While driving, I have a tendency to read the signs posted at churches and businesses. You know, the ones that give a small bit of life advice and awareness. This morning I saw one that said, “Life Begins When You Step Outside of Your Comfort Zone.” How true that statement is for those who decide to adopt, especially internationally!
Stepping out of our personal comfort zone is not done lightly in most cases. Unless overwhelmed by peer pressure or boredom, we tend to analyze, think about, research and prepare to make that big step. We want to be sure we are doing the right thing. That is certainly the way most of our prospective adoptive parents come to international adoption. They spend months, even years, looking at their family situation, talking with friends and family, researching adoption via books and on line, contemplating the challenges and rewards, and some even travel to see a country beforehand via mission trips. Then they make that final joyous decision to help an orphan find permanency in a loving home—-theirs!
The next months after that decision are filled with anticipation, paperwork, fund raising, paperwork, education, paperwork, meeting other adoptive families, and yes, more paperwork! Bedrooms are prepared, toys are purchased and events are attended as the prospective parents get ready for their child to come home. When one’s referral is accepted and the legal matters are finalized, the big day arrives. You have your child! This is when the face-to-face journey with your adopted child begins and you are truly out of your comfort zone.
The first weeks and months can be stressful as you and your child get to know each other, bond, establish routines, test foods and preferences, learn each other’s demeanors, break language barriers, acculturate your child to America, and find common ground. Sometimes it is not easy, but it is a necessary step to build trust, comfort levels, and understanding. Parents often ask how they could have been more prepared for this time or more understanding of the challenges ahead. Could I have been more prepared for this new life which is truly outside of my personal comfort zone? The answer is YES.
The waiting stage is the perfect time to prepare. You have time on your hands and you are enthusiastic about the upcoming adoption. It is the perfect storm of desire and availability. You can help yourself be a bit more ready for adoption by taking these steps:
- Want to be prepared for this new child. Having the personal conviction, desire and willingness to prepare yourself is mandatory. You must be firmly and wholeheartedly dedicated to this course of action.
- Muster the resources you will need to prepare. Do your research. Tap into adoption education websites, purchase or check out books at your local library, access adoption support groups in your area, read extensively about your child’s culture, learn some of their common language phrases, find other families and events with whom your child can identify, and include all family members in this process. If your child has been diagnosed with a special need, research this and speak with a local pediatrician or International Adoption Clinic.
- Re-Imagine your life as a multicultural/multiracial family. This is not an easy task at first and all family members will need to be involved. Read about it, access webinars and take the time to assure you are very clear about the changes this will make in your family. Begin to venture out of your comfort zone in areas of foods, churches, public and cultural events, language, home décor, associations, and friendships. To help assure your child is comfortable with their appearance and heritage, that they have appropriate cultural role models, and they develop a positive sense of self will require you to make these changes before your child arrives.
- Explore and Experiment with new foods. Most Americans are not familiar with the true nutritional aspects or cuisine of foreign countries. Although some restaurants are billed as “authentic”, they are also often somewhat “Americanized” in order to attract business. Remember what you learned about children’s experiences in orphanages? If not, review it so you will understand the textures and types of foods with which they are familiar. Re-familiarize yourself with the effects of malnutrition. Be aware of possible feeding issues and what you can do to bridge this early gap. Experiment with cooking meals that are characteristic of your child’s country of origin so you can do this effectively when your child arrives. This will help give him or her some comfort and may encourage them to eat.
- Anticipate Aftercare Services. Few things in life are perfect. We all need help at different points in our lives. Each state in the U.S. offers Post Adoption Services although what is offered does differ across states. Most services are free. Look into this while you are waiting and see what your state offers. This will help you be prepared if you need assistance and understanding what is available and how to quickly access it will serve you well in case of an emergency.
- Develop a strong group of supportive family and friends. This is the time to build your support group if you do not have one or strengthen the one you have. You will need people who understand adoption to help you and give you advice. You will need people to help you with other tasks like laundry and grocery shopping while you develop that early relationship with your child. You will need some occasional respite so you can regroup and take a break. You will likely need local services and professionals for various things (medical, developmental, mental health, special needs, educational). You will need other people to talk to and give you emotional support.
- Practice saying YES in your home. At MLJ Adoptions, we ask our families to read The Connected Child by Karyn Purvis, David Cross and Wendy Sunshine. This book offers multiple strategies for parents who welcome children into their homes “from hard places”. There are numerous respectful, common sense and empathetic parenting techniques which can work well with adopted children. One helpful tactic is to practice saying “Yes”. While you may narrow the choices your child has available, you allow him or her some control and self-assuredness by allowing them to do or have what they have chosen….you have said “Yes”. Becoming familiar and practicing these helpful techniques will help you prepare you to parent your adopted child.
These steps will help you to say “I’M READY” FOR ADOPTION when your adopted child finally comes home. Although this new parenting experience will surely take you out of your comfort zone, you will have taken these extra steps to more fully assure that you are prepared for the challenges that lie ahead and able to help your child achieve permanency for the first time in their life. Not only will that child’s life begin anew, but yours will too. Enjoy the journey!
MLJ Adoptions is a Hague Accredited International Adoption Agency based in Indianapolis, Indiana. We provide ethical, compassionate and attentive adoption services to loving and committed families from across the United States and around the world.
We’ve successfully placed over two hundred and fifty children through our international adoption programs in Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru, Samoa and Ukraine. MLJ Adoptions believes that every child deserves a loving and permanent family including older children and children with special needs. We also facilitate an Orphan Hosting Program from Ukraine each winter and summer for several weeks.
Our Special Needs Program connects these children with loving adoptive families willing to meet the needs of these special children. We focus on preparing parents by providing education and direct support to ensure that children are placed with families who are equipped and empowered to parent their child successfully. We continue to provide services after placement to ensure that our families are encouraged and supported before, during and after placement.