My son and I recently watched the movie, Lion which tells the true story of a young Indian boy, Saroo, who gets separated by accident from his mother and brother one night. After a series of scary events in India and a relentless search for his family, he is eventually adopted by a family in Australia. While the story has many overarching themes, one theme that stood out in my mind was the way Saroo’s adoptive family did their best to provide Saroo the support and patience that would allow him to eventually feel comfortable and accepted by his new family. They gave him as much time as he needed to adjust and did not push him too hard. When he was quiet and reserved, they did not push back. They spent time bonding as a family and made sure that Saroo was given the opportunity to pave his own way. They did not expect him to forget the family he had before them but encouraged him to tell his story when he was ready.
One reason that this particular story stuck out to me was that it is a great portrayal of how adoptive families should welcome their new children and treat them as they learn to do life together. The family in this movie not only gave their new child the time he needed, but they also did not expect him to change or forget who he was before them. There is even a scene where the adoptive mother in the story tells him that she cannot wait for him to tell her about who he is and his life in India. The acknowledgment that he was someone before he joined their family is so important to their relationship and the way they will evolve as a family. It is incredibly important to make older children feel that it is okay to express their feelings and express who they are. We cannot ignore the fact that they had a life before they came to our home.
There are many ways to help your newly adopted child feel accepted and comfortable. However, it is important to remember that your child may not necessarily feel accepted or comfortable for quite some time. You can do everything in the world to facilitate that comfort and acceptance, but it has to occur naturally for them. The key to helping your child feel comfortable and accepted will be consistency. There will be many different ideas and techniques to use to help him to achieve a level of comfort and acceptance. Nevertheless, it is very important to note that you will need to figure out what works for him rather than what works for you. There will be a lot of trial-and-error, and the whole process will take some time.
Another great portrayal shown in the movie Lion was the difference in the adjustment time and process for Saroo as compared to his brother who was also adopted from India a few years later. While it took Saroo some time to adjust to his new family, it seemed like a much easier adjustment than his brother had when he was adopted a few years later. His brother clearly had to struggle with a lot of trauma and possibly mental health issues. With this, the adjustment continued throughout his whole life. While he did achieve some level of comfort, there was always a lack of feeling adjusted and accepted even when he was older. For some children, recovering from trauma will be a lifelong battle. This will be something that we will have to come alongside them and support them along the way, with love and understanding while providing the resources necessary to aid them.
One of the first things that adoptive families must recognize is that a child of any age who has been adopted has a life that they had before they became part of your family. Even for those of us who have adopted infants, this is true. For my son and a daughter who were adopted as infants, they have a whole other family and a story that began before us. Recognizing this will help our children to feel more comfortable and accepted as we accept them for who they are before they became part of our family. This is especially true for older children. They have a whole life that they have lived before you. We have to let them bring that life with them to some extent. That life is so much of who they are. Imagine moving to a new place and having to recreate your whole identity. That would be very strange for you, right? However, time and time again, we see adoptive families who expect their children to simply assimilate into their new family. It just does not work well when we expect these children to change to fit our molds.
It is important that you adjust your expectations before you bring your child home. It will take a while for her to learn how your house functions, the general rules, and the culture in which you live. Even if you are adopting a child whose culture is similar to yours, there’s much to be said about the culture within our own home. Everyone has different traditions and different ways of living life. Your new child will not be familiar with how you do things.
I remember as a child going to stay at my friend Jenny’s house for the weekend. It was incredibly strange to me that everyone in her house went to bed by 10 p.m., including her parents. For my family, we had to be in our rooms at a set time but my parents would stay up for hours after we went to bed. I remember laying on my bed at night, and I would hear them up watching late-night television. I didn’t realize how soothing hearing them awake was until I tried to sleep at her house where the house was completely silent. It was kind of eerie and almost impossible to sleep that weekend.
Take this example and multiply it by a thousand for a child coming into your home and changing her entire life. She has her whole set of traditions and lifestyle changes that she will need to go through and get used to. There is so much to be said for having grace and understanding that everything will be strange for her. The time you eat dinner, the time they go to bed, the practices that you have at dinner, everything will be new. Instead of enforcing a culture on your new child, ask her what she is used to. This doesn’t mean that you change your family’s culture to fit your child, but it helps you to explain how things might be different in your home or how you might incorporate some things that she is used to in order to help her feel more comfortable.
It is tempting when you bring your new child home to invite everyone over and to have everyone meet your new child. Adoption is incredibly exciting, and adding a child to any family is an exciting time. However, it is important not to overwhelm your child and do too much too soon. Create some time to block off where you spend time with just immediate family. Your can go on with your schedule as usual, but allow some time for your family to bond with your new child and for him to feel comfortable in your home before adding additional people. This can help your child to feel comfortable and more accepted faster as it will be important for him to feel comfortable with you before feeling comfortable with others. Hopefully, people within your family and friend groups will understand the need for this bonding time and respect your wishes.
Another way to help your child feel comfortable and accepted is to give him a space of his own within your home. If possible, providing your child with his own room can be incredibly helpful. You can certainly ask the child what he would prefer in this case and also take into account any extenuating circumstances. However, it might be incredibly helpful for your child to have a space of his own where he can go if he is feeling overwhelmed or just needs some time alone. Let her decorate her room and add her own touches. Allow her to have a space that is just her own that can be her sanctuary.
As a teenager, I spent some time living in a different home than my parents’ home. For me, having my own space was incredibly cathartic and helped me to feel more at home and more comfortable in a space that was not yet my home in my mind. I still interacted with the family I was living with but was able to escape when I felt overwhelmed. It was incredibly helpful and allowed me to feel way more comfortable having my own space. If you are able to provide your child with her own space, it can be incredibly important in the process of helping her feel more at home.
While you want to be careful not to apply too much pressure, make sure that you are communicating with your new child. Spend time asking him about his likes and dislikes. Make sure that he understands that he can talk to you about things, even his birth family. Utilize your adoption agency or other adoption professionals for training and access to other families who have been where you are whom you can reach out to for advice. It will be great to have some resources to know what to do when certain situations arise or any issues and questions come up. Spend some time with your child to see if there are things that you could do together that would make her feel more comfortable. Try to do things that she likes as well as things that your family typically does day to day. He or she will want to get to know how your every day will look. On the other hand, try not to introduce too much too soon. Understand that all of this will take time and patience.
Throughout the process of trying to make your new child feel more comfortable and accepted, continue to keep in mind how scary this experience may be for him. Imagine being in a place that you have never lived and being told that you are going to now be there forever. You are told that this is your new family. You have someone new to call mom and dad and brother and sister. You will have to make all new friends and build a whole new life. It sounds eerily similar to witness protection. Accept that this is a strange scenario and discomfort is incredibly normal here.
While adoption is a beautiful thing, it is strange the expectations we can place on the children involved. Understand that this is not the norm, and adjustments will take time. Understand that there will be a level of discomfort, and that is okay. Help your new child realize that you do understand how weird this may be for him or her. Just like in the movie Lion, be a parent that gives a child grace and allows her to be who she is. Give children all the time they need to adjust and feel comfortable in a strange place. Time and patience will be incredibly key in this situation. Unfortunately, there is no magic formula that will ultimately grant your child comfort and acceptance. However, having patience and being understanding will go a long way. Being present, understanding, and open will ultimately make all the difference. Give your children all the time they may need based on their standards and no one else’s.