The flip side

Tonight we saw some dear friends ride down the airport escalator with their new son in their arms. Others are headed home soon and very soon with their new little ones.

Since coming home with Pearl about two and a half years ago, we have seen child after child come home with their new mamas and papas. Sassafras and Pearl have been to the airport as much as they have been to hospitals to welcome our friends' new additions, and always help me remember to pack the tiny little American flags to give to our new fellow citizens.  

You'd thinking that surely by now I can keep my silly little self together at these airport homecomings, but I absolutely cannot. Tears, every time. The why-even-bother-with-mascara kind of tears. 

It's knowing these people's life journeys as well as their adoption journeys and just all the victory that is displayed in those tiny little hands clutching their mamas' shirts. 

It's knowing that some of the countries these sweet children arrive from have made worship of Christ illegal...yet seeing them in the redemptive arms of their sweet mamas and faith-filled daddies and realizing that now they'll hear about Him daily. 

It's knowing that for God to have moved these children halfway around the world to be with a family who will adore them, He must have some seriously big plans for them. 

It's knowing that much unlike their experiences as orphans, these kiddos now never have to worry about having disease-free water or a place to sleep or enough food to eat or clothes to wear or someone to love them and say so by standing up for what is right for them.

There's just so much to take in, seeing a former orphan (and breathing in what that really has meant for that child) in the arms of a mama and daddy who will love that sweet kiddo in all the best ways. And so I overflow. 

And then we follow them out the front doors into reality. 

The culmination of the adoption journey might be felt at the airport or standing at the crib seeing a new little inhabitant, but it is at this out-the-door moment when real life begins for an adoptive family. I watched them head on out and began to pray for their first weeks and months together, hoping that they're not but knowing the transition and that they could be headed for hard. 


Now those new families are beginning the back-breaking work of bonding and attaching with their new children. We've walked through some fire in that area, and know that parenting adopted kids is a bit trying in some pretty unique ways.  

Now that we've been on the flip side, we are seeing that supporting adoptive families is hard, too. When all we've wanted is to grab those new kiddos and squeeze the goodness in them or kiss all over their perfect faces, we have to practice self-restraint because we know that  these children need help learning that they aren't in an institution anymore and now need to develop a sense of trust and dependency solely on their parents. 

When after praying for these kids for so long we want to grab their arm and get them to look at us so we can try to see their smile, we have to resist because we know that parent-only attention is what will help knit their families' hearts together.

Taking care not to ignore their siblings is an important way to support newly-adoptive families as well. Some of our closest friends knew this was an issue in our family, and they deliberately made sure to speak to our Sass first when we saw them. It made all the difference in the world for a sensitive little something who was confused about why everyone literally ran to dote on Pearl but most of the time just shoved or elbowed her out of the way. 

Directing these freshly-home little ones back to their mamas and papas is the best way to love these families right now. And wow, it is HARD...because they are CUTE, y'all. 

But if a little hard for us takes away a lot of hard for those families, so be it. 

Attachment Series: Repeat.

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Attachment is a critical component for all families, but especially for those who adopt. Many days it can feel like you are walking barefoot uphill both ways in the snow, but better days are almost always just around the bend. It is easy to hope and wait for that moment when you

arrive

as an adoptive family, when your child is completely attached to you and you are completely attached to them and the world is filled with naught but buttercups and daisies.

Spoiler alert:

There is no moment of arrival with attachment.

If you only take away one sliver of this series, let it be that attachment is a perpetual process. It is true that some days are easier and some days are harder, but know that attachment requires time and effort. Forever.

They don’t call us “forever families” for nothing.

Practical ways to maintain, monitor, and reflect on your child’s attachment:

-Keep a journal (As in a hand-written private journal. NOT a blog. Attachment is a messy business and if you ever want your children to love you once they learn how to read, do not post the nitty gritty of their attachment struggles for the whole world to read.

But Michelle, you’ve posted some attachment stuff about Pearl on your blog.

Heavens

to Betsy, if all we have been through are the three specifics I have typed about her here...and I reviewed those tediously before sharing publicly...then our world

would

be all buttercups and daisies.)

-Spend one on one time with your adopted children. Actually, same goes for all your kids. If you have a minivan full like me, that’s going to be hard. Worth it, though.

-I heard

this lady

speak once on taking walks with your children so that you provide them with an informal, no pressure environment to talk to you without having to look you in the eye. Smart stuff. Plus, walking is salubrious, so there’s an added bonus.

-Attend conferences.

This one

is hands down, the best one for adoptive mamas. Save up, cash in points, whatever…just go.

-Listen to your children. They aren’t going to tell us over dinner that they are struggling with attachment, but they tell us plenty by how the behave and react to situations in their lives. Listen and respond to their needs. 

Questions? Concerns? Comments?

Go here for a safe, judgement-free zone.

Attachment Series: Remember.

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Pearl is as brown as can be, and Sassafras could pass for Norwegian. Sweet Love has thrown an entirely new pink person look into the mix, so it is official that none of our beautiful children look alike.

One of the greatest points in our adoption experience was the day we realized we are so busy being a family that we forget that we all look different. There is great relief to be found in that. I am so much Pearl’s mama that, though obviously I value her ethnicity very much, I do not dwell on the fact that we are different races. I'm just her mama, that is all. 

As wonderful as this can be to experience, one notsowonderful by-product is that we can also forget to treat Pearl like she is adopted. Adopted children have highly unique, specific needs in attachment on a level that most biological children do not face (though some bio kids can have attachment issues). Because of their beginnings and many adopted children’s disconnections related to early relational trauma, they have what is referred to as a deep core of shame. They need extra helpings of nurture.

Our parenting style is sound. I am an educator and have been trained in various philosophies of discipline. The Captain and I feel that Rudolf Dreikurs’s theory of logical consequences makes the most sense in parenting. Our children are well aware that when they choose to disobey, they are choosing to receive a consequence, and that the punishment fits the crime. (Examples: two children fight over a toy, neither gets to play with it; child throws tantrum because she is not getting her way, child is removed from the group/public setting).

With adopted children, you can take that nice and tidy parenting style package and you can flush it down the toilet. What works with children who have no attachment issues absolutely will not work with those who do struggle with attachment  (whether biological or adopted…and remember that 

bio kids can experience attachment problems as well

). Just know that even when what you’ve always done as a parent might make good sense, it still may not work with your adopted children. This is parenting from the heart, even when parenting from the head has always been effective before.

Always be on the lookout for red flags and be flexible in your parenting and disciplinary methods. Upping your nurture will frequently help address behavior issues you see in adoption. The best resources for this are

Dr. Karyn Purvis’s Connected Parenting stuff

.* Read it, reread it, and read it again.  

Just remember that your adopted children will have unique needs at all stages of their lives. Be ready to support them in the way they need it most, and know that may look differently than the parenting style to which you are naturally inclined. 

*Amazon affiliate link. 

Attachment Series: Protect their story.

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Protecting your child’s story is vitally important in all stages of adoption. When you are finally matched with a child, you want to share the details of their story with the world, because orphans always have a big story to tell. You want everyone to know where they came from, what the circumstances were surrounding the beginning of their life, and mostly for everyone to see God’s hand protecting your child even from early on in their existence.

You just can’t do that.

I read once (In a book? Blog? When I can find it, I will come back and cite.) that all your child has that no one can take away is their name and their story. Guard both of those with every fiber of your being.

Adopted children will have questions all throughout their childhood and adult lives about their story. They will struggle with why they were abandoned or relinquished or why and how their birth parents died (depending on each individual's unique situation). They will wonder all sorts of things about their birth families, genetics, and the gaps between what little information you may have.

What does this have to do with attachment after your kid comes home?

If you give away pieces of or all of your child’s story, it is possible or even likely that they are going to hear about it from other people. This will be hurtful to your child, and will damage the trust relationship you will have worked so hard to build. Know that it is for the adoptee to decide who gets to know what.

Protect their story. It will matter.

Attachment Series: Stick together.

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Staying home and sticking together are like peas and carrots. Staying home helps teach your newly adopted ones that home is their safe place and that they belong there. Sticking together teaches your newly adopted kiddos that

you as their parents are their safe people

.

Adopted children, especially those from the orphanage culture, have learned that people come and go. In Pearl’s situation, she had seen lots of women among the worker pool and with mission groups come and go, come and go, come and go.  I did not realize this until later, but it was difficult for Pearl to trust me at first because to her I looked like someone else who would come for a time and then go.

The Captain and I are take-our-kids-anywhere sort of people

, and we did the sticking together part fairly well. Though we didn’t stay home as much as we should have, we kept Pearl with us at all times. We were at church three days after coming home from Africa, but we didn’t do nursery for several months. When we did do nursery, we alternated weeks so that either her daddy or I stayed with her. When we started the transition to daycare almost five months after coming home, I took her for a few minutes building up to a few hours the weeks prior. I used an Ergo carrier constantly to keep her close to me as well, and that close proximity communicated safety and security to my new girl. 

Want to know what we did wrong? We let too many people hold her. When we landed in our home city, after 30+ hours of international travel and nearly two years of an immensely trying adoption process, all we felt was overwhelming relief that it was all over and we were truly, finally, all together home. I was much too eager to share my beautiful princess, and now wince at the memories of thrusting her in the arms of people who had been our biggest cheerleaders. I wanted them to get to hold and squeeze her, to feel her in their arms and to feel how God had answered so many of our specific prayers together for and about her.

Once again, I made the mistake of leaving out the feelings and needs of the very most important person: Pearl. To us, these people were friends.

More than friends

, after all they’d been through with us. To her, though, they were strangers, and through our desire to share her we made the mistake of teaching her that all people (including strangers) are safe. This led to Pearl being friendly, too friendly, with strangers/acquaintances/friends. It led to her reaching an arm out to grab for a stranger at the grocery store, even when she was in the carrier. It led to her being very free with her eye contact and smiles, when her parents and sister were the only people she should have shared those with in those early days.

Once we started seeing these red flags, we were able to undo the damage by spending more time staying home and sticking together. Just avoid all that drama, though, by learning from our missteps.

When you get home, stick close.