A month after welcoming our toddler son home, I sobbed to my Bible Study sisters, “We prayed for this for the past year. Remember? We really wanted this adoption to happen!” Did I regret adopting again or not expect the difficulty? Absolutely not. It’s similar to childbirth. You know it’s going to hurt for a while but the pain leads to joy. I was overtired, missing my comfort zone, and feeling inadequate to meet this little boy’s needs as well as the needs of the rest of my family.
As God has built our family through birth, adoption and through fostering I can say that each has its unique set of challenges. After going through childbirth I needed to heal physically but after welcoming a child through adoption or fostering there have also been great adjustments. Older children and/or children from another country have emotional pain to deal with. The children grieve the loss of their home, even if it is a rundown orphanage. The adoptive family grieves the routine they had before welcoming a new child. Siblings grieve the loss of attention from their parents. Toddlers and older children don’t sleep round the clock like a newborn, they are trying to establish their territory and are scared or confused. They need parents within sight but may push away and scream when held. It is an overwhelming time for everyone involved.
How can you help a family who has recently added a child through adoption or foster care?
- Understand their need to close the doors for awhile. Social gatherings and public places are overwhelming to an adjusting child and exhausted parents. Bonding is a full-time job and all other exterior responsibilities need to be minimized. Finding 10 minutes alone to shower is a monumental task and the thought of dealing with meltdowns in public can be downright daunting.
- But knock on their door (after calling ahead!) with a meal, gift card, an offer to mow the lawn or take home laundry. Help is needed just as much (we found needed more!) when bringing home an older child as when having a newborn. The entire family needs extra time and attention.
- Invite the other siblings over for a play date or sleepover. Their world has been turned upside-down! With our last son, we juggled bedrooms and everyone ended up with a new roommate. The older kids have been frustrated by the toddler invasion and need a break from tantrums, messes, and diapers.
- Come and play with the kids so Mom can enjoy a nap (especially if jet-lagged), spend time with a child one-on-one or catch up on some chores.
- Help create ‘bonding moments’ with the new child. Babysit the other siblings so the new parents can take their new son or daughter to a movie or shopping. Or give a gift card to the local mini golf course and pizza place and give the entire family a chance to make new memories together.
- Volunteer to come and stay with the kids after they are in bed so Mom and Dad can go out for coffee or a walk alone. It may be too disruptive to have a sitter so they can go out for the evening but they still need a little time alone. After the kids are sleeping will cause less disruption.
- Extend grace for a last-minute cancellation of plans, forgotten responsibilities (really? I signed up to bring treats for today?), and lost conversations (you told me that 5 minutes ago? I’m so sorry!).
- Have a good camera? Take some family photos or individual candid shots as a gift to the family.
- Listen with compassion, even when you are tired of hearing the same frustrations. Give a hug or a laugh. Celebrate the happy and funny moments.