Please consider this the inaugural post in my new series, “What Not to Do.”
When my husband and I brought home our two new babies from Ethiopia over four years ago, we were not first-time parents. At the time, we had a 5-year-old and a 7-year-old. I was not new to the parenting thing and felt like I new exactly what to do with a newborn, an infant, a baby, a toddler and a young child. Please… I was not new to this game.
I was, however, very new to the bringing-home-two-sick-babies-from-a-developing-nation game. My new babies were 8 months and 10 months old at the time. They had spent most of their very young lives in an orphanage in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Their days had been simple. They were fed and changed, rarely held, and rarely exposed to the craziness of the world outside of their orphanage.
When we had been home with Sadie and Sebastian for about three weeks, I needed to buy diapers. Like, massive quantities of diapers for two babies with daily diarrhea. So naturally, I headed to Costco. WITH my two babies.
Please learn from me. Do not take your children who have just recently been in an orphanage and put them in an environment that is so overwhelmingly different from what they have known their whole lives. Costco is HUGE. And loud. And busy. And colorful. This short trip to buy diapers and other household necessities quickly became a terrible idea for two children who had never been exposed to this madness. For my daughter Sadie, particularly, Costco represented nothing but fear. My children had never been around such pervasive noise, so many saturated colors. They were taking it all in and were terrified. We quickly learned that our new daughter startled easily and was overwhelmed by certain noises and situations. Taking her to a place like Costo was the perfect storm in her young life.
I wish that I had put myself in their shoes before taking them out for a new experience. I learned my lesson that day. There were many other lessons to learn (for example, the drive-through was a place of terror for my daughter for about a year– she was very frightened of the loud voice coming out of the order box) as I got to know my two new children and their personalities. I learned to vacuum or use the blender at when they were outside so that the sounds wouldn’t scare them. I ordered my groceries and had them delivered (thank you Safeway and Amazon). I kept my babies’ out-of-the-house experiences to a bare minimum (church on Sunday, a very occasional errand or trip to the park) until they were able to better process their surroundings. Even now that they are both 5, we still limit many of their activities because certain situations are still overwhelming.
My advice is this: When bringing home your internationally adopted child, remember that they have not had most of the day-to-day experiences that you or your other children have had. They will not be able to process noise and visual stimulation as you might expect a child their age to do. Their whole world has changed so drastically; they have to take baby steps until they find their footing in this new world. Keep things simple for them. In time they will catch up. They will learn to love and navigate the same world that you love. It just takes time.