Aug 28, 2009 by Tricia Masenthin
Adopting a child represents a major life-changing event for a family. Learn how extended family members can help ease the transition.
Whether an adoptive family has spent months or years preparing their hearts and home for a child, reality doesn’t set in until the child actually arrives home. Some families feel overwhelmed by the changes as well as the added attention, which often includes a steady stream of well-wishers hoping to get a glimpse of the new arrival.
Give the Adoptive Family Time to Unwind From Travel
International and out-of-state adoptions often involve lengthy flights or car rides for parents and children. Jet lag and pure exhaustion can present challenges for families during their homecoming. Family and friends should consider this when making plans to celebrate the arrival of a new loved one.
Scheduling Celebrations With Adoptive Families
Most adoptive families appreciate and welcome fanfare – such as a meeting at the airport – upon their arrival. Some want to throw an elaborate party as soon as the family comes home. Ask the adoptive parents about their family’s wishes in advance. Tell them it’s OK to have a party a few weeks down the road if they prefer to rest up now and celebrate in style later Families Need Space and Time to Bond. Bonding is the process of establishing an emotional connection. Bonding and attachment – a unique bond that develops between a child and her primary caregivers – develop over time, and are key to a child’s development. In the book Thriving as An Adoptive Family [Tyndale, 2008; Sanford, David and Reneé, ed.], Dr. Debi Grebenik stresses the importance of parents giving their child the time needed to bond with them. Suggestions that loved ones can help implement include:
Minimize stress and chaos in the home.
- Provide a calm and nurturing environment
- Minimize the number of visitors.
- While everyone’s excited, the parents need time to bond with their child.
- Too many adults in the child’s life complicates the bonding process and can be confusing.
- Keep the child home as much as possible to maintain a predictable and calm schedule.
Give the Adoptive Family Time to Establish a Routine
Predictably and stability help babies and kids adapt in a new atmosphere and feel safe. Loved ones can help foster an environment of consistency. Call ahead to schedule times to visit with the family. Avoid phone calls and visits during mealtimes and bedtime rituals. Offer to prepare a few make-ahead meals so the family will have some home-cooked food in the freezer for days when the parents feel too tired to cook.
Take the time to understand adoption and help erase the stereotypes and misconceptions surrounding it. Magazines such as Adoptive Families and Adoption Today offer information on a variety of topics related to international, domestic and foster care adoption. Considering reading Adoption is a Family Affair: What Relatives and Friends Must Know [Perspectives Press, 2001] by Patricia Irwin Johnston. This book educates loved ones about the realities of the lifelong adoption process.
Loved ones can demonstrate their respect for the adoption triad (birth parents, adoptee and adoptive parents) by using positive adoption language. This updated way of discussing adoption replaces inaccurate, negative phrases such as “put up for adoption” and “given away” with more constructive terms such as “make an adoption plan.” Positive adoption language presents adoption as a “normal” way to form a family and not second best.Understand the Importance of Positive Adoption Language
Privacy in Adoption
Adoptive families deserve privacy. Some parents choose to keep details about their child’s adoption within the family to protect the adoptee’s privacy. Respect their wishes and only share the adoptee’s history with those who need to know. Some parents make plans early on to give the adoptee control over the release of genetic information and history at an appropriate age.
Recognize the Signs of Post-Adoption Depression Syndrome
Similar to Postpartum Depression, Post-Adoption Depression Syndrome affects adoptive parents. PADS can occur soon after adopting a child or even months later. According to a survey sponsored by the Eastern European Adoption Coalition, 65 percent of 145 parents who responded had experienced PADS. Symptoms of PADS range from general feelings of sadness to suicidal thoughts. If a loved one exhibits signs of PADS, offer support and encourage her to seek help from her physician.
Adoptive Families Need Support from Their Extended Family
While adoptive families need and crave approval from their friends and family, they also require breathing room in order to adjust to the myriad of changes occurring. Well-meaning loved ones can help the adoptive family during the transition by educating themselves about the process and offering their unconditional support.