Bonding with a New Child

When I adopted my then four-year-old daughter from China in 2008, I did not plan intentional ways to attach to her. I thought it would come naturally, like it did with my birth children. I was mistaken to think I did not need to have an idea of what to do. Shortly after bringing her home from the orphanage, I read an amazing book which changed by parenting plan. Parenting Your Internationally Adopted Child: From Your First Hours Together Through the Teen Years by Patty Cogen (2008) changed my perspective. I was reading it the first few months together and wished I had read it prior to the adoption and the multiple times I have referred back to it over the years.

I used many of the techniques Cogen refers to in her book. I had my four-year-old using a bottle to rock her to sleep and then a pacifier. I sang her lullabies and played silly finger games of Itsy Bitsy Spider. I read story books and played dress up. I pushed a stroller, took pictures, and did many of the things I had with my birth children when they were much younger biologically than four. I rebuilt the foundation to help my daughter to attach, learn the world is safe, and built trust.

There are fun ways for families to build this attachment with children of all ages. Their beginning story in life does not have to be the end of their story. Here are some suggestions for you to put into practice with your child:

  • Play games! Bring out Candy Land, Old Maid Cards, and Trouble. Roll the dice. Play games that call for the child to make eye contact with you. Do peek-a-boo with your young child.
  • Give piggy back rides to your child, play airplane on the floor or bicycle gymnastics with your child. With airplane, have your little one lay across your feet while you are on your back. Holding their hands, move the child through the air as you make sounds. And bicycle? Face each other and touch feet with your knees bent. Cycle your feet back and forth, singing a silly song of “bicycle, bicycle, who’s going to ride the bicycle”.
  • Embrace crazy hair day and let your child do your hair, or make up, or even face paint!
  • Dance & Sing – swirl around holding your child in your arms, your child standing on your feet, or do a fun hip hop. Break out the karaoke machine. Put on a dance video. Use songs that are soothing and quiet. Sing lullabies.
  • Write notes to your child. Leave a sticky note on the counter, put a love note in their lunch box, or mail them a letter. Send a meaningful text to the teen or write a loving post to the child, expressing affirmation to the child.
  • Read together. Make this a daily part of your structured routine. Get a library card and make going to the library a meaningful event for your child.

Whatever you add to your parenting to help your child attach, be attuned. Make things fun, even if they are intentional. Baking, decorating cookies, drawing, coloring, folding clothes, cleaning up their room, Legos and building forts – all activities that increase the time you spend with your child building the relationship they need to become thriving individuals and adults.

 

By: Tina Daniel, Ed.D., LPC

Misunderstanding Development

A child’s development is a long process, with many ups and downs that can feel impossible to predict, and adoption will most certainly affect that process. How much of your child’s behavior is typical, and how much of it is a result of your unique family circumstances? Here we will explore what average development looks like. We encourage you to learn more in each stage of your child’s development to help you normalize what are typical behavior and feelings and what may be complicated by their adoption story. Here is one site to reference for child development: https://www.childrensneuropsych.com/parents-guide/milestones/

 

Infancy

         In this period of life, the adoptive parents have the opportunity to build a foundational emotional attachment with their child. Learning your baby’s unique temperament and reactions to things that upset them can help you shape your parenting style to meet their needs. At age one, they will seek more independence as they learn to move about. This means you will see the beginnings of disobedience. Shape behavior by rewarding good actions rather than punishing bad ones.

 

Toddlerhood

         As language develops in ages two and three, children will begin to appreciate narratives, including that of their own life. Though they can learn and repeat the story of their adoption, they will not understand what it means to have a birth mother and an adoptive family. Using make-believe play may allow them to work through emotions they do not yet understand, as well as the concept of past and present. Greater pushes for independence combined with little knowledge of emotions can lead to tantrums when children are denied something. Though they may be stressful and embarrassing, tantrums are completely normal. Sensing their needs before they arise and having meaningful conversations about emotions can reduce their occurrence.

 

Preschool

Beginning in preschool, children spend more and more time away from home, and their worlds will rapidly expand. They will begin to compare themselves to their agemates on the basis of sex, race, family, and interests. Where the answers are too complex, it is normal for them to assume magical explanations, like baby-carrying storks. Be open and honest if your child comes to you with questions about these comparisons, similarities, and differences; being honest sooner will prevent confusion later.

 

School Age

         As children’s logic centers develop, they will spend more and more time puzzling through their place in the world. They may still struggle with the concept of adoption and what it means for your family and their future. They may even fear abandonment or wonder what they did wrong to be “given up” in the first place. This may result in angry or defensive behavior as a way of distancing themselves from potential hurt. You can help to positively shape their identity by reaffirming your love for them, as well as the love of their birth mother or family.

 

Adolescence

         This period is characterized by two forms of development: identity and independence. Now, more than ever, your child will be trying to find themselves outside of your family. They will want to reconcile their birth and adoptive families, a process that can be made much harder if they have little information about or connection to their birth parents. Self-image is also a vital factor of this time, and turbulent changes of adolescence can quickly lead to declines in mental health. Encourage them to explore and connect with their past, making sure they know they can ask questions without judgement from you.

 

It is always going to be hard to see your child struggle with their identity and relationship to you. They may need your help to work through their complex feelings at first, and later it may be enough just to tell them you are there for them as they grow on their own. Building a support system with other adoptive families, such as through your agency, can give both you and your child a head start on dealing with these feelings.

 

written by Ashley Conner

Love Language Within the World of Trauma

 

Love languages and the knowledge of different ways to communicate love have gradually increased in popularity over the past few years. It can be especially important for children who have experienced trauma to be able to receive love in a way that they understand and can receive without fear. This can be particularly complicated when the child you are caring for may potentially have a love language that was abused through traumatic memories. Children who have experienced abuse or neglect may react differently to love languages that are spoken by their foster or parents through adoption. Here are some things to keep in mind for each love language with some alternatives that may feel more secure for a child who has experienced abuse in an area where they have a predominate love language.

As an overall reminder, young children between 0-6 rarely have a set love language and need each language to fill their bucket until a clear preference starts to show as their personality develops. This is the recommended starting point for all children and youth of all ages when they first come into your home, even the 17 year olds. Children who experienced trauma at a young age may have never had a consistent or attentive caregiver. It will be important to communicate each language consistently while you are bonding, and well after they begin to trust you and push boundaries. It may feel as if you are starting with an infant and working your way up, but this is a good sign. With safety and connection in place, often their language will develop into one or two predominate preferences. This can take years, or happen quickly depending on the child and their past experiences. If your child is rejecting certain languages, do not assume that they do not receive love that way. It is possibly a sign that they were extremely hurt before in that area, and they need extra care, attention, and patience before they will feel comfortable letting anyone touch, affirm, help, give gifts to them or spending one on one time with them again.

Physical Touch. This language has a lot of capacity for abuse, especially for children who were either neglected and left alone for significant amounts of time, or those who were physically hurt by their parents. Often kids experience both, which can make a child crave physical touch while at the same time being frightened of it and left struggling to relax when they are receiving physical contact. The goal then becomes safe touch and a lot of patience. We recommend looking through handheld therapeutic acupressure tools and helping your child pick one or two they may like to try. If deep pressure does not appeal to them they may prefer something like a paint brush or using a soft brush to make predictable circles on their arm as they relax. You may even introduce cuddling during a movie where there can be a pillow as a barrier. This provides enough felt safety while still meeting their needs. You may also want to consider a pet like a cat, dog or rabbit for some children who can cuddle something that has not caused physical harm to them in the past and keep your own touches to their shoulder or arm and only for specific purposes like when you are teaching them to cook or a sport. Be especially cautious with situations where family members may be requesting good bye hugs, as forced contact may be uncomfortable and feel unsafe for children and youth. Eventually, your child will feel more comfortable letting their guard down around specific caregivers and may request a lot of physical contact or even seem extremely needy in this area. This is a great sign! Be patient, they are catching up for lost time. Many parents intentionally will rock much older children as a reminder of the contact they should have received in infancy, but missed out on.

Words of Affirmation: Children who prefer verbal affirmation to receive love may have come from emotionally and verbally abusive homes where they were told they were stupid, selfish, or screamed obscenities at. This is particularly destructive to their self-esteem, as they can easily develop the belief that they are a bad child, unlovable, or a waste of space. Grand statements of “you are amazing” will feel fake to children who have a damaged self-esteem. Instead we recommend starting with a softer approach. When you are around your child, try pointing out exactly what they are doing, just notice it. For instance, if you are with a child who is playing with Legos, let them lead and avoid asking questions but make comments about what they are doing and mix those comments with gentle compliments. “I see you are building a ship there” “you are making your ship blue” “you are great at building Legos” “I love how gently you play with your toys”. Pick a time of the day where you can focus on using these types of statements and compliments, even 5 minutes a day. This will help with bonding while also showing them that they are seen and heard. Eventually they will become more receptive to hearing compliments to you outside of that concentrated time of play. You may be surprised at how many affirmations that it can take to start making a dent in the damage that was done before they came to your home, but it is well worth the effort. This is also important with youth and older teens, but they may be more aware that you are choosing specific times to concentrate on this, so it will need to be broken up throughout the day.

Quality Time: Is your child stuck to you like a little barnacle and afraid to be alone? They may have missed out on a lot of quality time as they moved home to home in foster homes with a ton of kids, group homes, or orphanages. Often these group settings have few caregiver and a lot of kids who need care, so a healthy need for quality time and attention becomes a fear that they will not have their needs met if they are ever left alone. Usually parents underestimate the amount of concentrated quality time that a child needs to fill their bucket, 15 minutes a day per parent. For these kids, schedule that time in and make it a priority that you will sit down with them to play for 15 minutes, even if you need to use a timer. Put your phone and other distractions away and let them lead the play, comment on what they are doing, affirm them, go along with their goofy antics. That consistent 15 minutes a day will have a bigger impact on them than you may realize. With it, they will be more open to you scheduling in your own self-care where you can step away for a mommy or daddy break and your own 15 minutes of rest. With patience and time their fears of not having their needs met will shift to trust.

Acts of Service: Neglect is one of the biggest factors for children who have experienced abuse in this particular love language. If your child is parentified, it is a good sign that this language is of particular importance to them. They may have had a parent who completely ignored their needs, and so they turned to meeting others needs and caring for them in the hopes that it would earn them love and safety so that their own needs could finally be met. They are likely to be particularly combative about anyone doing things for them, because their trust has been so damaged in this area. One of your first steps is to acknowledge all of the hard work that your child has done to care for those around them, because it is likely that their siblings and past caregivers took it for granted. Take time to do those extra touches that parents do for younger children, especially for older kids who can reasonably do these things on their own. Make homemade lunches for them, help clean their room when they aren’t looking, and sit next to them while they are working on their homework to offer assistance. They may not show that they appreciate this, but it speaks louder than you may believe. These are often the kids that don’t show their trauma, or get forgotten because they are so busy taking care of everyone else, and aren’t showing their need in an obvious way. In reality they need their love language spoken just as much, if not more than the kids that they were always taking care of.

Gifts: This language is consistently misunderstood in adults and children, so taking time to understand what that language is about is particularly important. Gifts as a love language is more about having something tangible to know that someone was thinking of you when you were not physically around, and that they care enough to listen and know what you like. This is not about the cost, it’s about the “I was thinking about you”. There is particular room for abuse of this love language as abusive caregivers may have used gifts as an apology for abuse, or even in grooming. In those situations, gifts that were supposed to be about “I care about you” were really about “I want something from you, and I know you like this”. This can be devastating to the psyche of a child who may come to believe that the only way they can receive love is to please their caregiver regardless of if that causes them physical and emotional harm. This also can create a lot of manipulative tendencies in children who are simply trying to get their needs met and feel loved.

Parents of children from hard places should focus on small gifts given consistently over time, and do not stop providing love this way when your child has messed up. This doesn’t have to cost anything, try picking a flower for them, painting a small rock, drawing a picture for them, or even taking them to the dollar store to pick their own gift out. You will want to avoid rewarding manipulation, and instead give these gifts when they are least expecting it and are entirely removed from difficult or good behaviors. The main goal is consistently speaking this language in small ways with no strings attached.

Children who have dealt with trauma often feel as if it is their fault. This causes a loss of self-esteem and eventually, the child may believe that they cannot be loved. Love languages are a way to show you care, you are there for them, and that they are loved. In the beginning, the child who does not believe they can be loved, will be hesitant with you and become potentially suspicious as to what you are doing. Don’t take it personally, be consistent, be patient, encourage self-esteem, and be emotionally and physically available for them. We recommend working with a reputable therapist if possible as you work through each love language, especially if you child finds a specific love language to be triggering.

Our favorite kids tool for speaking all of these love languages? Melissa & Doug Scratch Art Notes can be used for safe physical touch (helping kids learn to sketch things out, soft touches on the shoulder or sitting close by a child while you sketch together), Words of Affirmation (encouraging notes left all around the house or in lunch boxes) Quality time (drawing together), acts of service (little notes left behind after you helped do a chore they don’t always enjoy), and gifts (little drawings or gifting a card and scratcher for them to play with at school in their free time).

 

written by Natalie Burton & Deb Uber

 

How to Promote Your Child’s Development of Self-Regulation

Self-regulation is comprised of a variety of abilities that allow someone to understand delayed gratification, focus and shift their attention between tasks, and control one’s emotions and behaviors.  Self-regulation allows a child to resist impulsive behaviors and outbursts, cheer themselves up when feeling down, and respond appropriately to different scenarios, consequently allowing them better control over their behavior and their life.  Developing this skill takes time and practice, and as you can probably guess, directly impacts social interactions and success at school and work.

In the world of international adoption, many children spend the early years of their lives without the consistent one-on-one support and mentoring that is so important to the development of complex reasoning and thinking… directly affecting their ability to self-regulate.  However, it is never too late to teach a child self-regulation strategies.  These abilities are practiced and developed through continuous social interactions across one’s lifespan.  This is great news for all parents, as this means that self-regulation can be taught and practiced through formal and informal interactions and environments at any age.

So what can you do to help your child develop these important life skills?

First things first. Teach your child about different emotions and how to identify and label them.  This might entail pictures of different faces, voicing your feelings out loud as they come up, and helping your child to verbally label theirs.  Facilitate discussions with your child about these emotions, for example, “Did you throw that toy because you were frustrated?” and help them formulate appropriate responses, “What else could you do if you’re feeling frustrated?”  This provides a gateway to brainstorming appropriate ways to react in future scenarios.  Try asking pointed questions to allow your child to arrive at an appropriate response, such as, “Could you ask for help?” or “What if you tried to play with this toy instead?”

Strategy Tool Box. When self-regulating, it’s important for children to have a “tool box” with different strategies for calming themselves down.  These strategies take time to test out and practice, as different strategies will work for different children, but here are a few calm-down techniques to teach to your child:

  • Take a mental/physical break: walk away from the situation, find a quiet place to sit and breathe, read a book, listen to music, walk a lap around the room
  • Take a spiritual break: pray, use deep breathing exercises, practice a yoga pose
  • Engage in a sensory experience: draw, cuddle under a weighted blanket, play with playdough
  • Engage in positive self-talk: repeat a short, affirming phrase or mantra
  • Seek social support: talk to an adult or friend, ask for help

 

Self Talk. A major contributor to good self-regulation is a child’s use of self-talk.  Through self-talk, children repeat various lessons and sayings from adults to themselves when making decisions and reacting to different situations.  To support your child’s use of self-talk, break down different scenarios to them, talking them through how you analyze and think about a situation, and provide them with short and simple rules and coping skills that they can repeat to themselves when needed, such as, “When I get mad, take a deep breath” or “I can have dessert after my homework is done”.

Simple Play. Children learn many life lessons through simple play.  Even older children and adolescents benefit from one-on-one play with an adult.  This is a great time to model appropriate interactions and reactions with your child, and to exhibit different coping skills.  For example, during pretend-play, your child might pretend that a doll or loved one passes away.  This is an excellent time to verbally walk through appropriate processing and response to grief with a statement such as, “Oh no, I’m so sad that my puppy died, I’m really going to miss him, I think I need a hug”.  With older children, similar lessons can be learned through more age-appropriate scenarios, such as playing and losing at a game or role-playing different scenarios, “Oh man, I really thought I was going to win!  But that’s okay, I can’t win every time.  Hopefully I win next time!” and “How could you respond if you try really hard at a game but lose?”

Model. Children learn from what they see and experience.  Make sure to regulate your own emotions when disciplining and interacting with your child.  It is okay to vocalize “I’m really upset right now, I need to walk away and count to ten to calm down before we talk”.  Do your best to stay calm and maintain a firm and even tone when disciplining or redirecting a child.  This helps with modeling, as well as maintaining a safe and positive environment that your child feels comfortable making mistakes and learning in.

Adjust Expectations. When disciplining and speaking to your child, it is always important to respect and listen to them.  Pay close attention to their attempts at communicating and validate their emotions and concerns, regardless of how they express them.  It can be easy to forget the developmental level that your child is thinking and reacting at, but adjust your expectations as necessary to meet their current level, rather than the level you want them to be functioning at.

Clear Limits and Expectations. Children need regular reminders of rules and expectations and benefit from immediate, specific, and direct responses when their behaviors are out of line.  Rather than only focusing on what your child should not do, follow-up with redirecting the child to appropriate activities that meet their needs and offer simple choices for them to choose from.  This teaches your child what acceptable options they have and gives them some control over their life.  For example, “We don’t scream in the house because it hurts our ears, but if you want to use your voice we can sing a song, or you can play and scream outside”.

Shower with Praise. Keep in mind that learning these important skills is a challenging task and takes years to develop and fine-tune.  It is easy for children and adolescents to grow weary, so be sure to shower your child in praise and celebration as they successfully navigate tasks and situations appropriately.  Offer mental breaks and opportunities for your child to choose the activity when you see them getting frustrated or tired, alternating challenging tasks with fun activities.

Importance of Environment. The environment can have huge impacts on a child’s behavior and development.  Many emotional outbursts stem from your child feeling a lack of control but there are many things you can do to avoid this:

Investigate triggers and make accommodations. If your child has more difficulty regulating their emotions and behaviors in certain environments, cue into what could be causing this and make environmental accommodations.

  • Is there a TV or radio in the background that is distracting or overwhelming your child? Turn it off or find a quiet place for your child to go to.
  • Are bright lights or UV lights over-stimulating? Many children with sensory processing disorders and sensory sensitivities react negatively to artificial lighting and benefit from natural lighting provided by windows or soft-white lightbulbs.
  • Does your child have a harder time regulating their behaviors when exposed to loud noises or busy hustle and bustle? Consider noise-cancelling headphones, or a weighted blanket or object to ground and comfort them when exposed to these stressful triggers.

Provide a structured and predictable schedule and routine.  Walk your child through this routine often and give them warnings ahead of time to remind them of what comes next, “After we eat breakfast, we need to brush our teeth then go to school” and “After this TV show is over it’s time to work on your homework”.  For some children, it’s best to have a printed or picture schedule that they can refer to throughout the day or week.

 

Helping your child learn to self-regulate will ultimately benefit you, your child, and their overall well-being, happiness and success throughout their life.  Remember that the more your child practices regulating themselves, the easier it is for them to interact appropriately in various scenarios.   To ensure their ultimate success, offer numerous opportunities for your child to think through and talk about their emotions and interactions, and provide boundless, loving support.  With time and patience, you can pave the way for your child’s future successes.

 

For further information on self-regulation and parenting tips, check out the following resources:

https://positivepsychology.com/self-regulation/

https://raisingchildren.net.au/toddlers/behaviour/understanding-behaviour/self-regulation

https://www.foothillsacademy.org/community-services/parent-education/parent-articles/self-regulation-difficulties

 

 

Foster Parents Who “Get Too Attached”

As a private foster care and adoption agency, the staff at Nightlight Christian Adoptions have heard many express the fear of “getting too attached” to foster children placed in their home. This fear is real, scary, and full of tension: the worry that the family will grow to dearly love, bond, and attach to a child who is very likely (and hopefully) returning home to his or her biological family. This fear is one for foster families to sensitively navigate as they process what this means for their family as they live in tension with these children and/or teenagers in their home, but also one to embrace for the sake of children in care so that maybe they may grieve a little less.

Children in foster care have experienced unthinkable trauma, simply by being placed into foster care. Children come into care at no fault of their own, and many may not have experienced the kind of love, stability, and security that a family is supposed to provide but may not be able to just yet for a multitude of reasons. The inherent loss in foster care is so deep and raw for these children, as they are removed from their home, their biological family, and much of the time, their community, teachers, friends, and pets. Sometimes, they are even separated from their siblings. Foster parents have a unique opportunity to fill the gap for these children and families. And it is always the perfect opportunity to “get too attached” to these children.

These children likely have many unmet needs (educational, physical, emotional, psychological, etc.). Predominately, these children need caregivers who can provide attachment and consistent, loving care, no matter how short a period these children remain with their foster parents as their biological families work hard to bring their kids home to them. The reality is that children in foster care may not have had the opportunity to experience the kind of care they need. Foster parents can show children, the most vulnerable of our population, what it means to be a family, to have attachment, and to receive unconditional love, with the hope that their biological family will be able to do it very soon.

All children need attachment, especially those who have experienced trauma. Their relationships with their caregivers are the blueprint for all future relationships in their life. It teaches them how to interact with the world and others around them. And for a foster parent to step in, fill the gap, and pour into these children the way they truly can – the results are lifelong and eternal. Foster children are one of the most vulnerable populations in our society, and we all have a duty to step in for our most defenseless and stand in the gap, no matter how long.

Foster care is messy, but oh so necessary because sometimes families are broken and need help to get back on their feet. Foster care is also costly, as families pour into littles who may not stay. And these children deserve for others to fill these needs for them when their parents cannot for a period of time. Imagine the impact for generations to come, to love on children and families and be an instrument of impacting families in true, lifelong ways. When these children leave, they carry with them the time spent in a safe, secure home where their little souls were dearly loved and a picture of what family can truly mean. In the end, for these children and teenagers, we have a duty to risk our hearts to break so that their hearts can break a little less.

In no way does this diminish or negate the very real feelings of loss that foster parents will feel when children leave. But if we don’t do it for these children, who will? Ultimately, the grief that is so real, so raw, is always, always worth it for the children who already have lost so much.

 

Identifying Signs of Post-Adoption Depression

Much like the “fourth trimester” of pregnancy (also known as Post-Partum Depression), Post- Adoption Depression can sneak up on families during what seems like the happiest time in a couple’s life. Post- Adoption Depression can happen after a family welcomes an adopted child into their home, especially when reality does not meet expectation. Attachment and bonding do not always happen instantly, with biological children or children that have been adopted. New parents can be laden with negative feelings, like some of those listed below, and can often feel very alone during this time. It is estimated that approximately 65% of adoptive mothers experience symptoms related to Post- Adoption Depression Syndrome (PADS). Listed below are some signs that you or a loved one might be battling PADS and some suggestions for what you can do!

Signs of PADS:

  • Losing interest or enjoyment in activities you once loved
  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • Fatigue or loss of energy
  • Difficulty sleeping or increased need for sleep
  • Significant weight changes
  • Excessive guilt
  • Feeling powerless, worthless, or hopeless
  • Irritability, frustration, or anger
  • Feeling inadequate or undeserving
  • Retreating from friends, family or others sources of support
  • Suicidal thoughts or ideation

Fighting PADS:

  • Take time for you!
    • You cannot take care of someone else if you are not taking care of you. Take care of yourself however you see fit- enjoy a healthy meal, spend time with friends, get fresh air, or participate in any other self-care that leaves you feeling a little more like yourself.
  • Remember you are not alone
    • Find other adoptive couples who have experienced what you are going through. Many of our families complete an activity with an “alumni family” as part of their educational instruction, so you already know at least one person who can help!
  • Give yourself time to bond with your child
    • Attachment and bonding are not always instant in adoption. Be patient with yourself and with your child and allow that process to happen at its own pace.
  • Ask for help
    • Never be afraid to speak up and ask for help for you and your family. Call your social worker, your best friend, your preacher, your Nightlight contact, or a licensed professional to help you today. You don’t have to be in a crisis or at a breaking point to ask for help.

Most importantly, if you or someone you know is dealing with Post-Adoption Depression, I’d like to leave you with this:

“If you are suffering with bonding issues or Post-Adoption Depression Syndrome, there is something you need to hear: There is nothing wrong with you. Bonding issues or PADS have no bearing on your worth as a parent. You are capable of this. There is nothing to be ashamed about. There is hope. You are not alone. This is not the time to duck and run. This is the time to dig deep, make a plan, assess and re-assess, pour your time into this, and fight for your child. You’ve got this, and there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Keep pushing forward, knowing you’re not alone.” – Melissa Giarrosso

 

 

No matter what problems you’re dealing with, whether or not you’re thinking about suicide, if you need someone to lean on for emotional support, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255

Other Resources:

https://www.adoptionstogether.org/blog/2013/01/07/why-arent-i-happy-recognizing-post-adoption-depression-syndrome/

https://adoption.com/overcoming-post-adoption-depression-syndrome

 

How to Prepare Biological Children for an Adoption

 

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.

Transracial Adoption Panel 2

 

There are many places to receive education and training during the adoption process. In addition to books, online resources, and professional trainings, we want to offer personal experiences from some of our transracial adoptive families through an online Q&A panel. These parents offer just some of their personal perspectives for you to read and consider for your individual family situation.

  1. Introduce us to your family.

 

X family (requested names and initials be changed for confidentiality): Our family has 5 people.  We, the parents, are white.  We have one daughter (11) biologically, one daughter (8) through adoption from China, and 1 son (4) through adoption from China.

 

C family: We are white parents to 4 adopted children – Issac (black, 16 years old, boy, adopted through foster-to-adopt); Vivianna (Caucasian/black/Mexican biracial, 14 years old, girl, domestic infant adoption); Jayden (black, 13 years old, boy, foster-to-adopt); and Jasmine (black, 9, girl, domestic infant adoption).

 

  1. When starting the adoption process, what made you open to adopting a child outside of your race?

X family: Adoptive mother (AM) lived in China for a semester in college and had the opportunity to volunteer in orphanages, spent several years studying Mandarin, and ended up in a career teaching English to kids from around the world.  Adoptive father (AF) was drawn to the idea of adopting a child in true need of a family and kids with special medical needs are at the top of that list.  The China program fit. In an ideal world, no child would be separated from their biological family and adoption should not be a first resort.  We really wanted to be a family for kids who didn’t have another option.  Out of honor and respect for the trauma our own children have endured, we support the Unity Initiative by Love Without Boundaries that works in China to keep families together by providing for the medical expenses of kids with special needs so families don’t feel so desperate that they end up choosing to abandon (https://www.lovewithoutboundaries.com/programs/medical/unity-initiative/).

C family: We had been dealing with infertility, and were anxious to close that chapter of our life and become parents as soon as possible. So when we were being trained as foster parents, we were told the more open we had our home, the easiest we would receive a placement.

  1. What is something unexpected you have experienced, either positive or negative, as a transracial adoptive parent?

X family: On the positive end, we have gained a connection to our local Chinese community which has been so beneficial to our children.  Our kids have access to Mandarin classes, Chinese Fan Dance, Kung Fu, and more.

On the negative end, there is a cultural movement that elevates racial identity above all to the point where adoptive parents are being labeled as colonizers for not finding a way to place a child with parents of their race of origin.  We find this unfortunate because that often is not possible and leaves children waiting on an ideal that may never exist. We believe in a historic Christian, biblical view of race. We are one race – the human race, made in God’s image first, diverse in ethnicities and cultural practices.  In our opinion, a child gaining a family should not be limited by their ethnicity.

C family: A negative is that people often think we adopted our kids as an act of charity. What we’re really doing is raising our kids just like any other parent.

  1. What have been the reactions from members of your community that share your child’s race? Any comments, questions, or experiences with them you’d like to share?

X family: We live in a predominantly Asian community (this is an intentional choice to support an integrated identity for our children).  We have experienced acceptance by them and support in helping our children stay connected to their culture of origin.  Our local Chinese school teaches them Mandarin, celebrates cultural holidays with us, and provides opportunities for cultural dance, cooking, and lessons in cultural stories and traditions.  Local Chinese families have cooked traditional foods for my children as a gift.  The Chinese Parents Association at my children’s elementary school invited me to join so that my kids don’t miss out of cultural events they host.  They invite my bio daughter to join activities too.

The comments we receive most often from Chinese people are about how “lucky” our children are and how “wonderful” we are for adopting them because they would have “no future” in China given their special needs and orphaned status.  We usually respond with, “we are the luckiest parents in the world to have these children.” While these comments are well meaning, they aren’t helpful.  No child is lucky to lose their birthparents, to have little to no information about their origins, and to be raised in a family where they “stick out” as different.  We are not saying that adoption isn’t good, just that it isn’t “lucky.”

C family: We occasionally receive unsolicited advice on our kids’ appearance. Especially Jasmine’s hair. We’ve been approached by strangers recommending salons and stylists we should try. Years ago, our reaction was total humiliation and devastation. But we’ve become more confident to stand up for ourselves and our ability to care for our kids and their appearance.

A lot of this confidence has come from other black families who have supported us and given us great advice. “I’ve never had a black woman say anything about my daughter’s rough-looking hair at the end of a long week,” they tell us. “They said that because you’re white.” We’ve found this invaluable and encouraging.

  1. There has been a lot of learning, discussion, awareness, and conflict this past year regarding how people of color are seen and treated in our society. What lessons learned this year would you want to pass along to other families considering or currently parenting a child outside of their own race?

X family: We have been intentional from the start with our kids about helping them have an integrated identity.  We want them to know that every part of them is valued in our family, including their first language and culture of origin.  They attend Chinese school to keep their Mandarin alive. One of our hopes is that they will achieve bilingual fluency so that if they ever want to go back to China and look further into their story, they can do so without the complications of a translator.   We celebrate Chinese New Year and Mid Autumn Moon Festival.  Since we live in LA, we also have easy access to cultural events.

We have also chosen to live in a predominantly Asian area where our kids don’t visually stand out amongst their peers.  They have racial mirrors, young and old, whose presence communicates to our children a normality about being Asian American. Actually, our blond haired, blue eyed bio daughter is the one who sticks out.  One year she communicated a longing for straight black hair and brown eyes so that she could be like her peers at school.

We would encourage any current or prospective transracial adoptive families to consider what the community around your children will communicate to your children about who they are.  If they rarely see another person of their same ethnicity, will they feel connected to and comfortable with their dual identity or seek to suppress or even reject connection to their culture of origin in order to fit in with the majority group?  What will this mean to them when they are older looking back?  When they go to college or enter the workforce and are assumed to have certain identity markers specific to their culture of origin, will they feel lost – not belonging in any particular world?  How will you prepare them for this?

C family: We regularly have conversations with our kids to be aware of micro aggressions targeted at people of color based on stereotypes that people still don’t realize they have. We always validate our childrens’ feelings and experiences, and teach them not to assume intention. We tell them, “Don’t be afraid to ask questions like ‘what do you mean by that?’ and ‘where is this coming from?’ or ‘why are you asking?’”

Alternatively, when people are overly familiar or intrusive, we encourage our kids to not feel an obligation to answer their questions or provide explanations. Their story belongs to them, and they have a right to share it or not share it with whomever they choose.

  1. What books, resources, or people have challenged you to consider your own racial biases?

X family: A powerful book for us was “Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother: Stories of Love and Loss” by XinRan.  This book absolutely tears apart the dominant American narrative regarding Chinese orphans.  They were never the “unwanted”, but instead were at the mercy of cultural, governmental, and societal pressures that led to the loss of their birth families.  The pain of the mothers who have loved and lost their children will stay with us forever.  This is a must read for families adopting from China.

We appreciate the voices of adult adoptees.  The research they’ve taken part in and the forums they have chosen to participate in to help educate transracial adoptive families is so valuable.  We would encourage adoptive families to seek out blogs, books, and research centered around adult adoptee voices.

We are thankful for real life friends who are Asian American who have generously shared their personal experiences, hurts, and challenges with living a dual identity. Their voices help us be mindful of what our children are experiencing and to be more attuned to the specific education, support, and empathy they need.

We have also been so blessed this year by following The Center for Biblical Unity which is founded by a friend of ours from Biola University who is a Person of Color seeking to frame the conversation about racial identity and racial relations/reconciliation around the Bible.  You can find their resources at https://www.centerforbiblicalunity.com, and her podcast at https://www.centerforbiblicalunity.com/all-the-things.

  1. What is something you wish you had considered or learned more about before bringing your child into your home, specifically in regards to racial identity development?

X family: We wish we would have been better prepared for how to respond when people make negative comments about our children’s country of origin.  People have big opinions politically, ideologically, and otherwise about China and will voice them in front of our kids without a second thought.  Sometimes these comments leave our children feeling rejected or that their country of origin is “bad”.  We can certainly communicate to people close to us about how to consider the impact their words may have on our children, but ultimately our kids will bump up against this in the broader community one way or another.  Some people have even thoughtlessly commented that they disagree with our desire to keep our kids culture alive for them, since it was that culture that led to their abandonment.  We never want our children to feel that we reject any part of them.  We teach them that all cultures have both beauty and fallenness.  We celebrate the beauty, because cultures of the world offer unique reflections of God and amplify different aspects of His character.

C family: We learned that finding like-minded families is the most important aspect to being in a community. Other black families have black parents and black kids, so they don’t match our family dynamic in the same way other multi-racial or adoptive families do.

  1. Do you have any good resources to share on how to learn more about your child’s racial experience in the U.S.?

 

X family: Again, the most important experiences for us to listen to for the sake of our children are adult adoptees, who have a unique experience that differs from typical Asian Americans.  We enjoy the these transracial adoptee resources at  “Yes I’m Adopted, Don’t Make it Weird” that is a vlog (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCmNviK-KxPVfU4iZD82oQ-A) and Facebook Group (https://www.facebook.com/groups/2154616001461723).  The Empowered to Connect Podcast covers the topic of transracial adoption in episodes 17-20 through adoptee interviews as well.

  1. Do you have any children’s books that you’ve read to your child regarding racial identity and/or adoption that you would recommend?

X family: We hired an artist to do basic illustrations of the life story of our children so that they could understand the narrative of their own history from a young age.   There are pages for: birthparents, finding place, orphanage, receiving a care package from us, the day we met, the day we arrived in the US, and a picture of us standing in front of our home.

We own many adoption books, but the favorite of our kids is, “God Found us You” by Lisa Bergren.

We also have several children books featuring Asian characters (not about adoption specifically).  Our kids particularly enjoy “The Mermaid” by Jan Brett, The Moon Lady by Amy Tan, and Really Rabbits by Virginia Kroll.  Our older daughter enjoys books by Grace Lin, particularly “Where the Mountain meets the Moon.”

  1. What has been the biggest challenge for you as you learn to parent a child outside your own race?

X family: The biggest challenge for us is feeling the weight of the division in our culture around race relations.  There are competing ideologies at play, but the dominant narrative being pushed is humanistic rather that biblical. We are trying to frame ourselves around a historic Christian view of race, anchoring ourselves to the truth of the Bible and relying on God to help us participate in true reconciliation and healing among races through the redemption and family offered in Christ.  We are looking forward to reading a recently released book on this topic from a Talbot Seminary professor, “Confronting Injustice without Compromising Truth” by Thaddeus Williams.  See the book preview including the ethnically diverse group of contributors here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mCuAkzHuRFE

C family: Honestly, we don’t often have these challenges because we’ve approached adoption and race issues very matter-of-factly with our kids. We are always working on finding the right balance between recognizing how out-of-the-ordinary our family is with how we’re just like everyone else.

For example, we don’t all agree with the athletes kneeling for the National Anthem. We’ve even had some heated debates. But we have boundaries and mutual respect for each other’s opinions, and we can laugh off the differences.

  1. What do you see is the main role a parent can play in the lives of their child concerning their racial identity development?

X family: Help them keep both parts of themselves alive and integrated – the culture of origin where their lives began and the culture of adoption where their lives are now. Do this together as a family.  Learn the language with them.  Cook their cultural foods together.  Find community members who can help educate them about their culture of origin or even about what it means to be an American with dual cultural identities.  Listen to adult adoptee voices.  Keep conversations about race, injustice, identity and truth a regular part of family life and stay grounded in the gospel.

C family: Be educated! Educate yourself, and those around you. Reach out to mentors within your child’s race for their perspective on social issues.

  1. Anything else you want to share that wasn’t covered by the questions above?

X family: Don’t get swept away by the pressures being put out there by social media, media in general, or the dominant cultural narratives about race.  Have real life, genuine relationships with people of other ethnic and cultural backgrounds and approach the things you don’t know or haven’t experienced with humility.  Listen, learn, and most importantly – stay grounded in Jesus who is the ultimate answer to the fallenness we see all around us.

C family: Please check your motives in choosing transracial adoption. Be careful that it is not your attempt to prove to those around you that you are anti-racist. It is not your child’s job to fulfill a dream for you or to bring diversity to your life. This is actually a form of micro aggression. Adoption should be about finding the best family for a child, not the other way around.

If you are interested in hearing from two more families on this topic, please check out our blog post Transracial Adoption Panel 1.

Book Review for Birth Moms

 

Once the holidays settled, I was able to dive into an amazing story of a young mom’s journey of adoption- Finding Hope: A Birthmother’s Journey into the Light. I would like to start off by saying this book is also a quick read and you will not be able to set the book down until it is finished. You will cheer on this mom in her low points and even more in her high points. This book is written by Hope O Baker who continues to advocate for birth parents on this journey through conferences, social media, and other outlets. In this book you will follow Hope through her pregnancy, placement, family struggles, mental health, and more.

 

Hope tells us how it was difficult knowing which family to choose to parent her baby when she was looking through adoption profile books. She stated, “.., but it didn’t click,” until seeing the profile book of the family she ultimately chose to adopt her baby. It is often that expectant parents look through a number of books and no connection is felt. When Hope brings light to this part of her journey it brought reassurance that this is a good read for not only expectant moms, but also prospective parents to understand. She shows us the ups and downs of her feelings through this process. She gives us an opening to the anxious feelings that come with selecting a family for her son.

Another main focus that Hope speaks to us about is the struggles with her mom throughout her journey of adoption. In the book you follow along with the arguments and uncertainties of their relationship. This can be seen in many stories of expectant parents. There may be a family member that does not understand an expectant parent’s wishes or the expectant parent is left wondering how to tell their family about their plan of adoption. When reading along through Hope’s story it is evident that the people who the expectant parent(s) chooses to be a part of their journey could benefit from Finding Hope. I do not want to give everything away, but there is a happy ending!

 

Hope lets the readers in on her struggles with substance abuse and mental health. Hope was doing great in her career by making strides and friends at her job, but inside she was struggling with depression, alcohol, and drugs. We hear about a moment in her story where she knew she needed to find better coping strategies or she would not be able to get out of what she was experiencing. Through the journey of her drug and alcohol abuse, she is frank and honest with the readers. We see the realness in how it can take over as a coping mechanism.

 

Finding Hope: A Birthmother’s Journey into the Light is an empowering story and should be read by expectant parents, loved ones of expectant parents, and parents waiting to adopt. Hope is open and honest about her joys and falls of her journey from finding out she was pregnant to where she is now. Hope states “I’m still broken, but I see those cracks as opportunities.”

5 Frequently Asked Questions About Open Adoption

 

The concept of “open adoption” has become much more accepted in the last 30 years. Today, roughly 90% of adoptions are open, according to the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute. Many families, however, still have questions and concerns about what that relationship actually looks like and what it means for them and their child. Below are a few of the most commonly asked questions when it comes to domestic adoption:

  1. What exactly is open adoption?

Open adoption is where there is some kind of direct contact between the birth family and the child and his or her adoptive family. This could include letters and pictures sent via email, text messages, phone calls, virtual meetings, or in-person visits. The amount of openness in an open adoption varies depending on the arrangement agreed upon by the birth and adoptive families at placement and the level of contact the birth family is comfortable with.

  1. Is open adoption confusing for a child?

I think this is one of the most common fears experienced by adoptive families prior to starting the adoption process– and understandably! Adoption can be a complex experience with a number of unknowns. However, studies show that when an open adoption is talked about honestly and openly, not only is it not confusing for a child but it is beneficial. When a child’s adoption story and their birth parents are discussed and/or introduced early in the child’s life, the child has a more secure and trustworthy view of themselves and their parents.

  1. Is open adoption the same as co-parenting?

Not at all. Once an adoption is finalized, the child is legally a part of your family, as if you delivered them at the hospital. You, ultimately, have say over how they are raised and their beliefs about their adoption and their birth parents. An open adoption just means that a relationship gets to be built between you, the child, and the birth family. Secondly, this birth family has chosen you to be the child’s parent for a reason. As your relationship with them develops, so does their trust and respect for you and what you decide is best for your child.

  1. What if my child grows up with an open adoption and decides they like their birth parents better?

Just as your relationship with the birth parents grows more secure over time, as does your child’s understanding of their birth parents’ role in their life. You are their parent. In an open adoption, the child grows to develop a more well-rounded perspective of who they are and where they came from. Through open communication, the child will grow to love their birth parents and establish a relationship with them as they age but it will not take away from the amount of love they have for you.

  1. What if there is a difficult situation in my open adoption and I don’t know how to handle it?

An open adoption will require difficult conversations at times, as does every important relationship. There is no guarantee that your open adoption will always be easy, but it will be worth it. Nightlight and other agencies are in place to help navigate the difficulties that can accompany adoption, including conversations about open adoption. If your family is ever confronted with a situation in your open adoption that you would like assistance navigating, we are here to help and support you.

written by Paige Lindquist