Whenever your family decides to do anything big, it is ideal to have a realm of supportive family members surrounding you as you embark on your new journey of growth. Whether that be a big job change, a move across the country or the addition of a child, family support can mean everything. When a family decides to adopt, that is a huge decision. Having your parents or loved ones invested and involved in your adoption journey can easily make the experience less overwhelming, more positive, and more hopeful.
Grandparent involvement in adoption can be crucial to the transitions needed in welcoming a child into your family–especially one that comes from hard places. Many adoptive families, once the child is welcomed into the home, need help with meals, the transition with their biological children (if they have any), cleaning the house, medical appointments, running errands, etc. Some adoptive parents prefer to have a period of private, family time once they’ve brought their child home. Offering help with day-to-day tasks can help adoptive families during this transitional time. This time can be critical to the development of attachment between the parents and their new child (this attachment can be developed when only the parents take care of, feed, dress, bathe, etc. the new child for a period of time). As the child is learning what a parent looks like, they are also learning how a family unit behaves and is structured. Having grandparents to help do the other jobs that surround this cocoon of attachment can be incredibly helpful.
For my family, grandparent involvement was a massive way that we were able to care for all of our children during our entire adoption process. My parents, Beth and Steve, really sacrificed so much for our family. During the beginning of our journey, they went to informational meetings with us, watched our biological child while we filled out paperwork and completed education workshops, and donated financially. They sponsored a game tournament as a fundraiser for us, donated items for our silent auction, and worked our yard sale fundraiser with us (after they helped us collect, organize, and transport for weeks beforehand). They helped us mail grants, brought us countless meals to fuel us as we pressed on preparing, and bought our future child gifts before we even knew his name. Their constant supportive presence was invaluable.
And then, our trip to meet our baby was scheduled. We had an almost-2-year-old and an almost-6-month-old, and we were packing up our suitcases to travel across the world to meet our 3-year-old. The baby wasn’t sleeping, the 2-year-old never napped, and my husband and I felt like we would be forever tired. How on earth were we supposed to do this, with jet lag factored in?
My parents decided to travel with us.
That was literally a life-saving offer for us during this trip. We decided to bring both of our biological children with us on the trip (primarily swayed because the baby was so young and still constantly breastfeeding_. So, we decided it would be a trip of six, heading to meet number seven.
Thank goodness they decided to come. Financially, it didn’t impact us, which is so helpful when you’ve had fees after fees. It helped our financial situation since they were so generous during this experience. They paid their own way (and boy are flights expensive, even with the humanitarian tickets available through organizations assisting adoptive families during their trips overseas). They also bought all our meals while in the country. Steve got his international driver’s license so that we could rent a van and save money instead of having to hire a driver. Beth rocked the baby to sleep more times than any of us could remember while my husband and I tried to encourage attachment with our new son. Steve went to Subway almost every day for lunch so that we wouldn’t have to worry about packing everyone up. This allowed us to focus on just mixing up some type of nourishing liquid that our new son could slurp up. They took out probably millions of diapers between the three babies, got medication when our 2-year-old got sick, carried and strolled whichever kid needed to get some fresh air outside of our apartment rental. The sacrifices they made were endless, and their presence made our trip truly enjoyable.
Taken from our personal blog after we got home from our trip:
“Thank you to Gramm and Grandad for making the selfless trip to Bulgaria with us – it would not have been possible to do it without them. Their help was absolutely invaluable, and we are forever grateful.”
My son is from Bulgaria and the country requires two trips. The first is done about 4 months before court (about 5-6 months before pick-up) and is a week long. I had just had a baby 3 weeks before trip number one, so I was medically unable to go. This meant my husband had to travel alone (once I sent my medical exemption paperwork to Bulgaria) to meet our son and formally accept his referral. He had never traveled alone internationally, and the gravity of the trip was difficult to carry alone. So, his father decided to join him. This gave him someone to travel with, eat with, share experiences with, confide in, and debrief with. While my husband was in the orphanage meeting our son and creating first impressions, my father-in-law was exploring the countryside. They went to my son’s birth city together with the job to take photos that we could give our son later on in life. My father-in-law would grocery shop during the day so that my husband wouldn’t have to worry about dinner plans once he got back to the hotel after his visit.
Written by my husband while in-country during the first trip:
“My dad was so awesome when he offered to come with me on his own dime, knowing that he would be stuck in a hotel or wandering the town by himself most of the time and not be able to see [our son] at all.”
My husband’s parents also stepped up by providing us meals for when we got home. Just like a meal train provided to new parents at the birth of a baby, this was so helpful for us to not worry about what we could eat. Our new son had so much feeding difficulty that to not have to worry about our food was so beneficial. His food and the effort of feeding him took hours for each meal, so anything to help alleviate the time constraints of breakfast, lunch, and dinner was the most help we could ask for when we got home.
This public remark of gratitude was taken from our personal blog after we got home from our second trip:
“Thank you to Poppy and Nana for making sure there was food in our fridge for when we got home – we’ve already dug in and are so thankful there was good food waiting for us.”
Then, once we all got back home, we were all healing from jet lag, and our son was experiencing great loss and culture shock. Though developmentally he was an infant, he had lost everything he had ever once known. He had experienced great trauma, and we were now the ones trying to love him through the grief–grief that he may never be able to verbally share with us. His trauma was great, especially in relation to food. Every day for months, my mother would come over to my house and watch the baby and 2-year-old while I sat and fed our oldest for hours at each meal. We had to create these elaborate, calorie-rich smoothies, and then I would have to spoon-feed him for close to two hours, three times a day.
My husband was back at work, the baby wanted to breastfeed, the 2-year-old needed attention, and there just wasn’t enough of me to go around. In order to encourage attachment and a sense of who “mama” was, I was the only person who would feed our new son during the day. I wanted him to, through acts of service and repetition, realize that I was his new caregiver. I was the one who would take care of him, help him heal, help him grow, and give him his needs. I wanted him to realize that he needed to come to me when something was wrong (including hunger), and seek me out for love. He was experiencing so much, and I was there to try and soften the blow. So, my mom took the other two many hours of the day. She rocked the baby to sleep when he was tired. She played countless hours of playdoh and ice cream shop. She did nails, dressed-up dolls, and gave baths. She was the extension of me I needed during one of our hardest years. Adding two boys in one year is not for the faint of heart, and I don’t think I could have done it without my mom.
They have continued to show up for our family almost every day since we came home 5 years ago. They’ve brought countless donuts, helped with months of homeschool, folded hundreds of loads of laundry, watched some of the kids while one goes to therapy, driven some kids to doctor appointments, rocked babies, supported, encouraged, and carried out the rules and boundaries we needed to set up to help our son cope with his traumatic past. We now have 5 children in total, and each addition resulted in them helping and sacrificing more. Our oldest son is disabled and will be attending a school outside of our county to help meet his needs. Since it is outside of the public-school forum, there is no transportation. Our parents have all stepped up to serve. They have all agreed to transport our son in the grueling early mornings and the busy afternoons so that he can get the therapy and schooling he needs.
Adoption, in our house, has been a family affair. Everyone is dedicated to helping our son grow in the best way for him. They have given themselves up over and over again for our family. Needing your parents doesn’t stop at adulthood. If anything, growing our family has shown me that I need them now more than ever. Children need families. Children deserve families. And, that includes grandparents too. Children deserve to have doting grandparents who feed them too much sugar and let them watch too much television. They deserve grandparents who bake them cookies and buy them gifts for no apparent reason. They deserve grandparents who make sure to practice speech and learn coping mechanisms when self-harm arises. They deserve to be smothered in adoration and love.
If you have not had grandparent and family support like I have, I am truly sorry. They are missing out on the little miracles that have joined your family, and it is their loss. Our children are fighters and special lights in this world, and anyone who chooses not to be a part of that is missing some of the truest representations of love, loss, and life. For those of you reading this feeling alone, please know that you are not. Life is hard, challenging, exhausting, and many of us don’t even know where to begin when it comes to helping our children cope with the trauma and loss they have experienced. It can feel overwhelming, to both us as parents and our children, and without that support, it can feel so isolating. But, know that there are many families experiencing similar troubles as you. There are many families out there from all different types of backgrounds down in the trenches of trauma perhaps wading through the healing process of abuse, neglect, or loss; they stand with you in solidarity. Find people on social media who can walk with you. Find a local church with an adoption ministry where you can meet with others and share and learn from their experiences. If you don’t have that support locked in via family, you may have to go find it. But, it’s out there.