5 Ways To Support Your Adoptive Mom Friend (Post-Adoption)

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Your friend is bringing home her adopted child! Her wait is finally over and you are thrilled. You supported her through all the heart-wrenching months (or years) of her adoption process – and now it’s time to welcome that little one home and watch their family’s “happily ever after” unfold!

Or is it?

What most people don’t know, is the first few months (and even years) home with an adopted child can actually be more difficult than the adoption process. Many adoptive parents deeply struggle through this season, and friends aren’t really sure how to support them during it.

Support your adoptive mom friends - Adoption Day!
Our family in Bangkok, Thailand – just moments after our paperwork was signed at the Thai Adoption Board meeting! We were joined by the wonderful Adoption Director from our daughter’s orphanage.

I’ll admit that I was one of those people who believed in the “happily ever after” storyline. After a traumatic five-year adoption journey, getting our daughter home from Thailand was the light at the end of the tunnel for me. It was all that I focused on. I just couldn’t wait to have her in my arms! But I wasn’t prepared for how difficult it would be once she was here.

Adopted at almost four years old, my little Thai darling had just lost everything she’d ever known – her country, culture, caregivers, home, friends – and every single source of comfort. She traveled halfway around the world with two people who had loved her from afar for years, but who were complete strangers to her. She was traumatized, grieving, and completely overwhelmed. We were working hard to help her heal, adjust, and attach . . . but it wasn’t easy. Though we were relieved and thankful to have her in our arms, we felt like we were barely surviving.

We’ve now been home 14 months and counting – and our little love is better adjusted, more attached, and finally thriving! So now that the “fog” has lifted a bit for us, I’d like to share some of my perspective here. It’s my hope that this advice will help you support your adoptive mom friends just a little bit better.

#1 – Respect her parenting style

Maybe you’ve been a parent way longer than they have. Maybe you have three kids, and this is their first. Maybe you think it will be helpful to pass on your parenting wisdom. Please don’t – unless they ask for advice!

Parenting an adopted child is not the same as parenting a bio child. (You may think I’m clueless here, since I just have one child who is adopted. But I’ve talked to so many mamas of biological and adopted children who have confirmed with wide eyes and a knowing look — this is the absolute truth!) What works for bio kids often does NOT work for an adopted child. Many have endured trauma and/or have special needs. Every adopted child has experienced significant loss.

Your adoptive mama friend may parent her adopted child very differently than you’re parenting your biological one. You may think some of the things she does are crazy. But there’s a good chance that she’s read at least a half dozen books, gone to multiple conferences, and endured hours of “training” on just how that child needs to be parented. (To give you an idea . . . we completed 31 “credited hours” of adoptive parent training!) Respect her differences and try hard not to judge.

#2 – Encourage her

Becoming an instant parent to a four year old was not easy. I can’t even begin to tell you what kind of “learning curve” that created for us! Throw in the fact that our daughter knew NO English and we only speak basic Thai (which was helpful, but still left a huge language barrier), and you can imagine how overwhelmed we felt.

I will never forget the times our neighbors sincerely complimented our parenting in those first few months home. Having them look into our eyes and tell us what a great job we were doing (with specific examples) was the most encouraging thing! It still brings tears to my eyes when I think about it . . . because those compliments helped me believe in my ability to be a good mom. So when you see your friend rocking the “mom thing” — tell her! Say it out loud, send a text, mail a card – do whatever you can get the message across. She will appreciate it more than you know!

#3 – Let her complain

That “happily ever after” tag feels like a theme for adoption homecomings. (I’ve already admitted, I thought it too!) You work and hope and dream of this child for so long — and you just know that bringing him/her home is going to be the BEST THING EVER. Except that you’re never fully prepared for how drastically a child changes your life. And you don’t realize how hard parenting will be. And you really have no idea how your child (who is a complete stranger to you) will handle this huge transition.

But when things get hard, adoptive mamas feel guilty. We feel like we should love every moment and be grateful for every experience because we waited so long for this child. We don’t feel like we’re allowed to complain — and that is often reinforced by comments from friends and family! So be a safe place for your adoptive mama friend to be honest. Parenting is not sunshine and rainbows all the time! Hard days and legitimate complaints don’t make us any less grateful (and it doesn’t mean we love our kids any less!) Remind us of that, and let us know you’re not judging us when we need to vent a bit.

#4 – Let her grieve

The grief I experienced after bringing my daughter home was the thing I was the least prepared for. We knew when we said “yes” to adopting an older child that we would miss several years of her life . . . but bringing her home made that loss so much more tangible. Each day I spent getting to know my daughter, I was reminded of all I had missed with her. Watching her struggle to adjust reminded me of all she had endured and lost as well. Others tried to help by chiding me to “focus on the positives” and “just be grateful” – but the deep gratefulness I felt for having her home did not make my grief over our losses any less palpable.

Adoption is a beautiful response to a terrible tragedy. There is loss and grief in every single adoption story. Give your adoptive mom friends room to grieve (and try to empathize and grieve with them if you can!) A simple statement like, “I’m so sorry. I can’t imagine how hard that must be. I’m here if you want to talk about it,” can mean so much.

#5 – Ask about the whole family

Don’t just ask how the adopted child is doing when you check in with your friend . . . ask about the whole family. If there are other siblings, show your concern for them too. And please don’t forget to check in on those new parents as well! I don’t mean just a “How are ya’ll?” in passing. Really be intentional throughout their first year home and take the time to show you care. Post Adoption Depression is a very real thing, with almost identical symptoms to Post Partum Depression. The months-long period of isolation many families endure in an effort to help their child adjust and bond (which we lovingly call cocooning) can be incredibly lonely.

One of the best things a friend did for me, was to meet me out for dessert at a nearby restaurant after my daughter was in bed. We only did it a handful of times — but those nights when I could leave my house, talk to a girlfriend (face to face), laugh, cry, and vent — they helped me get through many hard days!

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Adoption isn’t easy, but it is absolutely worth it! Our first year home with our daughter was one of the hardest, loneliest, most overwhelming years of my life — but I would endure it all again a thousand times to get to be her mama. Our darling girl is brave, beautiful, kind, compassionate, funny, smart, and strong! I’m so grateful for the friends and family who supported us during our long journey to get her, and once we brought her home. It absolutely takes a village — and we are thankful for ours!

Adoptive moms – what are some things your “village” did well when you brought your child home? What other things do you wish they had done?

Support your adoptive mom friends - It takes a village
Part of “our village” — waiting at the Birmingham airport to welcome us HOME with our little girl!

 

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Just days after graduating from Auburn University, Ericka took a trip to Africa that changed her life forever. She discovered two unexpected things there: a passion for orphan care, and her husband Rusty! Together they founded The Sound of Hope, and have spent the past 10+ years working to provide holistic care to vulnerable children around the world. Though her heart (and time) is divided between other countries – she’s proud to call Birmingham, Alabama home! When Ericka & Rusty decided to grow their family through adoption, they never guessed it would take five heart-wrenching years to get their daughter home from Thailand. These days Ericka tries to soak up every moment of long-awaited motherhood to their beautiful little girl, Kate. Their Thai darling is growing up way too fast, and Ericka is mildly obsessed with over-documenting it all on Instagram and her blog! In addition to managing The Sound of Hope, Ericka and her husband run a video & photography business called RJackson Media. In her “free time" (do moms have free time?!) Ericka enjoys gardening, decorating, and DIY projects. She also loves singing, dancing, and acting – and was cast in her very first musical theatre role last year. She firmly believes that you’re never too old to try something new!

4 COMMENTS

  1. I feel like I could have written this myself! We have biological and adopted children, and I can say that even in the best circumstances, older child adoption is tough, particularly compared to bringing home a baby! It is so disheartening to have family or close friends who don’t seem supportive once your child is home because that is truly the time adoptive families need them most! So for me, I wish family members had been willing to let me educate them about what to expect and how different parenting an adoptive child can be. I would have loved if someone had offered to bring a meal or take my older children out to do something while we were cocooning. I honestly felt I was drowning those first few weeks but had no one other than my husband (who was in the trenches with me) to lean on.

  2. This is so good! Thanks for sharing an adoptive mom’s perspective and giving such great ways for friends to offer support. Parenting styles must often be very different. We have 3 older bio children and had to learn a whole new way of parenting with our youngest, a wonderful twelve year old, home with us at 7 months. My best friend didn’t judge when we struggled through trying to find the best way to parent him as it became abundantly clear that what had worked with the three older ones was NOT going to be best for him. She asked lots of questions, helped me research and supported my choices even when they were very different than her own. I will always be grateful for that. In fact, I think I’ll go write her a note to tell her how much I love her- thanks again for reminding me!

  3. If there are other children in the family offer to take them somewhere with your family or have them over for a play date. Great article! Spot on!

  4. Being the first to check in (without the new parent needing to reach out) is so important. Reaching out gets exhausting, and having someone else initiate things with a “hey, how you doing?” is invaluable!

    You have a beautiful family!

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