We’ve just been blessed with a new little girl to call our own. That brings our little, or not so little family, to 6. We’ve experienced the joy and elation, from all corners, with the birth of our first child and then our second child, but honestly, as we added more than 2 children, we experienced a gradual decline in support and encouragement as our numbers increased, presumably because people felt that we “Had this” and not because they stopped caring:)
We know that people are busy, life carries on for everyone and this is the life WE have chosen. But we are also aware that there are barriers to adoption that have nothing to do with red tape and the effect of these barriers can be guarded against if communities are equipped and the would-be adoptive parents made to know that they will have the support of those around them throughout their journey. So the point of this article is simply to provide some guidelines and practical ways people can assist an adoptive family after placement, in such a way that this new growing unit knows for sure that they are not alone because there is a community of people behind them, supporting them and cheering them on in different ways.
I will divide the different ways of helping into 4 categories, starting with placement day and journeying for the first few weeks and months.
Can I say up front that the one thing that will help throughout and can be carried out over all categories, is PRAYER. Pray before, pray on the day, pray for the days after and let the family know that they are in your thoughts and prayers. REAL PRAYERS ONLY PLEASE! Not the super Christianeesy language that says “I’m praying for you” but then never actually happens. I am talking about the focussed, intentional and scheduled practice of ACTUALLY praying for the family and the new addition. Never stop! They need it and will be strengthened and encouraged by knowing that you are doing it.
This can be both exciting and scary for the new parents. Not only do you deal with the normal anxiety that parents have welcoming in a new child, whether it be your first, second etc. But with an adoptive child, there is an added layer of complexity based and fueled by the unknown. So how can you help? Firstly, let’s keep the selfish questions to yourself. this is not an opportunity for you to find out the dirt on the child, the birth mom, the agency etc. This is a time where the only question that deserves an answer is the one that asks “How can I practically make this day easier for you?” Last minute purchases, chores that can be outsourced or other practical things on a “to do list” can also be managed by others with the aim of allowing the family to deal with the most important matter at hand, that being, preparing your hearts and minds to welcome a deeply traumatized child into your home. Even if there was not a shocking “In the beginning” story, never forget that this child is about to have his/her world ripped and turned upside down, and it may not be the first time. Never forget this day is both a celebration and a time of mourning for this little one. See an older post called: Adoption – Where Celebration & Loss Collide.
Secondly, if the family has other children, this is an opportunity, much like when natural children are added, to make a fuss over the current kids to ensure that they know that they are just as valuable and loved as any baby added to their unit. This is a great way for others to help the family, as in reality, during the early days, parents of new kids can find themselves reeling from the changes and often feel overwhelmed and guilty for changing the stataus quo of their previosuly well oiled family machine. Help out, buy a small gift, invite existing children on a play date, take a treat for the kids only. By helping in this space, you will help the adoptive parents establish a new normal for themselves and the existing children.
Thirdly, find the balance between being present but not overwhelming. Messages are good, repeat phonecalls when left unasnwered don’t help. If you have something to drop off, do just that, drop it off! Hang around to say hi, share encouragement but then give space and sense the mood and the needs currently presenting themselves, and if possible, meet those needs.
From experience, meals and care packages of food are such a nice way to help. Simple and often inexpensive. They can double up as an excuse to briefly meet the new little one. This is such a nice idea and can be supported by various apps, meal trains and between friends and community the meals can go on for a while. In doing so, they keep reminding the family tangibly on a daily basis that someone thought of them today, cares for them and wants them to succeed. We have experienced the sheer joy when this happens, but also the deep disappointment when it doesn’t. If you are in a family’s space, look at how you can add value on this momentous occassion.
As with above, meals and food always show that the new family were in the thoughts of someone today. It is simple, but effective. Historically, sharing meals is such a simple but powerful way of showing people that you care, that they are in your thoughts and prayers.
Life gets back to normal, the new family, and obviously yours. The mantra “out of sight, out of mind” can become a toxic message that brings isolation and dissappointment. We are all so busy, but busyness is not an idle to obtain, rather an evile to fight against. We cannot sacrifice intimacy, commnunity and the opportunity to show love on the alter of busyness. People are more important than the prizes busyness brings.
Perhaps now will be a good time to drop by for a visit, show your face, get a cuddle from the new little one. All the while being mindful of the fact that this new little one is needing to bond with his/her forever family. Bonding is key and the new addition needs to feel that his/her mom/dad are just that HIS OR HERS. This means appreciating the reality that this is not a natural child who has had 9 months with mom and dad, cooing, rubbing, speaking life. This new little one needs to make up time and establish a connnection in a season that is actually very traumatic. This may mean you will only get that cuddle in a few weeks, be ok with that!
Medical aid applications and other admin tasks may also need to be completed during this time, perhaps you are especially good at this sort of thing? Offering to releive the family of these sorts of burdens and other practical tasks may be a great help:)
This is when life really needs to get back to normal and the new family will have to find a rythym that suits them. Parents may need to go back to work, routine needs to be re-discovered and the general day-to-day functioning of a family will be regained.
But even at this point, a call or a message can go a long way to keep them encouraged. If the family still feels overwhelmed and unable to connect socially, perhaps come together as a community and see how you can ensure that they maintain a sense of connectedness, knowing and feeling they are a part of their community/church.
Instead of wondering why they aren’t at church etc, maybe look at what they need to do and relieve them of responsibilities so that they can just come and “Be”. Perhaps they could do with play dates for kids or help collecting children from school. Now is the time where there is a real risk of becoming unplugged and disconnected, remember to fight for connection and if the new family is struggling with this, fight for them, not against them!
Life has hopefully normalized and the new faily unit has settled down and regained a new “normal”. There may still be things this family still feels unable to do, especially if they have now become a large family. Practically, the increased numbers can make some previously simple tasks quite complicated and judgement and pressure should not take the place of grace and understanding.
And ofcourse, as mentioned above, you should still be praying for and with this family. Encouragment, prophesy, giving scripture, words of wisdom, smiles and hugs should have maintained their presence along the journey from days to Months. This journey is awesome, powerful, terrifying, overwhleming, beautiful, complicated and all manner of shades in between, so be present with, and practically for, this new amazing family.
I hope this has helped. It is so awesome to have people along for the ride, buckle up!