Most people are eager to support families when new babies arrive. When new, older more independent children arrive, I think friends and family believe that those children are not infants who have nighttime feedings and are very dependent upon the new family. That leads to the assumption that the adoptive family doesn't need support like a family with a newborn might. What most people don't know is that those older children need to have some infant moments with their new families, even if the children are 4 or 10 or 12. That doesn't account for the stress that comes from a sudden change in family dynamics.
We have had two relatively easy adoptive placements. That said, I had one who did not sleep well for about 8 months. For a good 4 months, she was up every 4 hours or so. It was like having a baby. But no one really knew that except for a handful of friends. With many adoptions, you also spend every waking moment smothered by your new arrival. They need you at every moment of the day as they navigate all sorts of new things and feelings. They miss their old life. They miss their friends. They are scared of indoor plumbing. They are scared of dogs and cats. I've had a foster child who cried herself to sleep every night of her short stay with us because she missed her mom. I've had a child who was 2 1/2 but was not adept at stairs or even walking outside on an uneven sidewalk. You need to be their safe spot and be available. It's what causes them to trust and love you. But it is hard to do the things you once did and can be socially isolating.
One Thankful Mom recently posted six ways to support adoptive/foster families, all of which are 30-60 minute tasks. It's just a wonderful little list so I'm just reposting it in it's entirety. Consider who you know and how you can send the message that you will care for their family as they love and serve each other. It may not seem like it's really supporting orphan care but the implications come across loud and clear: it says we see adoption and foster care as important and we will support you so you can use your gifts and talents to parent kids who need permanency.
Last week’s Tuesday Topic amazed me. Your responses were so thoughtful and good – I wish we would have all been sitting in my family room, sipping coffee together having the discussion. I suspect we would have laughed — and cried. Next to Notes on Hope, it may be my favorite Tuesday Topic we’ve done together.
This was the question,
What would have helped you the most in the early weeks and months of adding a child to your family through adoption or foster care? If somebody had asked you, “What can I do to help?” and you were able to answer anything at all with no shame, guilt, or concern about whether they really would want to do it, what would it have been?
This is what you answered:
Many of you stated that having meals delivered allowed more time to focus on all of your children, but also gave you some contact with “the outside world.” It does not have to be dinner, as somebody said, even bringing cut-up fruit would help. Someone else mentioned having dinner brought by friends who then shared the meal and spent the evening with them. One person wrote that when they adopted a baby, friends brought meals, but when they adopted an older child people assumed it wasn’t as demanding and didn’t bring meals. I think we can safely say that every adopting/foster family will be blessed by meals. We don’t need to make this complicated – simple food is a blessing. I remember a friend bringing us “Breakfast in a Bag,” a gift bag filled with yogurts, juice boxes, muffins and other little treats. Gift cards for take-out were also mentioned – a great idea. After one of our babies was born, a friend brought us Kentucky Fried Chicken and another ordered pizza to be delivered – what a treat that was! Cookie dough ready to be baked, homemade soup or spaghetti sauce, a frozen lasagna, will all be welcomed.
Provide Household Help
Several of you wrote that you needed help with laundry and cleaning. I know we all have a hard time letting people see our mess, but I for one, find it very hard to relax if my house is too messy and chaotic. A friend grabbing the vacuum or folding laundry while we visited was a big help. I had a friend once pick up all of our kids’ dirty laundry, take it home, and return it clean, dry and folded. A group of friends might want to go together to hire regular cleaning help for the first few months after new children join a family, or create a cleaning team themselves.
Along those lines, a number of years ago I was very sick and needed treatments that were an all day event. One day a friend came to my house while I was at the clinic, put new, clean flannel sheets on my bed, washed my other set, and cleaned my house with my older children. I came home and crawled into a clean bed with new sheets and it was pretty much one of the best gifts I’ve ever received. That was nearly nine years ago and I’ve never forgotten it. Friend, if you read this, thank you once again.
Picking things up at the store, or driving children to sports practices and appointments was also mentioned as a great help. If you are already out and about, or if you can add a child or two to the crowd in your car, you will make a big difference for a family adjusting to life with new children. The first year my girls were in school, a friend drove them home every day which not only simplified my life, but relieved my mind. As our little ones grow older, we forget how difficult it is to buckle multiple kids into car seats in order to pick up one child from an event. Waking kids from naps to take an older child to a practice is even worse. This is a great kindness if you are somebody who is already in the car and happy to run a quick errand for a friend with a new child.
Provide Babysitting or Respite
Many of you said that babysitting would have helped, even if it was just somebody being with the kids while you took a nap. Some said they needed help with their other kids while they took new children to multiple appointments. Others said they needed care for their new children while they gave some attention to their original crew. Of course, it all depends upon the unique needs for the family, but this seems to be a need for most families. Weekends are particularly difficult for Dimples, the lack of structure that she enjoys at school just doesn’t transfer to a long Saturday stretching before her. We try to fill her days, but one of the greatest gifts we receive are friends who invite her over for a few hours, or even all day. This Saturday when I’m in Denver, she has big plans with our youth pastor and his wife and she is already looking forward to it.
Respite is a great need for families whose new children have significant challenges. A family can quickly become exhausted when there is constant raging, arguing, and destructive behavior. A friend who understands children from “hard places” and is willing to give the family a 24 hour break, or even a four hour break, will have an impact far beyond what they may imagine.
Show Kindness to the Original Crew
I’m in the process of (slowly) writing an article for Empowered to Connect on “giving voice” to the siblings of children from “hard places.” Our original children struggled with our inability to give them attention and time when we added three new children to our family and one year later added another. They lost us for a number of months as we struggled to figure out how to live this new life.
My friend, Beth, welcomed Ladybug into her family and home, and nearly completely homeschooled her for a year after Dimples came home. Rusty and Ladybug joined the youth group of a local church and we were thankful for the encouragement and positive adult interaction they received. It was so meaningful, that we eventually made that our church our new church home.
Friends who will take the kids and do something fun is also a huge blessing when life at home seems to be a load of work or simply tumultuous. If a family has new children who are raging or crying for hours, the kids may need relief from the stress too. My friend, Sue, began taking Ladybug and Sunshine to the library once a week, which they still look forward to each Friday.
It is very easy to forget how hard this adjustment phase can be for the other children. Reaching out to them, or giving the parents a break from the new kids, so they can enjoy the other children, is a real blessing.
I have to admit, I was struck by the prevailing theme of loneliness and isolation in the comments. I hope you will read them yourself, because I can’t express the thoughts as well as the original authors did. Over and over readers expressed that once the initial excitement died down, they felt lonely. The needs of their children may have prevented them from getting out and about; they were stuck at home, alone, living a new life with new children. It is hard to imagine how very isolating this can be.
Several people said they wished friends would just stop by for coffee, even if the house was messy. Others used the words grief and loss to describe how they felt. Some of you said you needed somebody to just listen and not judge or try to cheer you up as you coped with the changes in their lives. Encouragement is needed. If you live a distance away, a phone call, email, or encouraging text may be what a mom needs. Knowing you have not forgotten her, that you are praying may help her through the next hour.
It has been four and a half years since we brought our first adopted children home and for a long time our life needed to become very contained and small. We simply could not go out much; even going to my bookgroup once a month became impossible. I hope you’ll be encouraged to know that this month I am going to my bookgroup once again — and I even read the book.
If you missed this post, be sure to go back and read the great responses from everyone. Please take a moment to add your thoughts – it is not too late.
Thank you for being a great community and sharing my life.
Encourage one another.