Monday, January 19, 2009

New Order

Before I start this post I want to say that I am not an expert on adoption or claim to have all the answers. This post is simply to share with you some insights I have come upon through my own family experiences after having five biological children and adopting four others.

Every time a new child comes into a family a new order needs to be established. I have experienced this phenomenon with each birth or adoption. As a child enters the family there is a disorder that occurs prior to the "new norm". It takes about three to six months to see the completion of this reordering process. It is the most difficult time for the family since not one of us is able to escape the process. For me the biggest challenge is learning how to balance my mothering between the children that have been in the family longer and the ones that are just entering. I lower my expectations of how much I can accomplish as a good deal of my time will be taken up with helping various children find their new spot after displacement happens. As the ones that have been in the family begin to adjust to their new roles many feelings emerge. I have noticed that at this point any or all of my children may go through a grieving period. For example, our middle daughter was the youngest child for ten years. When our new little Abigail was born Angelina was very excited to be a big sister, yet once we got the baby home reality hit and Angelina went through a swing between joy and loss. She loved her new baby sister dearly, but now needed to find out where she fit in the family. She felt a little guilty at these feelings, but once they were validated she was able to move into her new role with grace.The nice part about this rather difficult time is that it is a process with a beginning and an end. As the adjustment is worked through new roles are established between the family members and new bonds are formed. If worked through properly the result is a closer family as individuals find value and confidence in their new spot. Most of us that have had more than one biological child have seen this take place. But if you add to this natural adjustment a traumatized adopted child the process is much more complicated. A mistake I have seen others make is to ignore or try to go around this adjustment process. Many times we are uncomfortable with the changes ourselves and might not feel qualified to deal with the amount of emotions that run through the family. But regardless of ones ability to deal with interpersonal relationships( that many times looks very ugly especially in an new adopted child) the process will continue. Your final result depends on to what extent you are able to work your family through this process. Make no need tools to help you.

I want to focus now specifically on the process of adjusting an adopted child into a family. It is clear that each adopted child has had trauma. Whether they have been given up at birth or later. The trauma can range anywhere from loss of a parent to severe abuse. Once a child's normal path has been interrupted by trauma they no longer function out of trust, but fear. The fear based reactions of an adopted child can look pretty unusual. With our children we have seen everything from disassociation, hitting, yelling, and reverting to infant behavior, to running away and complete rejection. And although this is very dramatic behavior I will reiterate that when dealt with properly it will go away. As each incident is dealt with the erratic behaviour diminishes and the child's true self begins to come out as trust replaces fear. If an adoptive parent shies away from dealing with the true fear and grief a child comes into the family with they are dooming themselves and their child to a much longer adjustment period. I mentioned earlier that tools are required and we have always been open to all that we could find. Books such as Beyond Consequences by Heather Forbes can help or adoption support websites like: A Family 4ever. One tool that has been very effective for us with older foreign adoption is having an interpreter on hand for the first two months to allow our children to speak in their native tongue until they can acquire their new language. Another tool we use is asking hard questions to get at the truth of what is really going on. For instance we have asked our adopted children, " Do you know why you are here and what happened to make this necessary?". We deal with their situations truthfully when they are ready to handle it. We do not expect the healing process to be quick or go away after a few weeks. Some of the deepest level issues have emerged after years of having a child in our home. Before we adopted we decided to make sure our expectations were in check. My husband articulated this in a way that really helped me," We should not expect this child to love us. But we will love this child through our actions of taking care of his needs and after a lifetime of working with him if he reciprocates this love it will be a cherry on top! Surely he will be better off here than on the streets." This changed my perspective on the goal we were shooting for. My goal was not to have a perfect mother/child bonding experience. It was to help a child come to the spot where he could see who he is from God's perspective and inside a family is the safest, most effective way this occurs. Now I could do my work without having any expectations that my son should or would give anything back to me. My focus was not on what I might receive from this broken child, but what I needed to do to help him heal. It was a good thing because at first he was not very fun to be around. And of course at first you do not see an end in sight so it helps to have your emotions in check. Homeschooling has been one of the most effective tools when adjusting our older adopted children into our family. With Denis it allowed him to move to a healthier spot without the added burden of peer pressures. I was able to give him plenty of one on one attention so he advanced quickly with his English. If an issue came up I was better able to tell what was bothering him since I was around him all the time. He learned what a family was like and moved away from institutionalization. I am finding this to be true with Etsegenet as well. I will put a disclaimer in here...each family is different and their children have needs that do not match ours. I am not saying this is the only way, it has just worked well for us. Lastly, a quick list of "no-brainer", must have tools: PRAYER, lots of family meetings to work through feelings and character issues, regular Bible studies, and a network of people you can go to for advice. If you are wondering how we find time for all these gatherings, we do not watch network television at all(that's another post altogether).

I have just touched on a few of the tools we have used to help our family come to a new order as we continue to grow. I am sure others have different and just as effective tools. I would love to hear some of your suggestions as well. As we learn from one another may God be glorified and children grow in families that seek his face.


Heather Brandt said...

I enjoyed and benefitted from your posting! We just adopted from Russia through AWAA and are considering where God may call us to adopt from in the next year or so.

God bless,


Yarnsmith said...

We are finding the same thing in our home. Now 7 months in, we're all figuring out who we are in context of our new family.

Thanks for putting it into words.

I have found that as hard as homeschooling is at times, it has given me a huge insight into my children's psyches.

We talk about Ethiopia whenever it comes up and we talk about feelings all the time, and that really has helped them (and us!).

Please have Estagenet email us at with your email address, so we can get the kids together by phone. Thanks!

Rob and Heather said...

Thank you. I really needed to read what you wrote today.

The Pichura Family said...

I happened upon your blog :) and I really appreciated what you shared...the blessings of the internet!!!, but I do have a question more than a comment. We will, Lord willing be bringing two brothers home from Ethiopia in May. The oldest is school age (they say he is 7) and we will be homeschooling him along with my other children. I am a bit nervous with the language barrier. Do you have any homeschooling suggestions?
Thanks so much!

Sandee said...

Great ideas and insight. thanks for posting it.

Apryl said...

What a unique perspective on bringing your kids home. I think it would help so many of us if we would have viewed our relationship with our kids like you did! Def. would have helped when we brought our older daughter home.

Wonderful post :)
much love,

Karen said...

Hi Teresa!! Thanks so much for your insight. We are full-swing in trying to re-balance our family. Our bio children are having the toughest adjustment at the moment but we are lovingly working through it day by day! Being able to recognize those feelings, validate them and completely discuss them opens the door to healing. We love our larger family but finding a new balance is tough work!! with love, Karen Wistrom

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing your wonderful adoption story. As an adoption social worker, I have worked with numerous families who are parenting Ethiopian children. However,as you know, there are challenges that must be addressed.

I also can recommend a book, "Parenting Your Internationally Adopted Child" by Patty Cogen. As an adoption professional, an adoption therapist and an adoptive parent, I can tell you that this book will be invaluable to anyone who has undertaken the responsibility of raising a child born in a developing country.

Best wishes to you and your family.

Paul Kelner, LCSW-C

Nunez Family said...

Theresa, I wish you knew what your words mean to me. I am so far away from being in the place where you are...yet its a place I long to be in many ways & for many reasons. I pray that fear will never hold me back from allowing Gods plan to unfold in my life. At the same time fear & the world seem to creep in. Some day we can chat more, but I thank you for being the woman, mother & wife that you are! And I thank the Lord that he crossed our paths once more...if anything I have already learned many things from you & your family that I can take with me on my journey of having our family! I am forever thakful ( you have no idea)
Love & blessings,

blessedmomto7 said...

Thank you. I will be referring back to this as this time in adoption our children will not be in birth order I don't think. Previously each has always been yournger than our youngest. DO you have an email I can email you at?

Anna said...

Wow. Really well said. I have so much to think about now. What a joy it is to share in the growth of your family.