My husband and I didn’t build our family in the traditional way. We decided to adopt from the foster care system. Our child was 9 years old when we brought her home for the first time. She had been abused and neglected by her biological family during her first four years of life and then bounced around foster care for five years before we found our way to her. She was frightened, angry and had no reason to believe that we were truly going to be her permanent set of parents. Becoming an instant parent to a 9-year-old child who had nearly a dozen mother figures before me — and who suffered through more trauma than most adults do in a whole lifetime — has been hard. It has been both the most difficult and amazing experience I could imagine. Being her final mom has taught me a lot and I want to pass that knowledge on to you. Adding an adopted child to your home is a big adjustment, regardless of if she’s an infant or a tween. Being prepared in your home is important. Here are some tips to make the transition process a bit easier.
Do Your Homework Ahead of Time
Do your research, but realize that every child is different. I read stacks of books on general parenting, adoption, child mental health, attachment disorder and childhood trauma. I read every scrap of paper her caseworker sent us so carefully that I practically had it memorized. I researched her diagnoses (ADHD, oppositional defiant disorder and generalized anxiety disorder) and became an expert on the medications she was prescribed. It’s important to know what to expect, especially if there’s a strong possibility that your child has special needs. Just don’t get so wrapped up in the research that you’re unable to see that every child and every situation is unique. Just because a book says your child will do XYZ does not mean your child will actually do XYZ. They might do ZYX instead.
Build a Support System
Being a parent can be lonely, especially if your child has special needs. Reach out to friends and family before your adopted child comes home. Find playgrounds or programs for families similar to yours. Introduce yourself to them and find out when they meet so you’re ready to jump in right away. If you don’t have local support available, find it on the Internet through message boards and blogs. I’ve tapped into a huge community through blogs and Facebook groups of other parents who are raising children who struggle due to trauma and attachment issues. Having this support system of women who understand my situation has gotten me through some very stressful situations. Find out what resources are available in your community. We waited until our daughter was home to start looking for professionals, such as a pediatrician and therapist. This was a mistake. Many offices weren’t accepting new patients or had long waits. Start researching providers before your child arrives. Determine your top picks and find out the important details, such as appointment policies.
Don’t Buy Too Much
Our adopted daughter was completely overwhelmed when she saw her room for the first time. There was a six month gap between being chosen as her parents and actually being allowed to bring her home. I filled that time with shopping. She had enough clothes, shoes, toys, books and accessories to make a dozen children happy. My friend Katie didn’t buy a single baby item while she was pregnant with her second child because she still had closets full of unused supplies she bought or was given during her first pregnancy four years earlier. Keep it simple. Just buy the basics. You can always buy more once you see what’s really needed, and with an older child, knowing her personality and tastes in clothes and toys is gold.
Do What You Can Before Your Child Comes Home
You won’t have much time, energy or focus once your child arrives. Here are some tasks you can accomplish in advance: • Give your home a thorough cleaning (or hire someone to do it for you). • Organize closets, drawers and cabinets. Get rid of stuff you don’t need. • Stock your pantry with paper towels, toilet paper, toiletries, cleaning supplies and nonperishable food items. • Make and freeze meals. This will allow you to just pop something in the oven or microwave in the busy weeks after your child comes home. Casseroles, such as lasagna or enchiladas, freeze well. Make a big patch of muffins or pancakes and freeze them in individual servings for quick breakfasts. • Take care of any appointments or errands, such as dental exams, car maintenance and home repairs.
Plan to Make Time for Yourself and for Your Spouse
Determine what you need to stay sane, such as a weekly pedicure or hour to workout each day. Then make a tentative schedule with your spouse or someone in your support system to make it happen. My husband spent months playing cards and watching the Disney channel with our daughter so I could get a workout in after dinner every evening. Now she’s able to entertain herself. Also, commit to making time for your spouse. My husband and I watch TV and chat after our daughter goes to bed.
Take Time Off from Work
Our daughter moved in with us the day her school year ended. We started her in a summer day camp right away, so my husband and I could continue working. I became so exhausted after a year that I quit my job and transitioned to freelance writing from home. I wish I would have taken at least a month off from work when she came home. It would’ve given us important bonding time and allowed me to adjust to being a mother without work responsibilities looming over me. If your little one will be going to a child-care center (or school), take an additional week or two off to enjoy some time at home alone before returning to work. Our daughter has been home for more than two years now. She’s 12 now and recently started middle school. It’s still overwhelming and exhausting at times, but we’ve found our comfort zone. We’ve been committed to her since the day we were chosen to be her parents. It took time for her to believe that, but now she trusts and loves us just as much as we love her. Older child adoption is challenging, but it’s been even more rewarding for our family. Rachael Moshman is a mom, freelance writer and blogger. Find her at rachaelmoshman.com.