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.
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!
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?