My daughter has been home for over three years now. With time and some parenting experience behind me, I realize I did several things wrong when I first adopted Hannah (she was six years old). Below are some things I did wrong and things I could have done better.
1. I did not maintain a low-key, routine environment for long enough.
I knew that older adopted children needed time to adjust to their new home. I had read that they were easily over-stimulated. But Hannah was just so curious and so excited to see new things. Within a few weeks, I began adding restaurants, occasional birthday parties, and children’s theater productions. I should have waited at least three months to add these festive activities.
2. I gave her too many choices.
In my effort to broaden her world and to help her feel in control of her life, I gave her choices about what to wear, what to play with, and what to eat. During those early months, giving choices is often extremely overwhelming to our children. They are adjusting to so many things, that they are actually more comfortable, and feel safer, with very limited choices.
3. I did not learn enough Russian.
I relied on all the anecdotal comments about how quickly internationally adopted children learn English to suggest that my daughter would speak English in a flash. She did– the basics– but learning the nuances of a new language took several months. She could not share her feelings of inadequacy, fear, or nervousness due to my limited Russian.
4. I did not fully comprehend her bedtime fears.
Bedtimes are often challenging for older adopted children, especially post-institutionalized children. I tried many things to ease her fears– night lights, quiet music, a regular bedtime routine, new sheets. Nothing helped. I now wish I had allowed her to sleep with me more frequently during those early months, or had implemented a longer cuddle time with her at night.
5. I didn’t fully comprehend what it meant to have a “support system in place” until I realized I didn’t have one.
Before your child gets home, evaluate and implement options such as neighbors that will baby-sit, a drop-in child care, local high school students to help with babysitting and running errands, and church or synagogue friends that will help when you’re in a bind.
6. I didn’t realize how important it was for me to take breaks.
Parenting any child can be challenging and exhausting. Parenting an older adopted child adds an additional layer of stress due to their background and issues, or if you’re a first-time parent, or if you’re a single parent. I took very little time for myself for months. Suddenly, I realized I was very edgy and not emotional solid. I got a babysitter and went down the hill to a nearby hotel. It rejuvenated me for weeks!
Best of luck on your older child adoption journeys!
Susan M. Ward, an older child adoption specialist, provides parent coaching and resources for adoptive families. Susan’s training has focused on adoption issues relating to attachment, grief, and parenting. She’s also the adoptive parent of a child healed from RAD (reactive attachment disorder). Her website is Older Child Adoption Support.