about; they were stuck at home, alone, living a new life with new children. It is hard to imagine how very isolating this can be.
Several people said they wished friends would just stop by for coffee, even if the house was messy. Others used the words grief and loss to describe how they felt. Some of you said you needed somebody to just listen and not judge or try to cheer you up as you coped with the changes in their lives. Encouragement is needed. If you live a distance away, a phone call, email, or encouraging text may be what a mom needs. Knowing you have not forgotten her, that you are praying may help her through the next hour.
It has been four and a half years since we brought our first adopted children home and for a long time our life needed to become very contained and small. We simply could not go out much; even going to my bookgroup once a month became impossible. I hope you’ll be encouraged to know that this month I am going to my bookgroup once again — and I even read the book.
If you missed this post, be sure to go back and read the great responses from everyone. Please take a moment to add your thoughts – it is not too late.
Thank you for being a great community and sharing my life.
Encourage one another.
Lisa Qualls, writer of One Thankful Mom, is the mother of 12 children who came to her by both birth and adoption. As she winds her way through the challenges of attachment, trauma, and life, she shares what she is learning in the hope of helping other families. She earnestly believes in the power of God to heal children’s broken hearts and wounded minds.
“After the third kid people stop congratulating you. Then they just look at you like you are Amish.”
We can relate. When people find out we have four kids their response is usually something along the lines of, “Really? Four?” or “Wow, that’s a lot.”
But more often than not I hear the following question: “So are you guys done?” Sometimes I can’t tell if they are asking a question or pleading for us to stop.
We have to be done, right? With our income and in today’s world it was borderline irresponsible to have four, much less five children. We couldn’t possibly afford more kids could we? Besides, where would we put them? We are still trying to figure out where to put Jude’s bed for goodness sake. Don’t even get me started on how we are going to pay for college in the years to come.
We should really do the responsible thing and focus on the kids we already have. But then again, whose definition of responsible am I using? The world tells me that it’s responsible to have a beautifully decorated home, nice cars, college savings for everyone, expensive hobbies, well invested retirement accounts and kids who excel in academics and sports. If I can’t give each kid their own room, own television, own smart phone, own computer, their own this & own that then it’s pretty clear what am I: irresponsible.
It’s not that any of those things are bad. In fact, many are good. But does checking everything off of that list make me responsible? Or wise? I am starting to think the answer to that question is a resounding “no”.
No doubt, we all have a responsibly to provide for our families. But an even greater responsibility exists to spread the Good News to the ends of the world and to reach those in need: the poor, the abandoned, the foreigner, the widow, the orphan.
I don’t know what the future holds, but I know that my family isn’t done. I don’t know if that means we will adopt more sons and daughters into our home. It may. But even if we don’t we will never be done fighting for the millions of Rylies & Judes who are waiting, literally waiting to come home & waiting to hear the Gospel.
The more the world looks at my family and cries, “How irresponsible!” the more I’m convinced we are finally being responsible to the call that a Jewish carpenter made some 2,000 years ago.
Jennifer and Rush Middleton have been married for 11 years and have 4 kids, Jonah (8), Reagan (5), Rylie (3) and Jude (2). Rylie came home from China in 2010 and Jude just arrived earlier this year. The Middletons have been through the easy and the hard of bringing a child into their family, yet the awesome gift of adoption has rocked their worlds in more ways than they can count. You can check out their blog about family, life, adoption, cleft lip/palate and other randomness at Apple Pie and Egg Rolls.
“Good” is overused, meaningless and conveys almost no information… Although we always seem to ask expecting this answer: How are you doing? How’s it going? Good.
Lately when asked, How are you, my response is simply, “We’re surviving.” I suppose that’s the kind of response you’re supposed to give when something really horrid has happened, but I’m rather upbeat about simply surviving. I guess I’m having trouble defining “good.” What would qualify as feeling genuinely good? I am for the most part a happy mommy and friend. The biggest pressing issues in my life are diapers, dinners and disciplining a six-year-old for running over the neighborhood kid’s fingers with his rip stick. But I’d still say we are in survival mode instead of smooth sailing… And I’m totally ok with that.
It’s like I’m setting up realistic expectations for myself… if my response was “good” there would be pressure to live up to that, but a cheerful, “Surviving” correctly conveys the reality that THIS IS HARD and by golly I’m doing it! We have just passed the sixth month mark of being home with baby E and as we expected, this has been a challenge… but it’s been a challenge in ways I didn’t predict. What I thought was going to be difficult was our two boys we were bringing a baby sister home to, particularly my younger son. But they’ve fallen head over heals in love with their sister and the transition for them was the easiest.
I know I’m blessed in so many ways, my complaints are few, petty, and seem silly to list. But added all together I am frequently overwhelmed. What I struggle with has less to do with being a family blessed by adoption and more to do with dealing with a pre-two child again. Don’t get me wrong, E has been SUCH a blessing and for the most part is a great kid. But there is a part of me that struggles with messes, the temper tantrums, and extra noise that goes along with being 19 months old.
If I expected my home to ever stay in a state of cleanliness for more than a few hours I’d be pulling my hair out… and that kind of gets to the point. I don’t expect to be doing good, which might be defined as a clean floor without dried banana stains and squished Craisins. Good would be a home with empty laundry baskets and clothes neatly put away. Good would be a relaxing dinner out that didn’t include a pile of food scattered under the table.
Sometimes folks need to hear that life is not a piece of cake, so they have permission to feel the same. What other adoptive families shared that has helped me the MOST is that once you get home, don’t set yourself up for failure with unreasonable expectations. Adoption is hard, and that’s ok. It’s helps SO much going into this expecting struggles.
Here is the thing… I’m cool with not being “good.” I’m happy simply “surviving” because yes, a year ago I longed for this, fought for this, and prayed for this. It’s still hard… and I guess in some way I want to make sure others know. My house may be trashed, the laundry WAY overdue but I played ring around the rosy for half an hour with a one year old! I am proud that I am doing this, perhaps not perfectly… but we’re doing it. We’re figuring out how to be a family of four.
Erika Ives is a single mother to three children; two boys (bio) and a daughter who joined the family through the blessing of adoption. Erika works as a music teacher and is currently studying to get her Masters in Secondary Education.
Sending a small gift and/or photobook to a child before he or she comes home has become nearly universal. It has also become quite common for parents to use an in-country service to send additional gifts.
But caution is needed.
And no, I’m not talking about the legalities of sending gifts. That’s a whole topic in itself. The caution hits much closer to home–our child’s heart.
It’s exciting to pick out gifts for our child, when what we really want is to gift them with our presence–and a plane ticket home to forever. A photo album is incredibly important to help them begin to transition and prepare for adoption. A gift can give them a sense of belonging and love. Parents send small stuffed animals, toys, candy, hair clips, and other cool stuff–whatever they can fit in a manila envelope (the gift size most agencies allow–at least when adopting an older child).
But a gift can also bring pain.
Unfortunately, I’ve learned it through my own children’s experiences. And I’ve also learned through multiple other families experiences which is what this post is all about.
Yes, a gift can make a child feel loved and special. It can be exciting for him or her to finally have a gift from someone–someone who LOVES them. It might be the first gift he or she has ever received. But, here are some questions to consider:
- Will the gift cause jealousy amongst the other children in the orphanage or foster family? Will this jealousy manifest itself in harm to our child–not just at the time the gift is given, but later?
- Even if it doesn’t cause jealousy, will it cause emotional pain for the other children who may never get a family of their own–let alone a special gift?
- Will the gifts suddenly disappear in the night? (Remember, there are multiple children in orphanages, sometimes older teens, multiple caregivers/foster parents living hand-to-mouth, and the blackmarket will pay enough on many small gifts to feed a family for a week.)
- If the gift “disappears” how will my child feel?
- Will the gift make my child feel guilty? Sad? Many children give their gifts away, because they feel sad for the other children without a family. Or they leave the gifts with their foster families, because they know they have so little. And yet, our child feels conflicted, because they really did want to keep their gifts.
- How will our child feel if they have to leave the gifts behind on adoption day?
- How will our child feel if they never receive a gift that we sent? How will we feel? Anger? Resentment? Frustration? Sometimes gifts don’t make it to the intended child–for multiple reasons.
Knowing what I know now, I made gift selections carefully for our Mei Mei. I sent things that could be shared with a group, things that she wouldn’t be sad to leave behind/give away. We even included a note saying in English and Chinese to share with friends. Not only does this avoid the jealousy/guilt issue, it also gives my child the chance to be the popular girl with the “goods” to share. It’s a party for everyone!
Gift ideas and considerations:
- Any item that can be shared with a group–stickers, coloring pages, games, a lullaby CD
- Food that can be shared with a group–fruit leather, fruit snacks, dried squid, lollipops (keep in mind, however, that some orphanages do not want sweets since the children do not get dental care)
- Educational items like math flashcards, workbooks, crayons, a pack of mechanical pencils
- Crafts, beads, friendship bracelet kit, set of blow-up balls or hacky sacks–again, think group
- Shirt or outfit, which will most likely be saved for adoption day
- Social stories can also be printed and sent (available here on the bottom of the page) to help with communication
- Buy doubles of everything you send–one set to send, one to keep at home–then, if your child leaves the gifts behind, they will arrive home to all their “things.”
- Think in terms of institutional child safety, choking hazards, cultural differences (e.g., stuffed animals are not usually given to children for sanitation reasons).
- A photo album; translated letter; homemade DVD showing family, home, community; art work from the other children in the home–the most important gifts!
Sending gifts to our children is a wonderful way to form a connection, but caution and consideration is needed. In the end, I just keep reminding myself that once we get our Mei Mei home, we can shower her with gifts–FOREVER! Especially the gift of LOVE!
Here is one gift we have waiting for our Mei Mei–OSU pajamas to match with the family! I sent her a picture!
Ann Henderson currently finds herself wife to one and mom of ten, including a son in heaven and a daughter waiting in China. Several of her children are adopted—though she can’t always remember which ones. Ann works in child welfare with a passion for helping children in need and a desire to see every child have a loving family. She spends a ridiculous amount of time grocery shopping, carpooling, side-line cheering, and trying to teach at least one of her children to replace the toilet paper roll. Her motto? “I don’t suffer from insanity, I enjoy every minute of it!” Join her Journey of Life at Crazy for Kids.
Please join us on our new Facebook page to see posts as soon as they are published and find other helpful information as well as to be connected to our community.
Many from the last generation seems to recall the “big reveal” in their lives; the moment they were told they had been adopted. Since then we’ve learned that it benefits a child to grow up always knowing this part of their story so they can’t remember the “conversation”…they just always knew. Those of us with conspicuous adoptions (maybe transracial so everyone knows you are an adoptive family) don’t have much choice in this matter anyway!
That’s what I want for my kids, though. When they’re older and someone asks, “When did you find out you were adopted?”, they’ll say, “I don’t know.” There are several ways we let them know this part of their story even now.
Books. There are some great books you can find, written for children about the topic of adoption. Two of my favorites for babies/toddlers are:
A Mother for Choco by Keiko Kasza.This is the story of a little bird who wants to find a mother so he searches and searches for a mommy who looks just like him. When he can’t find one, he comes across Mrs. Bear who does all the things a mother would do and so becomes his mommy. A great book for transracial adoptive families and all adoptive families.
I Love You Like Crazy Cakes by Rose Lewis. The story of a mom adopting her daughter from China. I would still love to find a book like this that focuses on Ethiopia (know any?), but it’s still a great international adoption book.
“So glad we adopted you.” Before we brought E home, an elderly woman at our church told my husband she had always rocked her children and told them, “I’m so glad we adopted you.” So, I do this every night. I tell both boys, “Mommy and Daddy are so glad we adopted you.” It brings adoption into our conversation and lets our kids know, from Day 1, how much they are loved and cherished.
Make a Lifebook. Lifebooks come in many varieties, but the idea is simply to tell your child’s story with pictures (and maybe words). I’ve heard of many families making this book with their children when they are older. When your kids are young, though, you can make it and read it with them. I made E a scrapbook that starts on Mommy and Daddy’s wedding day, shows his referral picture, documents our trip to Ethiopia to bring him home, etc. We have looked at it together several times, and I tell a very simplified story of his life. I still need to make one for J-Man, and I think this time I might just do a really simple, less delicate album (something sturdier so he doesn’t have to be so gentle with it). I have also made a 3 Picture Story for E, which is very easy to do. You just need 3 pictures, one of your child with his birthfamily or previous foster family or at the orphanage (whatever his life was before he came home to your family), one of “the handoff” when the previous caregiver handed him to you (we don’t have a pictures like this so you can use any picture of the day you met or the day he came home), and one of your family now (showing both parents and the child). This is the most simplified version of your child’s story and can be helpful to look at together.
Gotcha Day. Many adoptive families have a certain day they celebrate pertaining to the adoption. We celebrate E’s Gotcha Day, which is the day we picked him up from the orphanage. With J-Man, we are planning to celebrate the day we finalize his adoption as that will be a more significant day in his story. Some families celebrate the day they received their referral or the day their child came home. It’s a beautiful thing to choose a meaningful day like that and celebrate it every year. It also provides a specific day when the conversation is intentionally opened up pertaining your child’s story. Questions can be asked, tears can be shed, whatever is needed. For E’s first Gotcha Day celebration last year, we made his favorite meal for dinner, looked through his lifebook, and gave him a small but significant gift. I’ve also heard of families lighting a candle for birthfamilies on this day or visiting a restaurant specific to the culture your child was born into. Do whatever works for your family.
You Were Adopted. I can’t remember if I read this or if it was part of our adoption training, but I found it quite significant. Rather than the phrasing, “You are adopted,” use “You were adopted.” Your adoption was an event in your life; it doesn’t define who you are as a person. People will often say, “My son is adopted,” which implies this is a defining characteristic for him. We should say, “My son was adopted” as in there was a day in which we adopted him.
Adoption is part of our natural rhythm of life; it’s not some taboo topic, but simply a lovely part of our family. How do you keep that conversation open in your family?
Laurel and her husband adopted their first son in 2010 from Ethiopia and are currently fostering to adopt their second son. With two 2-year-old boys, they are always hopping! Chris is a pastor and Laurel is a stay-at-home-mom. You can follow their story at God Found Us You.