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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Welcome Home, Anak!

So . . . you're adopting a child from The Philippines who will be more than three years old when he comes home?

Let me share some wisdom with you that I pray will make the transition easier for all of you. 

You probably already know that The Philippines is a wonderful place from which to adopt.  The children in care here are generally in small orphanages (by worldwide standards) or foster homes.  They have most likely been loved by their caregivers and the staff turnover for caregivers here tends to be low.  It is highly possible that your child is leaving a place where he was well cared for and loved  in exchange for a life of permanency and inclusion into  your nuclear family.  

And this is SUCH a great thing!  Every child deserves to be claimed, given a last name that matches his family and told "forever".

Ezekiel's Adopiton Day

And so, after 21 years of marriage to a Filipino, four international Philippine adoptions and, now a new life running a child caring agency in The Philippines, I am feeling like I have a few pearls of wisdom to offer families adopting  older children from this wonderful place I now call "home".  

I share these based on my own experience and I understand every child and every situation has nuances of it's own. 
Take what helps and reject what doesn't. 


1. The children here eat lots and lots of rice - and I don't mean Uncle Ben's.  Invest in a rice cooker and some jasmine rice to welcome your new one home.  The familiarity of a staple food can go a long way in easing transitional jitters and, if he doesn't like the other food items offered, at least he will have some rice (and soy sauce) to fill his belly while you figure out his diet together.  Some safe bets for early-homecoming meals if you don't have access to authentic Filipino food?   Roasted chicken with rice,  fried fish with rice (even young children here know how to navigate around fish bones), or baked pork chops with rice.   Basic cross-cultural foods.

2.  Your child (school age) may ask for and use baby powder.  It's used in elementary schools here for keeping cool. Every morning before school, our Mercy House kids have me put powder down the back of their shirts and they also put a dusting on their faces. Everyone does it.   No biggie.

3. Children here are never alone.  They don't sleep alone, they sometimes even shower with a same-gender housemate, they travel in little groups.  Your child may be very afraid of that beautiful bedroom you worked so hard to decorate JUST FOR HIM.  He has probably never slept in a single room before.  Add to that the cultural superstitions here about "ghosts" , "white ladies" and the "tik tik" that comes to lick the bellies of pregnant women in the night and you have a recipe for a terrified child.  I hate to tell you that a simple night light may not do the trick.  Some of our toughest-acting street boys become frightened children when the lights go off.  

4. Even in the hottest places, air conditioning is often not available in living spaces so, if you use air conditioning at home, your child may get very cold, even when you are not.  In time, they adjust to their new environments but in the interim,  his insistence on wearing that hoodie or snuggie everywhere you go is not just for dramatic effect.  He's probably freezing! 

5.  Your new child may be very afraid of your indoor pets.  There are lots of pets here and may dogs and cats but they are generally kept outside and, we have noticed, they aren't very big.  Your "big" dog here is probably  the size of a long-legged beagle in the US.  There are street dogs everywhere here and they are pretty small by western standards.  Give your new child lots of time to get to know your pets.  He may need it. 

6.  The term for the bathroom here is the "CR" - "comfort room" . .. even if your child speaks a small amount of English, asking him if he needs the "CR" will be more easily understood than any other term for that crucial place! And since we're already talking bathroom talk, let me share something you will want to know if your new child isn't diapered.  Kids here often undress from the waist down and squat on the rim of the toilet seat to use the bathroom. And most child caring agencies can not afford to buy toilet paper so children wash themselves after using the restroom with a "tabo".  It sits in what we would think of as a 5-gallon paint bucket full of water next to the toilet and the child reaches over, dips and rinses.  No towel required.  There you have it! 

7.  Even our young children here in care like spicy foods.  They especially like having a tiny sauce cup on their plates that they can mix soy sauce, vinegar and labuyo (hot, small, red pepper) into.  After the meal,  our kids drink that sauce if it's not used up - to my horror!

8.  Please don't overwhelm your new child with material goods.  Here, having a pair of tennis shoes of your own is a pretty big deal. Very few children have bicycles of their own. They are generally shared property. None of the kids I've met in care have any electronics.  Hold onto the "easy to please" aspect of your child as long as you can.  The more you buy and offer, the more he will expect and, believe me, if he is older, someone in his life has likely told him that going abroad means he's going to be "rich".  Focus on the loving bond by spending time together, don't spoil the appreciation he has for  the small things by filling his life with "stuff". 

9.  The terms "mommy" and "daddy" are used here to refer to caregivers often.  Please don't take it personally.  I remember when one of our boys came home and was telling me a story about his "other mom" (caregiver) and it cut me to the heart.  I wanted to yell at him 'I'M THE ONLY MOTHER YOU HAVE! SHE DIDN'T ADOPT YOU! SHE'S NOT YOUR MOM"  but, of course, I kept quiet.  And I am so glad I did!  Moving to The Philippines has taught me that those family words are simply titles here.  The kids call our social worker "Mommy Love" and their old social worker "Mommy April" and they understand completely that these ladies are not their actual parents.  This is a term of respect for someone who takes care of you.  Your kids will also refer to their caregivers as "Tita, Tito, Auntie, Uncle" etc and will likely say "my sister in The Philippines . . . " when telling you about their housemates.  A sort of family created by love and not blood or birth is what they are referring to.  These early bonds are good indicators of future attachment and should be appreciated and not resented.   Hindsight is 20/20, huh?   I definitely wish I'd known this before adopting.  

10.  The Philippine culture is very emotional.  Your child's despedida (or going away ceremony) MAY be filled with tears from everyone who knew him before you.  I find this whole process so healthy for our children although it may leave us feeling like kidnappers who are doing something awful to a child we love.    There will be guilty feelings and questioning of whether taking your child from this loving family environment is a kindness or a cruelty.  Trust me, it is VITAL that children in care be adopted. I heard a poignant quote at a recent training seminar I attended. It was penned by an adult adoptee. She said:
"I had to give up everything I knew in order to get everything I needed".     The truth of these words will stay with me, especially  as we process children in our care for adoption. 

11.  This is a party culture!   From birthdays to Christmas to baby dedications,  The Philippines is a place of parties. The parties here are full of food, karaoke,  card playing, dancing and more food!  Christmas here is a country wide even with parades for weeks beforehand, and lots of festivities.  Many adoptees find Christmas in the western world very quiet and dull compared to the way it is celebrated here. 

Be encouraged! If you've already adopted your child and, like me,  missed out on some the information that could have made the transition easier, take heart!  The final observation I'll make about our Filipino children is this:


You are learning  to be his parent and he is learning to be your child.  You will find your own comfortable spot in these roles and that takes time and plenty of "do overs".     And isn't that the best thing about life?  Making new paths and holding hands along the way?

Enjoy your child.  Learn  his culture.  Bend and flex for him.   He is worth it.

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