Choosing to grow your family through adoption is not an easy or quick decision for parents. Mountains of thought, discussion, research and prayer are involved when embarking on this life changing journey. Now, think about all of these very adult concepts through the eyes of a child. Your biological children hold a very special place in your family and play an important role. Actively choosing to do all that you can to prepare them for what’s about to happen is absolutely essential to the future of your family.
Just like using your pregnancy time to prepare your child for a new brother or sister (don’t forget that big brother/sister t-shirt), you can utilize your entire adoption process to prepare them. Actually, you can begin this well before you turn in your adoption application. This is a big concept; let’s talk about specifics and ideas on how you can strive to be successful in this area.
- Age matters – Take into account the age of your current child(ren). If your child is five years old and you start throwing words at them like attachment, institutionalization, dossier, termination of parental rights, etc., their eyes will glaze over and they will be checked out of the conversation before you know it. Meet them where they are and use age-appropriate adoption language.
- Frequent and open discussions – Begin introducing the idea of adoption early and make it a part of your frequent conversations at home. There is not an adoption process out there that is fast so if you start talking about a new brother or sister joining the family before you even begin the actual adoption process, it will give them plenty of time to process what is happening and the major changes that are coming. Be open about where you are in the process. In some cases, families must endure long periods of waiting and this can be confusing to young children. If you are choosing to adopt a child from another country, be open with your existing children about the new child’s country of origin and what kind of lifestyle they may be currently living (remember, age appropriate here). If you are unsure of where to start, there are a multitude of books available that serve as great ice breakers.
- Pray together – Begin including your child(ren) as you are praying for your adoption process and adopted child, even if you don’t know who they are yet.
- Celebrate the victories – When you complete that mound of paperwork, celebrate as a family. When you receive a referral, go out for ice cream and talk about the new child. Ask them questions like, “What is the first thing you’re going to teach your new brother/sister when they get here?” or “What color do you think we should paint his/her bedroom?” These events will make the process seem more real to your children and they will feel more like they are a part of the process instead of this being something that is happening to them.
- Spend one on-one-time with each child – This comes into play mainly when you have multiple children. Set up periodic “dates” with each child so they feel special and know that 100% of your attention is focused on them during that time. Utilize this time for one on one conversation about the adoption and new sibling. They may feel more comfortable opening up and asking questions in this setting. You can also use this time to reiterate that even though the family will be welcoming a new child, they are not being replaced. There are also major benefits to continuing this after your adopted child comes home.
Above all, DO NOT consider yourself a failure if the sun doesn’t shine in your home every single day after your adopted child comes home. There is a reason why this is called an adoption journey. It takes time. Your children are just that-children. Give them lots of patience and grace.