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Destinations, Dreams and Dogs - International adventure with a fast-track family (& dogs) of Old World values, adopting the Russian-Italian-American good life on the go…!

Settling in With a New Child: Reducing the Pressure

Adopting a child is everything like having a bio child—minus the birth. Bios have nine months to make us nervous about their arrival, and the way adoptions are going these days, some of us have had YEARS of dread, anguish, joy, and anticipation before the Blessed Arrival.

That’s the rub, there’s so much to DO before the adopted child’s arrival—piles of paperwork, reviewing legal loopholes, rushing here and there to retrieve documents before our country and the country of adoption are no longer on speaking terms and the adoption is put on hold, that once the child arrives, we may be off-kilter and rather surprised by the event. (And you thought getting the nursery ready, baby-proofing, and picking out cute outfits was rough….)

Having a bio child is, in many ways, rather effort-free. Alright, we know that in some cases…. Welcoming an adopted child, on the other hand, is all effort—it’s intentional and deliberate and difficult, no matter how “accidental” some of the adoptions were. With all of the push, and stress, and “Hurry up! No, wait…” it can be exhausting.

And then the baby, or child, or teen arrives. No matter how much you plan for it, unless the little one is a newborn, he tends to watch you every minute of every day. You need to get everything right, because the child is checking you out, and often communicating in another language.

What’s happening? Who’s in charge? Do we have a workable daily schedule? Is he receiving enough nutrition? What are friends and family thinking if things appear out of control? (And, oh yes, they will….)

You need to reduce the pressure, yes, the pressure on the child, but also on you-! Relax. Take a big breath. This is not a sprint. Those of us adopting older kids and teens often feel an inordinate amount of pressure from onlookers and from ourselves. We have to make up for lost time and keep the myth alive that this child is the same as any bio child as soon as we fix his hair and give him new clothes.

Umm… if no one’s ever told you: that’s not going to happen. In time, it will, but probably not in the first 30, 60, 90, or 180 days.

Sorry.

Here are some mistakes I made, well-meaning soul that I am. I probably kept Tylenol in business through the internal stress that adopting will cause. If I had it to do it over again (and you’re hoping we will again, right? may a pox be upon you), I would probably not run around like a crazy woman gathering documents, first of all.

Okay, who am I kidding? You see that sweet face before you and you run to gather, collate, staple, and apostille like you’re going to a 3-alarm fire. Every day in the orphanage is one more day away from you, and normalcy, and a real family life (whether yours is normal or not)….

But the key is once you arrive home. There’s no more running around, gathering documents, and doing busy-work. The child is yours. Now what? He looks at you, you look at him. For the first couple of days, you go around with a big smile on your face. Then the nerves wear thin, you get tired of the poor behavior, or the gimme-gimme attitude, or the lack of comprehension about anything. But this is now MY child, who should be a reflection of ME. The child is confused enough and doesn’t need your paranoid projections right now, lol, no matter how legitimate they may be.

Here’s what I did, and what you should NOT do.

1. Every false move, I took to be a prediction of a dismal future. I might as well have been a gypsy fortune-teller with hoop earrings and a big crystal ball-! None of it was true, this was not going to be our future. We were in the beginning stages of “getting to know you” and that’s not always smooth. He was learning, period, and that takes time.

2. Do not resort to threats or put-downs. It can be tempting, depending on the situation, when you have been pushed, and pushed, and pushed. I may have slipped into this upon the rare occasion, and I am not proud of it. Sad fact is, this is the type of correction they understand. Smiley-smiley does not work in the early days. I have no problem with saying, “Stop it, now!” but you can leave off other non-endearments such as “What is WRONG with you?!”… no matter how much you may be thinking it. These kids need a ratio of 3:1: three compliments for every one correction. Kids respond better to praise for what few things they may be doing correctly.

3. Try to avoid expecting the child to do much right at first. He can’t and he won’t. Eventually, he will. Nobody told me this, but it’s to be expected. I learned the hard way how to use pre-emptive role-playing to show how we eat our food (chewing, smiling, nodding), and how we don’t eat our food (mouth open, drooling, spilling, snorting, stuffing), which is even more fun to demonstrate. The child knows nothing. Attempt to maintain a playful attitude, which was very difficult for Miss Manners to keep in mind.

4. Lower the stimulation for the new child, while not cheating yourself. We avoided the family reunion settings, no trips to Disney World or major amusement parks, you name it, we didn’t do it. That’s what all the adoption books say to do: cocoon and bond. But we forgot about ourselves. We waited a full year or two before leaving the (non-English-speaking) child with anyone. Good for him, bad for us. It takes balance, and if you don’t take care of yourself, you will start to feel cheated. Make things happy for everyone, yourself included. An hour or two away will not scar him for life. Build up to it in small increments if the fear of abandonment is great.

5. Take the top off the pressure cooker—do not consult any timeline any time soon. Yes, I know that if the child moves slowly in academics, he may graduate from high school when he is 35 years old. There are worse things in life. Take it from me—pushing, pulling, and prodding can be counterproductive. (Not that I won’t stop trying, I just may not be as overt as I once was.) An educator recently gave me excellent advice: “Do less, better.”

But knowing me, my brain will probably interpret that to be: “Do more, better.” Old habits die hard.

Now that the child is home, remember to relax and enjoy. Peel away the pressure whenever you can. May this be a dream come true for everyone involved.

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