Families have asked me how to prepare for the first weeks home after international adoption (and honestly these would apply to bringing home through foster care and even a newborn too!)–and to be honest–even after a year home with our first one, I had to really THINK HARD what to tell them. It’s really hard to give good advice on this unless you are in the middle of it, because like all things–when life moves on and you find your new normal, it can be really hard to remember what it was that you REALLY needed. I always smile when I read articles written by adoption moms who it’s been 15 or so years for and read their advice. It often rings “you just need Jesus” and don’t be hard on yourself/give yourself GRACE–two very ambiguous hard to grasp concepts when you are the middle of hard. YES–I agree…Jesus IS enough. BUT when it comes to bringing home a toddler, child or teen who has experienced trauma in their past–while Jesus will be the one that heals–I also believe it will be strategies, the church (His people) and prepping ahead of time (being prepared) for the transition that He will ultimately work through. [It's not either/or here--it's both/and!]
Prepping to come home with your first or even second child verses a full house can also look very different. For example, when we brought home Isaac, we had 3 biological children at home that had never experienced the circumstances our new one had. All three were very secure and confident in our love and their place in our family–so we were really able to stay home in the first weeks and “cocoon” with little distractions from the outside world. This time though–coming home with 4 children at home–one who did come to us through the miracle of adoption–our transition would be a wee bit different. BEFORE I forget…before we find our NEW normal…before I can no longer remember the advice to give–I wanted to write down a few of the things that have been “AH-HA!” moments for me this time–things that I wish I had known before our first adoption and stuck to well–and things that I am so thankful for this time.
I was GOING to write a post on “how to serve adoption families in the first days home” BUT for 2 reasons I changed it. 1–The only way that would really help you would be to SHARE my blog with those in your life that support you in hopes that they will do some of those things…and lets face it–telling people your family might need help might feel weird. 2–It’s better to prepare yourself and be prepared AND just be blessed by those who ask to help or bless you. So, in the middle of the transition and change…and just being home 2 weeks with our 5th child–here are the things that I wish I had not only known but really grabbed ahold to our first adoption–and things I’m sticking my best to this one.
I’m all about conserving the environment. BUT when you are newly home–for the first month–stock up and use paper products instead of having to load and unload the dishwasher every night. When you have a big family, every meal can be a full load. So just in the first month home, stock up on paper plates, cups and even plastic utensils (you can toss them in your recycle bin!). Before you travel, stock up on toilet paper, paper towels, wipes and napkins. These are things you will use A LOT more often than you ever did before as a new one says no to food that is new, as food is thrown more than it’s ever been in your house and for some–as parasites take their toll on maybe more than just your new one in the family. If you have brought home a child before and know what the big G is (giardi)–then you know you will need more wipes and toilet paper than you though humanly possible. With that action going on in the house–fatigue sets in–and the last thing you want to be doing is cleaning dishes too. You will be thanking me later every time you toss out a paper plate instead of doing the dishes. Promise.
Meals were so helpful when we brought home newborns. Newborns wake in the night, they often cry in the day–and they are fussy in the 5 o’clock hour making meal time very difficult. I often wondered HOW I would ever cook again while the meals were coming from dear friends during our newborn days. This is SUCH a wonderful way to bless a family growing and going through change in their family.
It wasn’t until we adopted internationally a toddler, fostered a teen, brought home a toddler the second time…each time–I was reminded that MEALS are THE biggest way to help a family. When you have a bigger one that doesn’t sleep the way a newborn sleeps during the day or even at night–meals are even a greater help in this circumstance as you can imagine. When you travel internationally–not only does your child have jet lag and isn’t sleeping at night–but YOU will not be sleeping at night and be back on course for a few weeks EITHER. At 5pm–it will feel like 5am–and turning on the oven is potentially a fire risk to you and your family;) (Kidding–kind of;). The 5 o’clock tired time for newborns is the same for toddlers–only it looks quite different on a newly home toddler. A newborn having a fit is easier to calm (I’ve had newborns with colic)–and trust me–a newborn with colic doesn’t even hold a candle to a toddler who is scared, a teenager who needs to be held—or having to hold two toddlers at once that are both struggling to find where they fit and their new roles in your family.
If you don’t have meals–then you will likely eat cereal on these nights when moments of healing are more important SO when someone asks how they can help–even if you do not think this will be hard–say a MEAL.. Trust me. This is HUGE after you are home from the airport as you figure out time zone changes, as you are learning your new one with a language barrier and as you can’t figure out any food your new one will eat–you and the others in your home WILL still need to eat. Filling up their tummies will allow you to focus on your new one–AND different meals brought from friends will also offer new foods for your little love to try.
If you have a friend kind enough to set up a meal calendar for you–then hug them, kiss them on the cheek and bless them. Having meals the first few weeks home has been the biggest help of all–every other night has been the biggest blessing for our family as we eat left overs the other nights.
If you have other children at home–another way friends might help is to have play dates or sleepovers for the other children who are likely getting a bit of the shaft and having to make some big sacrifices during those first weeks home. While you do your best to balance the needs of everyone–it’s likely that your new one may have more demanding needs at first. There will be days that it will be healthy for your other children to have a break from home as a new one settles, grieves and as you find your new normal while giving the others a time of refueling in the form of play dates and sleep overs.
CAREFULLY gage WHAT and WHEN your children need a break/breather. Be honest with friends WHEN a child needs a break and can use a play date. You will be tempted to accept a play date offer when it is offered or best for your friend’s family–”when they are invited”. There will be times when you need to huddle in as a family and help your new one heal together–to find your new normal together–and at the same time your best friend or your child’s best bud calls for a helpful play date. DO WHAT IS BEST FOR YOUR CHILD AND BE HONEST. (You will likely be tired–so here is something to refer back to that you can say, “Thank you SO much for inviting her over to play. We really, really need this–and this sweet thing could use a break. BUT we are going through a connection time where we need to huddle together. Can I have a raincheck and call you when we are over this hump and could she play then instead?”)
There will be times when friends invite your child over and your child DOES need a break and it WOULD be a good time–but you need more than just a play date and you will need to be honest about this. Your friend doesn’t understand what your new one is really going through and how not only do you need help with a play date–but you ALSO need help with transportation THERE and BACK for your child. When you bring home a 2 year old who has NEVER in his LIFE sat in a carseat–a 10 minute ride strapped in a seat–buckled at the chest–where they can not see you…they cry out to you but unfamiliar things just keep going by them through glass faster and faster–more and more stimulating…this can actually be a very traumatic experience in the first weeks home.
Put yourself in your new child’s shoes if he/she is freaked out by the carseat. This can be scary when you think about it this way. IF this is your child–and your friend says they would love to have a play date for your child but wants you to drop them off because the water heater man or whatever is coming to their house–then consider your new child over their water heater;). The transit there and back could likely do more damage than how the play date itself would help at all.
(In this circumstance say, “This timing couldn’t be more perfect for her/him to have a play date! You have no idea how much this would mean to me! I have a bigger favor to ask of this play date and please be honest if this is too much for you and we can have a play date another time. Our new one is still very scared of the car seat. We must limit our transits right now to emergencies or when there is another adult to sit in the back with him to help him learn this isn’t a scary thing although it is overstimulating and new. Because we are still figuring out his sleep I’m not sure when I would be able to drop her off or pick her up either. Would there be any way we could schedule the play date around times that would be convenient for you to help with transportation?” I know asking for extra help like this can be hard–but think of your child in the back seat screaming and overstimulating and ALL the changes he or she has already had to endure these last few days and weeks–and be brave for your child. Asking for help–even to my family and closest friends–is hard for me! It requires me to be brave and remind myself that they LOVE our family and if they knew this and the reasons they would be overjoyed to go the extra mile for us!)
In the first weeks home with a new one, if I was worried about laundry and a clean house–I would truly miss so many connecting opportunities. Yes–we all know YOU CAN do this. BUT finding your new normal and how to get it all done WILL take some time. If your home and laundry start to fall apart–CALL FOR HELP. If you have friends blessing you with meals–then use the extra grocery money saved to hire a babysitter to fold laundry instead of watch kids or hire a cleaning service to scrub toilets.
Right now, we have a babysitter coming over on Tuesday and Thursday from 9am to 3pm. She does housework and laundry so I can connect with the kids and be more watchful of every ones hearts and better gauge what each child needs. In the later afternoon while Zeke and Isaac are napping, she will take the older kids to the pool so I can rest OR she will stay here folding laundry and listening out for babes to wake ready to call me in when they stir so I can stay in the back swinging with the kids or slip-and-sliding while house work continues. I’m able to give the other kids more of me and connect with them on these days during the naps of our new one.
With 4 other children who want to party and play, staying at home with a new one can be tough FOR THEM. To make things more fun during this time of allowing your new one to settle, load up on fun things at home for the other kids. Buy the slip-and-slide that you hate because it kills the grass…and remember your grass is just grass:). Grab the art supplies you never buy and let them go to town. Stock up on face paint and other fun that can happen at home–that you always avoid;)–and make this time at home special for your other kids. You will even feel like a kid again as you splurge a bit on home fun! (Other ideas: sprinklers, outdoor chalk, window markers, water colors, board games, garden supplies)
I have learned that it is very important during the first days to have heart-to-hearts with each child and just ask them questions on how they are doing. One-on-one time will minister to their sweet hearts–and it doesn’t have to be a date night special outing occasion but maybe something as simple as ice cream on the porch together after the others have gone down for bed or sitting on the front steps just the two of you while you let the others watch a quick cartoon one morning. I thought one child was at one place until a little one-on-one talk one evening that led to a big realization that we actually needed MORE one-on-one times with this sweet one. I had NO idea one of my children was struggling so as this one had been so engaged in helping and loving our new one! We were able to make a list together of things that we could do just the two of us!
Stock your frig with healthy snacks–so you can order the pizza tonight for dinner. Do not fret over the chicken fingers or pizza you are serving for dinner on the nights you do not have meal help–your children are most likely loving this! AND it’s easy–especially if you are serving on your paper plates:) It’s also easier to feel okay about this if they have eaten healthy snacks all day.
Read the books. Remember the equipping skills for helping a new one heal. Do what you are able to. Pray that the Lord would lead and guide you. REST that He is able to heal and each kiss…each connection…each word of affirmation is a step closer. And as you do all of this DO NOT, DO NOT, DO NOT compare yourself, your circumstances/experience OR your children with ANY one else. Every child is different. Every need is different. Every family is different. Trust the Lord to lead and guide your family as you go to Him and open your hands to Him. When you are tempted to look to the left or right–STOP. And look up. This is too hard to look to the left and right–but that is what the enemy would want you to do. Stop when you catch yourself doing this–and just look UP–and then love out. Pour out as He pours in. He will equip you. You can do this with His strength!
Make decisions, accept help and answer questions through a filter of what is best for your child/children/family. Do not try to accommodate those trying to help if it makes it harder–it’s okay to say no thank you if it makes things harder or if things are too crazy. You will also likely get lots of questions about your new one from those who are there to help you and you will be tempted to answer in a way to accommodate their curiosity rather than what is best for your child. ALWAYS answer questions by filtering it through what is best for your child. (When someone brings you a meal, drops off goodies, picks up another child–and they are standing in your home–and they ask an innocent but invasive question like, “So what do you know about your child’s story…what do you know about their birth family…”
DO NOT answer with what you are not okay with sharing simply because you didn’t want to be rude. Assume they will go home and tell their child–assume their child will one day be on the playground with your child–assume one day their child will be upset with your child and their child now has information that could make a forever wound on your child’s heart. PUT your child first and say, “This is our child’s sacred and sweet story–and one day when he is ready–we want him to be the one to share it.” It might feel weird at first–but you’ll get this question more than once and twenty times if you are a mom through adoption–so go ahead and practice it now. It feels normal and right after awhile and not rude at all.)
If you don’t already have a thing. Something that brings YOU rest. That replenishes YOU. FIND ONE. It can be laying out by the pool in your neighborhood for a few minutes after your husband gets home. It might be running a few miles in the morning before he leaves for work. It might be like mine–WRITING…blogging/documenting your days. It could be cooking. Sewing. Crafting. Working out. Gardening. If you don’t already have a thing–FIND ONE. The first days might not be the time for your thing–but you will need a thing…something that replenishes you in the months and years ahead. Whether you are a mom with 1 or 10–you must take care of yourself and find something that just allows you to exhale and allows you to feel like you. Never look to the left or right on this either–because we all have different things that bring our different personalities rest. You just need to find yours and make sure you do it once a day if you can. I’m far from doing my thing once a day–but a few times a week of writing for me and I feel like a new momma again.
Please feel free to contact me if you ever have any questions, need encouragement or just have a prayer request during your mommying. No matter where you are–it’s never easy and there are always challenges. It is such a treasure when we find others to run beside and encourage–and it would be my honor to ever do that for any of you. BY THE WAY…there is a sweet retreat we do every year for adoption mommas (those considering adopting, in process or already home) and we’d love to have you join us to encourage one another and refuel. You can check out the details about this retreat Created for Care at www.createdforcare.org. BLESSINGS to you all as you grow! May you sense His presence and follow Him close on this journey!
Are you a family that has recently grown through adoption? Are there things not listed here that you found to be nuggets that you would like to share with other families preparing to grow again? Please share those in the comments below and I’ll add them to this post! And honestly–I would LOVE to have your nugget of wisdom to hold onto myself! So if you have one…please share away!