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On the last track, we discussed preparing the new child. This has included the “photo album” technique, preparing the child’s room and pre-placement visits.
Do you have a client who doesn’t know what to expect when his or her adopted child arrives? On this track, we will discuss the possible shock that may occur when the child arrives. This will include the honeymoon, adjustment and the absence of immediate love. As you listen, think of your client. What do you think he or she can expect during the adjustment period?
One difference between older child adoption and infant adoption is that when a child is old enough to have developed personality traits, he or she may have traits the parents wish the child didn’t have. Other parents experience a lack of feeling for their new child.
Trent and Laura were already biological parents of two children, and were preparing to receive their newly-adopted daughter, Andrea, age 9. Trent asked, “What can we expect in the beginning adjustment period, from Andrea and from ourselves?”
3 Phases of Shock Experienced Upon Arrival
Phase #1 - The Honeymoon
Have you found, as I have, that there is a period of hyper-awareness right after a placement, when the whole family is tuned in to making the new child feel at home? I stated to Trent and Laura, “You may lighten routines, relax limits, and put forth an extra effort to make Andrea feel welcome. Your other children may be willing to share their belongings and go out of their way to make Andrea feel special.”
I continued to state, “You will be, in fact, living with a stranger. Andrea might feel more like a houseguest at first.” I explained that as much as Trent and Laura might like entertaining company, Andrea’s presence might upset the balance they were accustomed to in their home.
I stated, “No matter how much fun guests are, or how much you truly care for them, it can be a relief when they leave the house and your life settles back to normal. Similarly with older children who are adopted, there may be positive aspects of the first few weeks, but it may feel like a strain. Don’t be surprised if you think, ‘Whew! I’ll be glad when this child’s parents come to pick her up!’”
I also explained that Andrea would likely also be feeling some strain. I stated, “Andrea may feel as though she’s living in a fishbowl, with everyone watching her every move. Some children love attention, and will strive to do all the right things to make it last. Other children are intensely aware of feeling that they have to perform, and may begin to crack under the strain. Either way, Andrea may feel the need to act perfectly in order to be accepted.
"In the beginning, acceptance might come more easily, as the whole family is willing to accept Andrea as a newcomer at face value. But soon, you and your other children may feel a desire to return to your normal routine and the strain of living artificially may become too much. You might begin expecting more from Andrea, and having less patience. Your other children may tire of giving in and want your attention. And Andrea will still not know where she fits in.”
Phase #2 - Adjustment
I stated, “As parents, you may have thought hard about how the adjustment will be on Andrea or your other children. However, have you thought about how difficult the transition of having Andrea in your home will be for you? The mixed feelings may catch you unaware. Try to give yourself the same amount of patience and understanding that you give to others. Attachment to Andrea will probably progress slowly.”
I continued to state, “In my experience, one step that can help an adopted child feel like one of the family is being assigned chores. Obviously, Andrea will not know all the rules of the house or exactly what you expect of her, but participating might be the biggest thing initially. As soon as you’re sure Andrea knows what to do and how to do it, then you can gradually enforcing consequences for not doing it properly.”
Trent asked, “What about our other children? How might they adjust?” I stated, “You may need to be prepared for the fact that all your children will be intensely attuned to the fairness of everything at first. Your children may be quick to point out who is doing more and how unfair it is. Although many siblings do this, it may be very intense with an older adopted child like Andrea. As Andrea and your other children become more secure, the intensity may lessen. Also, Andrea may be trying to be perfect and may find any amount of correction or guidance to be evidence of her failure. A little additional leeway and a gradual push for improvement may help this a great deal.”
Phase #3 - The Absence of Immediate Love
I continued to stated, “You may need to distinguish loving from liking and commitment. You may be committed to Andrea for months or even years before you truly love her. If Andrea hesitates to attach to you, you may find yourself holding back, too. But even if everything is progressing normally, as you know, loves takes time, and a year or more is not unusual.”
I also explained to Trent and Laura that they did not have to love Andrea to be committed to and supportive of her. I stated, “If you can concentrate on being a “good enough” parent instead of a perfect one, you may be able to have a fulfilling relationship with Andrea even in the absence of strong love.”
I also explained to Trent and Laura that they may have to change their definition of what love is. I stated, “Some parents find that acting loving towards their children can jump-start feelings of love.” Have you found, as I have, that love is often shown in what parents do, rather than what they feel?
On this track, we have discussed the shock of the child’s arrival. This has included the honeymoon, adjustment and the absence of immediate love.
On the next track, we will discuss seeing as the child sees. This will include the “dealing with adoption issues” technique, the “imagining gains and losses” technique, the “family storybook” technique and positive adoption language.
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