Preparing Yourself and Your Children
I read, and read and read as much as I could before we adopted Claire. We read the required books for our home study but then we also sought out books that others recommended.
Hands down, the best book, in my opinion, was The Connected Child: Bring hope and healing to your adoptive family. I found this book not only helpful for bringing in an adopted child but great for handling difficult and everyday situations with biological children as well, especially those who fall on the Autism spectrum in one way or another.
Other books that we read:
Parenting with Love and Logic- Probably my second favorite book and it really deals with children across the board, not specifically adopted children.
Adopting the Older Child- This book is old (1978) and out of print but was recommended to us by our home study agency; I was able to find it online. It does have a lot of good information in it. The biggest piece of information I took out of this one is taking your child back to infant stages when you get them. (more on that later) Raising Adopted Children, Revised Edition: Practical Reassuring Advice for Every Adoptive Parent- We read an older version of this book so I'm not sure what the revised version has changed. This book does not deal solely with international adoption, or older child adoption but some things about raising adopted children are the same across the board, such as the feeling of abandonment, rejecting their birth family, etc.
I've read and heard some statements about adopting an older child that equates to it being easier because you don't have to deal with the baby stage. Please don't fall into this thinking. It is in no way easier than adopting a baby who will wake up several times a night, need feedings every few hours, and so on. You will still do those same things with an older child and then have additional attachment issues on top of it. In China I woke up several times a night, Claire had to potty, she needed a drink, she fell out of bed, etc. Instead of waking up for a bottle, she woke up for other reasons. She was completely on edge, and in a full alert sense when we first got her; she didn't know us at all!
Seek out the "worst case" scenarios, google RAD (reactive attachment disorder), and really read what those families go through, then ask yourself if you can handle it. One thing we know with international adoption is you really don't know most of what a child is like before you travel and have them with you. I'm going to be honest, I don't think I could handle a child with full blown RAD. Maybe I could if they were our only child but with other childrens' safety to factor in, the decision would be very difficult. To lessen the possibility of RAD I scoured the information on the children we were considering. I read into anything that I could. When a child who has lived in the orphanage has descriptors like "introverted" or "quiet" I read into it that it could mean they weren't given attention in their earlier years and now don't even seek out attention or acceptance. Is that the case in every child's file? No, but it could be.
We knew going into adopting an older child we wanted a child who had lived with a foster family. All literature we read said her initial grieving would be harder but if she had formed the attachment bonds to one family, she can form those bonds again. Children raised solely in an orphanage are dependent on the staff for forming those healthy attachments and some orphanages do a better job than others; and some countries do a better job than others.
We had many discussions with our other children (ages 11, 9 and 7 at that time) about what it will be like when Claire comes home. Things we talked about:
*We asked them to imagine having one name for their entire life (so far) and then one day someone started calling them a different name. We talked about the fact that we may call her by her Chinese name for awhile and ultimately we would let her decide what she wanted to be called.
*We told them that she might start crying for an unknown reason and explained grief in the simple terms of relating it to a death of someone very close to them.
*We explained to them that she might not like them at first and although we have been anticipating her for months she would most likely not share in that excitement. She may reject them or act out behaviorally towards them.
*We talked about the reality that we might not be able to go places for while like we are used to. This was wrapped up in the talk about the possibility of behavior issues relating to attachment.
*We went over the ethnic differences with them including culture, habits and food. We explained that I might make two different meals for awhile to help Claire feel comfortable until she liked American food.
*We role played situations they might face at school or anywhere relating to their sister being a different race. Questions like "is she your sister? No, I mean your REAL sister?"
*We talked with Emily a lot about sharing a room. She's had her own room for 10 years and now shares with Claire. She was very excited about this but as her parents, we knew this newness would wear off so we really talked about how they will still share a room when Emily is done with sharing and wants her own room again.
And then after all that, turn all those situations and discussions around and ask/tell yourself the same things.
*Your child will most likely reject you at first, how will you feel? What will you do? What if they reject one of you for longer than you thought they would? How will you handle the situation if your child rejects one of you and the other parent gets overwhelmed?
*How will you handle the name situation? I know some feel strongly that you should keep their Chinese name first because that is all they come to you with. Many parents use their Chinese name for their middle name and a few give them all American names and don't carry over any of their Chinese name. Will you start calling them by their new name immediately or ease into it?
*How do you think you'll handle the grief episodes? Holding, rocking, talking or more of a hands off approach (and I don't mean that in a bad way) if they reject your touch and talking?
*How ready are you for behavior issues related to attachment?
*Are you comfortable preparing two meals for awhile? How comfortable are you preparing Chinese food? Do you know of any Asian stores or supermarkets you can visit?
*What if your new child doesn't want to sleep where you've arranged for them to? Will you set up a bed in your room, or let them sleep with you? How will you handle moving them to their room (either own room or shared room)?
*Think out what you might say when people question your adoption. Questions like "Are you her real mother? "Why didn't you adopt from the US?" or "Could you not have any of your own?"
*Will you incorporate Chinese culture into your life? If so, how?
*What are your plans for school? Will he/she attend regular public school, private school, mandarin immersion school, etc? What programs (ESL, reading, speech, etc.) are in place to ensure your new child's success?
I'm sure there are more questions and things we contemplated before adopting Claire but those things came to mind right now.
Next post: Packing those suitcases!