We spend so much time, energy, and often money on the process of adopting a child that it is tempting, once the child is finally in our home, to sigh with a sense of “Mission Accomplished” and give ourselves a mental high five for a job well done. Far be it from me to rain on anyone’s parade, but…
Getting the child home is the beginning, not the ending of your adoption journey.
Now is where the rubber meets the road–the actual raising of this beautiful child. If you are lucky you will have a period of relative calm while both you and the child figure each other out and learn each other’s expectations.
If you are really lucky, this calm turns into a smooth transition with both you and your new son or daughter gracefully moving into your new roles.
If you are in the majority of people adopting an older child (child past infancy), however, the honeymoon period is followed by a rough patch of testing and pushing limits on the child’s part, and often fear and questioning on the parent’s part.
This is not an indication that the adoption is doomed or that you are a failure or that the child is bad. It’s simply means that you and your child are both human and going through a huge transition. Here are some tips to help you survive this transition home.
- Do something that you love or gives you pleasure every day. This is not a frivolous splurge; it is a necessity, and you need to budget for it or call in favors to have time for it. Read a few chapters of a book with a cup of coffee, go for a run, schedule 1-hour of guilt-free time on Facebook, try out a new recipeDo not be afraid to take a little time away from the child each day for some restorative self-care.
- Do something with your new child each day that you both enjoy. Curl up and read together; play a video game together; go for a walk or bike ride together. You need to create a pool of shared good memories for both of you to draw upon when the going gets rough. Schedule time for this to happen daily.
- Do something with your spouse (if married) once a week that you both enjoy. It’s easy for marriages to be forgotten in the crunch of early adoptive parenthood. Nurturing your marriage is time well spent.
- Look at your expectations. If you find yourself overwhelmed and questioning why in the world this seemed like a good idea, go back to your expectations. Were they realistic? Did you think you would automatically fall in love or feel like a mom or dad to this child? Did you think this child’s temperament would mesh smoothly with your temperament? Did you think that this child had miraculously escaped developing any annoying coping behaviors? Time for an expectation re-boot.
- Reframe in your mind the child’s annoying behaviors. Chances are good these behaviors were successful coping skills she learned to help her survive in her prior life. Your goal is gradual improvement as she becomes stable in this new life. This takes time.
- If one parent is struggling more than the other—don’t panic. It is common for one of the parents to not feel the same level of connection at first or to be more irritated by the child’s behavior. Nonjudgmental communication is crucial. The parent that is not struggling must listen to and support the parent who is struggling with extra help and more time off. This unequal division of responsibility won’t last forever, but is
- Schedule a few appointments with a therapist for yourself. It is easy to assume that all the adjusting is on the part of the newly adopted child; therefore, the child is the one that needs therapy. While the adjustment for your new child is huge, parents too are going through a lot of change and often need the wise supportive ear of a trained counselor. Creating a Family has resources to help you find
- Join an Adoption Support group. If you can’t find an in-person group (and even if you can) join an online support group such as the Creating a Family Facebook Support Group. People are available 24/7 who have likely experienced exactly what you are feeling, and they can help without judgment. We promise.
- If you think you might harm the child-get help immediately. Call your spouse, family member, social worker, or child abuse hotline. You are not evil; you are not a bad person. You are someone under a lot of stress that needs help immediately. Help is available. You are not alone.
This content was originally published by Creating a Family, the national adoption & infertility education nonprofit. https://creatingafamily.org/adoption-category/tips-for-surviving-1st-6-months-with-newly-adopted-kids/