Within my church there are multiple families in the process of adopting babies from China. These little girls each have special needs, and have spent the entirety of their short lives in orphanages ill-equipped to provide the kind of nurturing and love infants and toddlers need to thrive. In our circle of church friends, the excitement is palpable! We feel as if we’re all welcoming these precious babies into our lives, and can’t wait to shower them with love.
Unfortunately, even those of us who want to encourage adoptive parents can unknowingly do things that aren’t helpful. So straight from an adoptive mom, here are 10 Things You Can Do for Adoptive Parents.
1. Give them space. The parents need time to bond with their child, and too many adults in the child’s life may complicate the bonding process and confuse the child. The adoptive family may need breathing room to adjust to all the changes in their family, so call first and ask them when would be a good time to visit – and be patient if it isn’t right away!
2. Honor boundaries. Ask the parents about boundaries before engaging with a newly adopted child, and then respect those boundaries. Often adopted children should not be shown affection and care by anyone other than their new parents until they have had a chance to fully attach to their new family.
3. Share the love. Be careful not to ignore other children in the family. This can cause resentment with the new sibling(s) and leaves parents the difficult task of answering questions like, “Why am I not as special as my new brother?”
4. Word watch. Be thoughtful about what you say in front of children. It is not beneficial for children to hear questions about how difficult or expensive their adoption process was or to hear comments about how saintly their parents must be for letting them into the family.
5. Respect their privacy. Do not ask prying questions or expect parents to share details of the child’s background and biological family history. Many families choose not to share their child’s history to respect the adoptee’s privacy.
6. Embrace honesty. Ask the parents how they are doing, and don’t be shocked or judgmental when they share struggles. This does not mean they regret adopting – it just means adoption is hard! Be their friend and encourager as they share struggles.
7. Bring community to them. The early months with a newly adopted child can feel very lonely and isolated as the parents often need to stay at home with the child while they attach and adjust. Get creative. Bring dessert to their house and sit and chat after the kids are in bed. Find a night when dad can be home with the child and you can take mom out for some adult conversation.
8. Find practical ways to serve. If they have other children, offer to take them out for a bit. Mow the yard. Bring meals. Clean their house. Offer to come over late after the kids are asleep and let the parents take a walk around the neighborhood or go out for ice cream together.
9. Respect their parenting methods. Parenting and disciplining children who have experienced loss, trauma, abuse, and/or neglect requires a completely different parenting approach. Even if their parenting choices seem unconventional to you, respect their choices.
10. Rejoice with them. Point out and rejoice in all the sweet little victories along the way as little hearts heal. Celebrate with adoptive parents as their child learns to give and receive love and to be a part of their forever family.
You can listen to Susan Merrill’s adoption story here. Here are some training videos if you are considering fostering or adopting yourself.