Guest Author: The Dance – Older Child Adjustment

Matisse, “The Dance.”
My guest author today is Coffeemom, also known as Michele, and writer of the blog, Another Espresso Please. She has wonderful, insightful words to share about adopting an older child, and I wish I could have a cup of coffee with her! Enjoy Michele’s post, and be sure to stop by her blog to see more of her family.

Adoption is many things. I’ve written before about the waiting dance in international adoption. The anticipation and expectation of a new, older, child brings a brace-embrace whirling reaching dance into your life. And then, that child, so longed for, so fretted over, is home. And it’s all new. All different. Everything has shifted – not only for them of course, but for you, the entire fabric of the family and home. Thus, especially in older child adoption, there is a dance of adjustment.
This dance, this process of adjustment, has many complicated steps. It is not a lovely ballet, however; a ballet is complicated but it is choreographed and planned out precisely. That would be fantastic. Rather, this dance shifts between the foxtrot, the tango, and even to unusual solo ‘modern’ dance angles and stomps. It can be graceful and it can be jangly or fierce. Often we step on each other’s toes as we learn how to dance together. But the old adage, “It takes two to tango,” is oh so very true in ways we never dreamed.

There are however, it seems, some patterns to this dance. These patterns are key to recognize and anticipate, as the mom, so that I can continue this dance and not let go of my partner, this child. The most important, prevalent, pattern – it seems so far – is that steps forward are almost always followed by steps back. Sounds simple, no? Well, not so much. Those steps forward and back are difficult to anticipate and don’t follow the same equation each time either. One step forward doesn’t mean one back. One step forward can mean three steps back, cha cha cha. Or two steps forward can mean one or five steps back, cha cha cha.
It’s very easy to have progress, either a leap of understanding about each other or the family as a whole, or a really good happy day filled with special excitement and activities, or just a giant step forward in being close. And then, almost always it seems, that is followed by a day of hardness. A day of grief or rage or unexplained sullen dark mood. It’s a pulling away after twirling in close.

And it surprises us, me, every time.
Because I am a slow learner.
But really, I can intellectualize it and understand to some degree. Coming closer, for real? It’s scary. Even when it is the most wanted thing in the world, it’s scary. How many movies have been written about this between couples, well adjusted adult modern couples? Well, its scary for a kid too. A new family, a new life? Wow, wonderful, huh? Well, maybe, but how deeply frightening and uncertain. And so, that swinging between elation and terror….I think it’s only natural and to be expected.

Except, we don’t. We don’t expect. But we need to. And we need to not judge or get exasperated (yeah, easy, I can go there), and instead just BE. BE there, be still, just live a normal day. And you wait for them, console as needed, and wait for them to be able to take a deep breath and step back into this dance.
So, you hold out your hand. You smile. And inside, you hold your breath a bit too, hoping this new child will take your hand again and start to dance. Then when they do, you slowly twirl them into your arms, let them lean on you, accept that they also must step out from you in order to come back. And a one, and a two….. And you smile, and start to waltz again.

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Let me introduce myself. Russ and I are the parents of twelve children by birth and adoption, and sometimes more through foster care. I'm the creator of One Thankful Mom which has been as much of a gift to me as to my readers. In 2011 I became a TBRI® Pracitioner* and have lived and breathed connected parenting ever since. I'm deeply honored to be the co-author, together with the late Dr. Karyn Purvis, of The Connected Parent; it is her final written work. I love speaking at events for adoptive and foster parents. I'm also the co-founder of The Adoption Connection, a podcast and resource site for adoptive moms. I mentor and encourage adoptive moms so you can find courage and hope in your journeys of loving your children well.


  1. Gayla
    January 4, 2010

    Wow. Really beautiful advice. I'm sure I will be bookmarking this post and returning to it again and again as we bring our daughter home. Thank you.

  2. Miracle's Mom
    January 4, 2010

    Thank you for this post! We are anticipating the arrival of our eight year old daughter from Ethiopia and we know it's going to be quite an adjustment for everyone, especially for her. The phrase I keep telling myself to be realistic about things but remembering the vision is " It's going to be hard, but it's worth it…she's worth it." Thank you for sharing as we prepare to step out on the dancefloor!


  3. Sandee
    January 4, 2010

    Awesome words…. I am so much into the dance of waiting (at 22 months since referral) that I don't even think about her coming home being the beginning…not the end….

    "instead just BE. BE there, be still, just live a normal day."

    I love this. I am such a control freak…and it is hard with a house full of kids (or even just a few kids, where one in particular makes it feel like a house full)….

    How to let go, yet still not let chaos reign…. Love your insight.

  4. Mamita J
    January 5, 2010

    So true…It's not ballet. It's messy and hard and clumsy and beautiful all at the same time. You have to learn to fit together.

    Thanks for this post.


  5. natasha
    January 6, 2010

    Thank you, Thank you, Thank you! This post came on one of the days where we were taking a couple of steps backwards. It was wonderful to read and to remember that it is normal and all a part of the dance.Natasha

  6. Carole Turner
    January 7, 2010

    Two things I know to be true, one is we cant wait for the "want to" in respects to affection or showing love, the feelings take time. When we act, reach out and hug, kiss, show affection, the feelings grow. Unlike with biological children where you feel love and the affection is a reaction, for us, we step out not feeling but then by stepping out, the feelings come.

    Second is when you adopt an older child you get to watch them fall in love with you and you with them, that is a rare gift to be treasured and appreciated.


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