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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Getting To Know You . . .Getting To Know All About You . . .

It is not a word that stirs up positive feelings and warm fuzzies.
In labor, "transition" is that excruciating time period when most women begin to say "I just can't do this anymore".

In adoption, "transition" refers to that period of time beginning the day your child comes home and ending at the point when you feel he is comfortable in his new family.

Transition in adoption can last anywhere from just a few months to upwards of a year depending on whether or not there are bonding "issues" on either side of the equation and depending on how much effort each side expends.

We have adopted children who were 3 1/2, 8, 2 and 15 years old upon arrival to our home. The two youngest were much like babies when they came home. Both were diapered. Neither could speak. They were utterly dependent on Mom and Dad for the meeting of their needs. Bonding is easy, in my opinion, when someone needs you THAT much. I got to hold and bottle feed Ezekiel for many months, looking into his eyes. Kyle was using a sippy cup but I often chose to tilt him back in my arms and rock him while he drank his pedia sure. I hoped, in both cases, I was emulating nursing - lots of eye contact, singing softly, cuddling them to sleep. It was blissful and the bonding happened spontaneously. Of course there were hard moments and bumpy times - sleepless nights, inexplicable crying (me AND them - ha ha) but those early days with my tiny ones were mostly happy and characterized by joy.

Here are a few VERY early pics of Kyle . . .

And Ezekiel . . .

When the child joining your family is much older, transition takes a bit of a different turn. For us, it was marked by some awkwardness, a few misunderstandings, a lot of time feeling like we have a house guest and plenty of "on your best behavior" for everyone involved. Time and familiarity helped bring the walls down but some strategies that I found EXTREMELY helpful in getting to know our newest family member (15 years old upon arrival home) may prove useful to someone out there in "cyberland" who is preparing to bring an older child home.

1. spend plenty of time doing intentional FUN activities. Francis and I play a game of scrabble or uno almost every night after the three youngest are in bed. We love to go to mini-golf as a family, out to movies or just sit outside in lawn chairs on nice nights while the kids toss the football or jump on the trampoline.

2. Involve your new child in HELPING right away. People feel more like family and less like company when they are contributing. We didn't want out new son to get the impression that we brought him here to "work" (ha ha) but we also wanted him to take ownership in the family and home. We started by asking him to help with cooking (he likes to cook) or taking out trash. He and I had a lot of fun the day he learned to sort laundry and use the washing machine! Many steps involved but I only had to show him ONCE and he mastered it!!

3. Because we homeschool, we have the added benefit of LOTS of extra time together. Part of our new son's daily work includes keeping a journal. He writes on topics like "My Most Amazing Day" or "My Biggest Regret". He chooses from a long list of prompts. I have gotten to know him so much better through his journal and I always take the time to write a little comment after his entry.

4. GIVE THEM SPACE. I found out (the hard way) that older adoptees sometimes need a little extra time to be alone with their thoughts. In the earliest days of our new son's arrival, I was so very worried about him grieving his "old life" that I know I badgered him with questions that he was not ready to answer yet. He is such a positive, happy person on a regular basis so recognizing those times of sadness and introspection was easy. During those times, I offer to listen or take a walk with him if needed but am careful not to be offended if the answer is "no, thanks". Sometimes it is.

5. Riding in the car alone (this works with all my teens, adopted or not) brings out a LOT of unexpected information. While we both concentrate on the road, it seems to take the pressure off the "where do I look?" "what do I do with my hands/eyes", "is she going to try and get all mushy and hug me" issues. My kids open up often while we are en route.

6. Indirect conversation has helped us to get to know our new teen. We will often talk about other people/children/situations and it seems a safe way to share how WE really feel about a given topic. While discussing a story we watched together on the nightly news, we are actually getting a good feel for how the other person perceives a situation.

7. Gage their comfort level with physical affection.
This was a HARD one for me. I am a very "huggy" person with my kids. I kiss them as much as I can. I love to rub their backs, hold their hands and snuggle with them - big and small. Some children are not used to physical affection. Others truly crave it but won't initiate. Still others will hang on you like an octopus if you are within arms' reach. As much as I wanted to wrap my new 15 year old in a blanket and rock him like a baby when he first came home (ha ha), I resisted.
I found that he was fine with being hugged and would often sit practically on my lap on the couch even though other seating was available. He would ask for help with his hair or some other task that involved closeness and so I interpreted that as a "green light". It was.
Just use your best judgement and observe the cues. Don't be pushy with the hugs but don't be stingy either. You may have to step outside of your comfort zone and take the RISK of having your efforts rebuffed. You never know until you try.

8. SEIZE THE MOMENT. If your new child gets sick, gets hurt during play or seeks you out while upset, make every effort to nurture. Go that extra mile in "babying" them so there is no question in their minds that you are the one they can always turn to. Open arms and open hearts are rarely empty.

I hope the list above doesn't feel overwhelming to any of you, dear readers. These are simple strategies that have helped us assimilate our newest blessing into the crew. The temperament of your child, the tenure of the home, the amount of English your new kiddo can understand and many other factors will effect how YOU integrate someone into your own family.

The most important strategy of all is also the simplest: pray daily for wisdom.
The Bible is clear that God longs to give wisdom to all who ask. Just ask.


  1. Very good advice. Jonalyn was 5 when she came home, but her cognitive delays made bonding excruciatingly slow. She had a particularly hard time with my hubby, not ever having spent time with men. His rough-housing and teasing that the other kids love scared the living daylights out of her. 18 months after she came home, we still struggled. Then we went to Disney World. She rode every ride she was tall enough for and sat next to her Daddy. When she got scared, she HAD to rely on him. That was the turning of the tide. She learned she could trust him and he would never let anything bad happen to her. She is now Daddy's girl through and through, runs to him when he comes home, hugs him spontaneously, and hold hands with him in church. We all cried many tears in that time of transition, but with perseverance and the Lord's sustenance, we made it to the other side. The struggle was worth it.

    1. I remember some correspondence during the "early days" with Jonalyn but I hadn't heard the Disney story. I guess it really IS a magical place? ha ha . . .
      Thanks for sharing!