When my husband and I decided to build our family through foster care adoption, we went from what felt like an endless waiting period to a house full of kids pretty quickly.
Really, very quickly.
Initially we said we were open to two placements at a time. We were licensed for three, “just in case.”
When we welcomed home our first daughter just three days after we became licensed, we decided to hold tight for a little while and focus on adjusting to being a family of three. Four weeks later, we got another call—twin two-year-old boys. We immediately knew that our “just in case” was already here and said yes, but unlike with our daughter, there would be some waiting. Our boys were being removed from another situation, and the social worker was working on another aspect of their case before she made a decision on where they would go.
In the meantime, we were asked to do respite care for a sweet pair of brothers while their foster parents moved. We had been checking on the situation with our twins daily, but our agency had heard nothing. After a couple of weeks, we assumed that she had chosen another family. So, imagine out surprise when we got an email from our agency with the subject line reading ,“Surprise . . . It’s twins!”
We had an emergency amendment to our license authorizing us for five placements, and there we were: parents to five children. In six weeks.
Our respite placement would only be temporary, of course, but even after their week with us, we found that going from zero, to one, to three, to five, to three children in just a couple of months is a little . . . intense. And beautiful and rewarding, yes. But intense.
One of our biggest concerns early on was making sure that we were bonding as a family, and more specifically that our children were bonding to us and to each other. Attachment disorders are not uncommon in children who experience early childhood trauma, and we wanted to be sure that we did everything in our power to help these kids learn to attach and bond in a healthy way. This meant lots of baby wearing and, of course, lots of snuggling. It also meant finding ways to spend time as a family with three children under the age of three (and not long after, four children all under the age of four) that would make the most impact with the least amount of struggle.
- Make time for each child individually. This is not always an easy task, especially with a house full of young children, but it means so much for kids—in single child families as well as multi-child families—to have one-on-one time with their parent. Something that has worked well for us is “Daddy Days.” One night a week, one kiddo heads out with dad for some quality time. Sometimes they head to the park, sometimes they window shop at a toy store—it doesn’t have to be elaborate or cost anything at all, but it makes a huge impact to spend that time.
- Create traditions. I am a bit of a tradition nut. I love finding ways to connect the days and years with something meaningful that our children will remember as they grow. It was important to me that our children, whether they were reunited with their biological family or they stayed in our home, would have memories (and pictures for their lifebooks) of them participating in these events. Many revolve around holidays and birthdays, but we have other traditions that carry throughout the whole year—Sunday night dinners at Grandma and Grandpa’s house, and weekly family game nights, for instance.
- Read together. I want to help my children develop a love of reading, and that starts with reading to them. The great thing about reading together each night is that it’s good in so many ways—not only does it help develop literacy and a love for reading, but it sets the stage for bedtime and helps kids wind down, it provides for lots of snuggling time, and it’s a wonderful way to learn about your child as they begin to show an interest in particular books and topics. I know that I have great memories of being read to as a child, and I want to give that same gift to my children.
- Develop a great routine, then break it every once in a while. Kids thrive on routine, we know that. Especially in cases where a child has experienced trauma and neglect, a solid routine helps bring certainty and comfort. Something I have noticed, though, is that kids will remember spontaneity. There have been times that we went outside of our norm for something simple but fun—maybe stargazing in the park after bedtime, or heading out for ice cream after dinner before our normal bedtime routine—that my children bring up months later.
- Surprise them. I love surprising my kids with little things, like a special outing (one that bends our routine a bit, maybe!) or a small gift. Making sure that you know what kind of surprises your child can handle will prevent unintentional meltdowns (we’ve all seen those Disney-vacation-surprise-gone-awry videos, right?), but I have found that the tiniest thing is all it takes to make them smile and feel extra loved. It’s also great seeing my children learn that giving to others is fun!