Part of the process for an adoption is completing a certain number of hours of parenting classes. When I first learned of this early on in our adoption process, I laughed. Seriously? Parenting Classes?
I learned at an early age how to be a parent…age 20 to be specific. I spent the next 12 years as a single mom, and at age 34, with my husband Jim, I was blessed with another boy. I wouldn’t say I’m a perfect parent…who is? I’m sure I make mistakes every day, but my friends, colleagues, and the boys’ teachers always complimented me on their behavior and abilities, so I was pretty sure I had the parenting thing under control….for the most part.
Then…I started completing the course work…..
….and I was wrong.
Parenting an adopted child, regardless if the child spent time in an orphanage or a foster care situation, is quite different than parenting a biological child. Here are a few things I learned….
We will be a “conspicuous” family. Duh! Our daughter will not look like us, but that’s what we’ll love about her! However, the public can be cruel, either intentionally or unintentionally. Some people will feel the need to say rude things, ask questions that will hurt her or put her in awkward situations. Adopting a child of a different race or ethnicity presents challenges that families may not expect. We now have to think quickly to respond to insensitive comments in order to take the spotlight off her and put it on the family as a whole. We are all in this together. It’s not about how she looks, but how we function as a family.
Our daughter needs to know where she’s from. This need will be deeply rooted, and will be a part of her, just as a piece of her body is part of her. Talking about adoption can be difficult for a variety of reasons, but it should not be a one time conversation. We need to make talking about adoption part of our family’s everyday life. I think the more we talk about it, the less it will matter. We also need to bring her culture into our home, and make it part of our lives. We are not trying to make her into something she’s not. She’s Asian. She needs to know what that means, and internalize it in a way that makes sense to her.
Tough starts matter. We know that her life right now is tough, but we only know the very edge of what that means. Our little girl was presented with a tough situation from day one. When she cries, someone is not always there to pick her up. When she needs something, someone is not always there to give her what she needs. This has a profound effect on her brain development. She is learning that “it’s her, against the world.” Every 3 months that a child spends in an orphanage, puts him/her 1 month behind in their development. Using role playing and other thought-provoking exercises, we now have some resources to help reconstruct our little girl’s notion of the world. We also know now that no matter how much we work with her, we can never completely repair all of the damage. That will not stop us from trying. This new study on adult adoptees gives us encouragement that she can live a happy well adjusted life. http://www.babble.com/baby/new-study-shows-adult-adoptees-just-as-well-adjusted-as-their-non-adopted-peers/
Attachment. This is a tough one. Children become orphans for a number of reasons, but they all face attachment issues because they are orphans. Parents looking to adopt, dream of the day they get to hold their new child. This is not quite the magical moment for the child as it is for the parent. If you’ve ever watched any you-tube videos titled “Gotcha Day” you’ll see crying little ones passed to happy new parents. How does one help this scared little human learn to trust and love a new family? Securing a parent-child attachment is essential to healthy child development, but adoption can present challenges, and attachment issues are not overcome with a few short months of cuddling and bonding activities. Our daughter will struggle with attachment at all stages of life…. as a toddler, tween, teen and an adult. Just as with my biological children, I know each life stage requires different parenting techniques, but those techniques will take a different shape with our daughter, not because she’s different, but because she was orphaned. That’s not her fault.
Sometimes I wonder if I am ready to be a parent of an orphaned child….but then I think, was she ready to be an orphan?