By Ann Rome, MDPC Safe Haven Adoption & Foster Care Ministry
Waiting for your adopted child to come home very often seems to drag on for countless days and sometimes innumerable seasons. You go through a myriad of emotions during the waiting period, from feeling excited, to anxious, to sometimes downright scared. For many of us, it doesn’t matter whether we are waiting for a biological child to be born, or for the final call from the agency that it’s time to pick up our child—we all are on a rollercoaster of emotions. My first two children are biological and my youngest two children are adopted, so I know that those of you who have experienced it will agree that the “waiting” is hard.
During the waiting period, there are several things you can do to prepare your home, heart, mind, and body to welcome home your newest family member:
Read Parenting Books
When selecting parenting books during the waiting period, don’t just read the “how to” books, but also read the “what if” books. I don’t want to scare you, but I do want to emphasize the importance of BEING PREPARED! Raising adopted children can be very different than raising biological children, so make sure you read books that are written for adoptive parents (see my recommended reading list at the end of this post). For instance, letting our first biological daughter cry herself to sleep worked like a charm. However, having our adopted one-year-old cry himself to sleep was just not fair to him; he had been abandoned in his sleep at one day old, he was used to sleeping in a room full of other children, he was in a new country, in a new house, with strange people, a different language, unfamiliar noises, different smells…you get the point.
Learn Strategies to Communicate
If you are adopting internationally (or adopting a child that does not speak your language), it is a good idea to learn at least a little bit of your child’s native language. Being able to speak some familiar words is comforting to your child, and very beneficial if he or she is two years or older when you adopt them. There are CDs available in many languages, and if you are motivated and have the time, you can sometimes find a class to take right in your own hometown. My husband and I did not have the time to take up a whole new language, so we wrote down two pages of phrases that we felt we may need during the first few months with our child (he was seven when we adopted him). We then found a tutor who translated the phrases and helped us learn the pronunciation. I transferred the phrases onto index cards, studied them, and kept them with me at all times. We used the index cards for the first few months.
We got together with a translator about once a week, and we even often called her on the phone because of all the things we needed to tell him, and the many questions we had for him. In addition, it’s helpful to have a translator with you when you are in your child’s native country (most agencies will arrange this for you). You can also buy yourself an electronic translator, or find a translator app for your smartphone.
Before our seven-year-old arrived, I took photos of activities that our family did every day and bought a hanging pocket chart like what you see in elementary school classrooms. Every day I would place the photos in order of what we would be doing that day. It was summertime so we went to the pool a lot, and I also had activities of daily living (e.g. brushing teeth, shower time). He was always checking the chart to see what was next!
Build a Support Network
Build a support group of friends and family, other parents that are waiting, and parents that already have gone through the process. You may need someone to pick up your groceries that first week, you may want the advice of another parent who has “been there and done that,” or you may just need someone to listen.
Note: The experts say that, when possible, it is best to stay with your child as much as possible the first six months so that he or she can bond to you and not to another caretaker. Don’t plan any big parties the first month your child is home. You also will want to take it slow with introductions to new people and places, especially places that are populous and lively. A trip to the zoo is fine, but don’t go on the weekend.
Find a Pediatrician
If this is your first child, the waiting period is a good time to interview pediatricians. If possible, find one that has experience with adopted children. If adopting internationally, you can find your child’s growth charts on the Internet and give a copy to the pediatrician to keep in your child’s chart. In larger cities, you can often find adoption clinics that will look over your referral and perform all the necessary tests and screenings after your adopted child arrives. Check out this link to find the one nearest you.
Discover a Hobby
During the waiting period, fill your free time with a hobby that you enjoy. This will help the time go by faster and it will be great therapy for you before and after your child arrives. It’s important to get used to doing something for yourself before your child comes home, because it will be imperative that you have your “me time” to keep your patience level in check when raising your child.
Prepare Your Body
Most importantly, make sure you get your body prepared for the changes that will occur, like possible interruptions in sleep and fighting off children’s viruses. Take the time now to get in a good habit of exercising and eating right. Get all your checkups done before the child comes. If this is your first child, enjoy candlelit dinners with your significant other, spoil yourself with hot baths, and take pleasure in your nights of uninterrupted sleep.
Children will change your life. Your schedule will no longer be what is “normal” for you. You may be reading this and thinking that your experience will be different (I said the same thing with my first biological child and my first adopted child), but I’m here to tell you first-time parents that children will change your life! Your priorities will be different from what they are now, and your child/children will give you a life of joy that you never knew existed. It’s been almost 30 wondrous years of parenting for me and I can tell you that, with each child, it’s been worth the wait!
[On a side note, I know some of you wonder (and may even worry) if you will be able to love an adopted child as much as a biological child. I can tell you from experience: My husband and I don’t feel any differently about any of our children. We love each one of them equally and know that they were meant to be our children.]
My Favorite Books
- The Connected Child by Karyn B. Purvis, PhD; David R. Cross, PhD; and Wendy Lyons Sunshine
- Adopted Parenting from the Ground Up by Katie Prigel Sharp
- Adopted for Life by Russell D. Moore
- Parenting the Hurt Child by Gregory C. Keck, PhD, and Regina M. Kupecky, LSW
- God, Are You Nice or Mean? By Debra Delulio Jones, MEd
- Attaching in Adoption by Deborah D. Gray
- Parenting Adopted Adolescents by Gregory C. Keck, PhD