Bringing an adopted child into your family changes the dynamics of your home drastically… whether you become new parents or are a “veteran” parent who is already raising other children. During the home study and the waiting process there is often a lot of emphasis on education and preparation for the prospective adoptive parent/s gearing up for the adoption journey and for parenting an adopted child. However, there tends to be much less emphasis and education that is focused on preparing the children who are already in the home and whose lives will also change greatly through their parents’ adoption.
- Educate– Talk with your children about adoption and ask them what they think about it. This can be an excellent way to both teach them about what adoption is and process through any misconceptions they may have about it. There wonderful children’s books available that you can read together that can be a springboard for great discussion about adoption. Here is a list of books that could be great resources to use with your children.
- Encourage them to be a participant in the process– Some families hold off on telling their children much about their adoption process for fear that things could fall through or change. This is understandable of course, because there are so many unknowns throughout an adoption journey. There are ways to invite your children into the process without holding on to tightly to a specific outcome. An example would be to pray together for their new brother or sister and asking God to protect them, and to bring them home in His time. Invite them to help pick out a special toy or stuffed animal or draw a picture for their new brother or sister that can go in their room.
- Don’t only highlight the good parts of adoption– It is easier to talk with our children about the exciting, joyful parts of bringing a new child into the family such as them having a new playmate, and the many things they’ll get to help teach their new brother or sister. However, it can be damaging to stop there. The other part of preparing your children for an adoption is to talk with them honestly and explain that some parts of adoption are hard. If you are adopting domestically and will likely bring home an infant, it’s important to talk about (in age appropriate ways), that the baby will have grown in another mother’s belly and why she may be making the loving choice for her baby to be placed with a different family. You will need to prepare them that when the time comes you will need to travel to meet a baby and to potentially bring that baby home. It is important to talk with them about who they would stay with, and what they could expect during the days you are gone.
If you are planning to bring an older child into the family who has likely experienced complex trauma, then it is important that you explain that they will have challenges to work through in relation to their history (again, in an age appropriate way). A child who has experienced trauma, such as abuse or neglect, or who has lived in multiple placements could have various delays and could bring different expressions of emotions and behaviors into the home that could be unfamiliar and scary to your child/ren. Other challenges could be that discipline may not look the same for your adopted child, and that they may need a lot of your attention after placement because adjusting to a new home can be so hard. It is important for your child to know that these things are a possibility, and that it would be natural for them to feel sad, frustrated, or even left out at times. Reassure them that their feelings will always be important to you, and encourage them to tell you how they’re feeling during every part of the adoption journey. It is not uncommon for children to keep their questions and concerns to themselves after an adopted child comes home, for fear that their parent is too stressed or overwhelmed to talk. Continuing to reassure them that their voice and feelings are important to you is vital, both before and after placement.
- Talk about families that don’t match– If you could be bringing a child into the family that is of another race or culture, then discuss how that diversity will add richness to your home. If you are adopting from another country, talk with your children about the foods, holidays, or customs that their new brother or sister will be accustomed to. Begin celebrating those differences before the placement occurs if possible.
- Keep having fun! Adoption journeys can involve stress and challenges so it is important to continue to prioritize normalcy and fun while you are awaiting bringing a new child home. It is easy to get caught up in the waiting process and to be future-focused as you dream of bringing an adopted child home, but don’t be so focused on the days to come that you miss filling your present days with meaning and memories.
An adoption will be life changing for every member of the family without question. There is much to celebrate, and so much to look forward to, while also preparing your heart and the little hearts in your home that there are good and hard parts of every adoption. By approaching your adoption journey with your child/ren with honesty and good communication, you are setting a tone that is invaluable and will serve each member of the family so well.