Unsettled: When New Kids Join the Family

Lately, I’ve been thinking about what it must feel like for a child entering our homes. It’s an unfamiliar environment they’ve never seen before. Nothing would feel right.

The past two weeks have been a bit much for me and I’m in my own home. Life has been disrupted far more than I imagined when we decided to refinish our floors.

I feel unsettled.

I know, I know, this sounds whiny, “first world problem” and all that, but stick with me.

I continually remind myself this is a privilege, not a problem – and that’s 100% true. But it doesn’t change the reality that for more than a week I couldn’t cook, my refrigerator was in the living room, and the rest of the room was piled high with everything from the main floor.

The following week, everything in the living room was crammed into the dining room and overflowing into the family room.

With a crew of men in my house, even great guys, it’s hard to relax – nothing feels normal.

I can’t seem to settle in and think clearly enough to write.  A low whir of anxiety is like a cloud around me.

How does this relate to kids who come to us through foster care or adoption?

When they join our families, their environments are completely disrupted. They are simply uncomfortable in our world.

Nothing feels familiar, smells right, or even sounds normal. We are strangers to them, whether they are adopted from the other side of the globe or joining us as foster children from the other side of town.

For a child raised with the constant hum of the television, the peaceful quiet of our homes may feel profoundly wrong. Our food may smell strange. And while the sheets may be clean, they just don’t feel right.

I’m an adult who chose this home project – even if the reality of the disruption far exceeds what I imagined. I tell myself it won’t last much longer and it will all be worth it. I know life will get back to normal.

I also know this is a small problem, a very small problem, even if it’s uncomfortable.

In contrast, our children have no control, no choice, and they are afraid. Their fear may look like anger, defiance, crying, or other behaviors. They may alternate between hitting us and clinging to us. The early weeks (months, years) can be especially hard.

How can we help them in these early transitional days?

1. Find familiar smells

If your child is joining you from another country, add familiar spices to your menu. Our Ethiopian kids love berbere, a chili and spice blend, and sprinkled it on nearly all of their food in the early years.

If you’re adding a new child through foster care, wash his clothes, but not his familiar blanket or stuffed animal. That being said, sometimes things like lice make it absolutely necessary,

2. Find familiar sounds

If your new child has a favorite show, let him watch it, provided it’s not harmful. The theme song and characters may be a comfort to him. Even if it’s SpongeBob or Caillou, you can handle it for a while.

If your child is from another culture, find music in his language and play it in your home.

3. Find familiar routines

If your child is used to falling asleep while watching tv, maybe you’ll need to do that for a few days as he adjusts. If she’s always slept with a light on, do that for a time. If she’s not accustomed to taking baths, don’t press for them each night. It takes time.


This isn’t profound, but it’s come to my mind often these weeks. Right now I’m working on my laptop at the kitchen island trying to write while stacks of books are on the floor, the sofa is sitting on its side, and electronics are piled in a big box in the corner. The top of the dining room table is removed and leaning against the living room wall. Stacks of games sit on the side of the bookcase as it lays on the floor.

Nothing feels quite right.

I’m unsettled, and I’m pretty sure my kids have felt that way too.

Most Wednesdays I send a short and sweet email to my inner circle of readers. I would love to include you! When you sign, up you’ll receive a free download, Hope for your Parenting Journey: a guide for adoptive and foster moms, as my thanks. Click HERE to subscribe.

With courage and hope,


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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. Bethany
    February 12, 2019

    Our current foster daughter left me in tears a few days after she arrived last October when she was 2.5-years-old. We had all come in from an errand one evening and everyone was bustling around, preparing to get ready for bed. I noticed she was circling the living room over and over, frantically looking for something. It took me a minute to realize that she was holding her shoes. Everyone else, even the younger ones, knew where to go and what to but this little love just wanted to know where to put her shoes.

    1. Lisa Qualls
      February 12, 2019

      There is so much to learn in a new place and it just takes time. Sweet girl…

  2. Krista
    February 12, 2019

    One of my only actual regrets from the earliest days when our girls moved in through foster care is not picking up fast food. We eat fairly healthy, balanced meals, but it became apparent that the girls lived on fast food and processed meals. They were such good little eaters and would devour whatever we put in front of them without complaint, but with almost everything else in their world being different, I regret not buying them Happy Meals that first week.

    1. Lisa Qualls
      February 20, 2019

      That’s such wisdom, Krista. Giving them something familiar in those early days would have brought comfort. We learn so much as we move through this parenting journey!


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