In the last several months, I’ve had numerous hopeful and new adoptive parents reach out to me directly or through referral for some advice, guidance or new parenting wisdom.
Let me say this: I. Am. Not. A. Sage.
I am making this ish up as I go along.I also routinely reflect on my parenting and have resorted to a pass/fail grading system because too many choices always results in me self-grading at a C or below.
As I was reading something in my Twitter DMs recently, I thought, maybe I should write about this. So, here goes. It’s just a list, a random list of things–in no particular order–I did, wish I did or whatever. Keep in mind that these are all through the lens of older child adoption and may not be as applicable to other forms of adoption–though I imagine there may be numerous parallels in international situations.
- Breathe. No seriously, thinking back to those first few weeks post placement, I swear I would find myself holding my breath sometimes. Your body needs oxygen, breathe, even if you have to do it intentionally because you aren’t naturally just breathing!
- Make sure you have your favorite foods available to you. Yeah, yeah, for the emotional and physical health nuts who are like “don’t eat your feelings.” Eff, that; resolve to eat your feelings for a few weeks. I made a homemade cake with buttercream frosting every week for a while just so I could go to my happy place. Of course over time I packed on a good 40lbs, but I don’t regret the soothing process of cake baking and consumption.
- Before the kid arrives, find a therapist and consider antidepressants, and for Holy Homeboy’s sake get a script for Ativan or some other situational anti-anxiety medication. There was a period where I was popping those things like Tic-Tacs. You think you won’t need a shrink; you maybe never have gone to a shrink; you may think shrinks are hokey. Whatever, get your fanny a shrink, and a good one who understands adoption and go, regularly. If for no other reason than to have a safe, private place to let all your emotions hang out because this journey will pull you, push you and make you reconsider/reframe everything you thought you knew about life. Get a shrink and possibly some drugs.
- Learn about post-adoption depression before it happens to you. It’s a thing. It’s real. It’s hard.
- Learn about secondary trauma. This is also a thing and it plays hella nasty with post-adoption depression. Take these last three bullets, do them, rinse and repeat.
- Order a lock box for meds, valuables, important papers, anything you think is critical.
- Keep an emergency bottle of wine or alcoholic beverage of your choice in said lockbox–I prefer a red that doesn’t need to be chilled and can be opened and consumed immediately. I like screw-tops because they are easy, but single-serve cans are next level too and constantly improving in quality. Wine—drink it.
- Say no to welcoming social events–trust me you and your kiddo cannot, will not, be able to handle things for a while. They seem like a good idea and folks are eager to see your new “baby” but these events create expectations that likely are impossible for your kid to meet. You’ll go, the kid will have a meltdown; people won’t understand, graciousness will be in short supply, kid and you will be judged either in the moment or for days, weeks, months after. Protect you and your kid and just say no, not right now, maybe later.
- Prep your family on what adoption is and what it isn’t. Try to educate them that while it might be a joyous occasion for welcoming a new family member, adopting an older child means that they’ve lost so much to be in a position to get to this place where adoption is even a necessity. It may not be a joyous occasion for your kid and folks need to respect that.
- If you are friends or family of a newbie or hopeful adoptive parent of an older child–throw them a shower. Do it dammit. Newbies and HAPs ask for one. Don’t act like these parents and families of older child adoptees don’t need this kind of acknowledgment or prep for their “new arrival.” Do it before placement. Register. Do the stupid paper plate games. Party like you’re having or adopting a chronological baby since apparently everyone gets all excited about that life marker. You need that love and support too, even if you have to go MIA for a while after because the needs of your child/family are different than those with a newborn (see next bullet). I can’t say how many families I know of older child adoptees totally get shafted on this–it ain’t right. I’m super grateful to my childhood friends N & J for throwing me a shower. I created an Amazon wishlist, and family and friends gave us movie tickets, restaurant gift cards, spa gift cards (hello respite!) and more. This helped a lot with allowing me to provide Hope with some additional things she needed and take her on fun outings as we got to know each other better. I can never repay their kindness and support, but I have tried to pay it forward to families I’ve met online who did not get this kind of celebration before placement.
- Prep your family and friends for the child’s arrival and that you might be MIA for months. This will likely be counter to everything they expect since they will be an older child. They will have expectations and misunderstandings that are just too high and flat out wrong. They may even guilt you for forgoing that arrival shindig. Disabuse them of these notions so that you can woo them into being the support system you need, not the one that they think you need or want.
- After you’ve managed their expectations, be sure to have zero expectations of your own. None, or at least put them at floor level so you can claim achievement by opening your eyes every morning. That and actually getting up should count as a legit win in the beginning when the honeymoon is over.
- Buy lots of Frebreeze or a knock-off; I’ve found that I and others with older kids experience funk at levels that rival what you might’ve imagined Vincent Price spoke of in Thriller (the funk of 40,000 years). It’s almost like the body emits noxious fumes in an effort to provide an added level of protection for the kiddo…keeping you away from them and from bonding. Add that many of our kids also have other challenges with maintaining hygiene and the funk gets beyond real. Spray some odor neutralizers, slather a little Vicks under your nose if necessary and get in there and SIT WITH THAT KID. They need to know the funk won’t keep you away. #realtalk
- Get closed trash cans for bedrooms and bathrooms. No one, especially you, wants/needs to see that mess every day. And there will be mess. #blessit
- Get a food delivery system. Yeah, kinda pricey, but one less thing do you have to do and older kids can follow the directions and help with dinner. Cooking=bonding.
- Housekeeper as often as you can afford. One less thing for you to worry about, so you can focus on maintenance. It took a long time for Hope to do chores; she still struggles with them.
- Breathe through the notion of putting Pandora back in the box. Hope had to learn how to be a kid again, which was hard for her, but necessary. It also meant that I had to have quite a few restrictions on what she watched and did. It was rough at first, but worth it in the long run.
- Have planned respite. After the initial rough transition, I had someone come twice a week in the evening for months to just give me 2-3 hours to myself away. I wish I had done it sooner. By the time I did it, I was really lonely since most of my friends had kind of “moved” on since I wasn’t confident that Hope and I could be meltdown free during outings. I usually got take out and went to the park or sometimes even sat in my car, cried and napped. It was rough. If you’re in the DC area, I have used ASAP Sitters for years, and we’ve had several regular “minders” (<–phrasing from my very British educated ex) over the years who have made our world better. (Waves happily and most gratefully at P!)
- Order a copy of your kids’ original birth certificate before the adoption is final. For so many states, getting the OBC is nearly impossible post-adoption. Ask the social worker to help you get it before finalization! Make it easier for your kid later, get it, put it in that lockbox and give it to them.
- Any other legal docs pertaining to your kid–order them. I’ve ordered death certificates, military records, social security records and more for Hope. They have come in handy as she puts together the pieces of her life and constructs her own narrative. Knowing that I supported her having these documents and getting them for her have helped our trust bond.
- Know that it’s ok to take moments to sit in your shower or on your toilet in your bathroom, fully clothed to cry, whisper a vent session to a listening ear, drink wine or whatever. I swear I spent a quite a bit of time hiding in my bathroom the first few weeks. I ate cake in my bathtub with no water on more than one occasion.
- Figure out how you’re going to answer curious, yet overly intrusive questions about your child’s background. Folks you barely know and folks you grew up with, alike, will ask you *all* about your child’s business and their family’s business and truly think they are entitled to know this information. They aren’t, and it ain’t your business to share. Be careful about oversharing online and in person without your kid’s permission. I try to write from my lens and when folks ask questions of us, I follow Hope’s lead on what she chooses to share. This has been a progression in our relationship since when she was younger I fielded those questions more often alone. Sometimes I get my framing right; other times I realize maybe I should have framed things differently to protect my daughter’s privacy. I’m a work in progress.
- Work on developing compassion for birth families. It’s very likely the child does NOT hate their first families; in fact, they likely love their parents immensely and even as older kids long to be with them. Whether that makes sense to you is inconsequential. It’s easy to have righteous indignation about their decisions, the effect of those decisions and choices on the kids. It takes a lot more personal work and stretching to understand sickness, addiction, how consuming poverty can be, and other surrounding sets of systemic circumstances that may have led to this child needing a home other than the one of their birth. Sure there are just a-holes who were a-holes to their kids, but for most families, I’ve learned to just embrace the “there but for God’s grace go I” belief. We are all really only one or two shitty decisions from a life collapse. Let the judgment and whatever possible sense of entitlement or deservedness you think you might have over their birth parents go–it ain’t healthy for you or your kid. Practice empathy and compassion for your child’s benefit; your relationships will be stronger because of it and you’ll model that for your kid.
- Know that older pets may have a rough adjustment to newcomers. The Furry One experienced quite a bit of stress in his final year when Hope joined us. He was going on 15, deaf with eyesight failing. He was in the home stretch of life anyway, but the disruption was really hard for him and for Hope–he routinely chose her room to soil, when he had not previously had an issue with random incontinence. I wouldn’t have changed things; couldn’t have, but just know that it the humans in your home may not be the only ones struggling with change.
- If you’re doing the transracial parenting thing–specifically white parents with kids of color; leave that colorblind parenting BS alone. It is a punt, a cop out and not even a good one. The goal should be to raise a healthy, well-adjusted kid who knows who they are, sees folks like them on the regular, has the vocabulary to talk about race and ethnicity personally and societally and to be raised in an anti-racist environment supported by behaviors that are anti-racist. Being colorblind is not a thing when raising kids of color. It’s not. Get your mind right about this. It’s not enough to be “not racist.” Your goal needs to be creating a loving environment that is “anti-racist” where your kids–kids of all colors–can talk about race, racism, how it shapes their life outside of the safeness of your home. Talking about race and racism is not racist behavior. The pretending that race isn’t a thing and that you are blind to skin color is inherently racist: full stop. It shuts down all conversation about the literal shell the kid walks around in day in and day out. It is oppressive: full stop. If you are doing the colorblind parenting thing, your home is not a safe place to have conversations about that experience. And in a world that is highly racialized, trust, it’s a thing. If your home isn’t safe to talk about skin color and how life is impacted by that color, then what else isn’t it safe to discuss in your home? I’m going to stop there, because like that pastor at Harry and Meghan’s wedding, I need to wrap this up. #abouttoreallygoin #separatepostoneofthesedays
These are just some of my reflections on being a new adoptive parent. Feel free to share other life lessons you’ve picked up along the way. Thanks to all my readers and followers for being with me and Hope on this journey. We still have miles and miles to go and we are learning more every day.