Last week’s Tuesday Topic was a tough one for me. Dianna asked how other adoptive parents have managed to protect the best interests of their younger children as a newly adopted older child joined the family. This is a question I needed to tackle, but I was also cut to the heart as I have failed in this area.
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I am a hopeful person by nature, so when I read books like Attaching in Adoption by Deborah Gray, I thought to myself, “Wow, that is so hard and so sad. Those families and children really have a tough road.” Did I ever think to myself that we might become one of those families? No. Did I, in my wildest dreams, think that I would ever find myself not only reading Deborah’s words, but applying her principles as I pursued my child’s healing? No, but thank you God that I am not on this journey alone.
When I read the hard books (before my children came home), there were some tiny flickers of caution and fear, but I was optimistic and didn’t let myself do some of the deep thinking recommended in yesterday’s post. I didn’t ask myself, “What will I do if my child struggles with___?” or “How would I handle a child who does___?” I didn’t let myself think that way. Afterall, Russ and I were following God’s leading, and if we were in the center of His will, what could go wrong?”
Nothing “went wrong”, because I believe we are still in the very center of God’s will. However, Russ and I would both say that we did not prepare ourselves for the challenges we faced when Dimples arrived home. We were so hopeful and eager to love our new children, to be their Mommy and Daddy, that we neglected to protect our other children. Surely lots of love, security, hope, prayer, and thoughtful parenting would be enough. Right?
I am deeply grateful that we were not facing any issues of sexual abuse. I personally know families who are grappling with that right now. Their older adopted child was abusing younger children in the family; a true nightmare for the family that has led them to seek a new family for their child from the “hard places”.
But did I do all that I could to protect my little ones from the tumult in their lives? No, I didn’t.
A traumatized and attachment-challenged child can produce an environment that is full of stress and dysregulation. The healthy siblings will not have the skills to cope with this and need to be shielded from it as much as possible while the child from the hard places begins to heal.
My best advice is:
1. Prepare yourself that adopting an older child will be very challenging. Read the hard books. I have a list of them in this post. If you have a smooth and easy adjustment, give thanks to God, and remember that the education you gained might help one of your friends in the future.
2. Prepare your home: simplify, simplify, simplify. Put baby monitors on other floors. Have rules about open doors and what kind of play is acceptable. We decided that “playing dead” probably wasn’t beneficial to anyone.
3. Give your other children tools they can use to deflect problems and listen to them when they come to you for help. This was one of my greatest failings. I was so concerned with helping Dimples attach to me and to the family, that I failed to see the suffering of my other children, whose lives had been turned upside down.
4. Create a “team” of friends and family members who will support you and be willing to come to your aid at any moment. Russ and I did not do this and when life began to spiral downward we leaned so heavily on each other, that we could hardly bear up under the weight of our struggles. When we finally acknowledged that we needed help, we found three friends who made themselves completely available to help me when I needed them. On one particularly trying day, a friend needed to drive to a city nearly two hours away. She picked Dimples up and took her along, including a stop for dinner. Dimples had a lovely time and it was much needed respite for me.
5. Plan regular breaks for your other children. Initially you will not be able to leave your new child, so plan times for your other little ones to go play with a friend, have special time with the other parent, visit a special adult, or do a fun activity with a babysitter. This will give you time with your new child while your children take a deep breath from the stresses of the new life they are now living. I was so concerned with making Dimples feel loved and accepted, that I put too much energy into “fairness”. What I should have been thinking was, “Dimples has different needs from Boo and Ladybug, and I need to parent her differently. They can do___, but that doesn’t mean Dimples can. Just because something is possible does not mean it is beneficial.”
The good thing about failing is that it leaves lots of room for improvement. We have made many changes for the good of all of our children. Our home is happier, calmer, and a better place to be. We have learned that we cannot parent all of our children the same way. Techniques that work well for some of our children do not work at all for our little ones who are healing from trauma. We don’t want to be “fair” parents, we want to be really fantastic, loving parents who have all of our children’s best interests at heart.
If you have a question for a Tuesday Topic, please email it to me at:
And don’t forget to take a moment to answer this week’s Tuesday Topic which is:
Which adoption agency did you use, and would you recommend them?
Thank you for learning along with me.
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