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Easy Ways to Help Adoptive Families

The adoption process can take years of blood, sweat, and tears.

This is not to mention endless stacks of seemingly redundant paperwork, coupled with an agonizing wait. And we quickly realize ~ that was the easy part. Parenting is inherently difficult, and parenting a child who has already lost his or her first family adds extra challenges. We are instantly overwhelmed by attachment struggles, the unpacking of trauma, and sorting through complex medical issues. If you feel called to help an adoptive family and don’t know where to start, here are some easy ways to help.

THANK YOU for choosing to walk alongside us.

PRAY: Read that again. PRAY. Love is a battlefield. Family and adoption are near to God’s heart, therefore our Enemy fights hard to keep the fatherless from becoming beloved sons and daughters. The battle doesn’t stop once children are home; He attacks our families and marriages daily. He whispers that we aren’t strong enough, worthy enough, or that our children deserve better parents. Please pray for the protection of our families.

CELEBRATE: Rejoice in our child’s arrival as if they had been born to us. All new parents need love and support, and we are no different. This is necessary even if our child is older. Throw a shower, stock our fridges, or arrange an airport meet and greet. These are simple gestures of support that show us that our friends and family are just as thrilled as we are.

Please also be considerate if we have to disappear from normal life for a bit as our new family forms its bond. A child needs to form an attachment to their immediate family before other relationships are formed. Holding a child, feeding them, or meeting any other need may be off limits for a while.

BECOME TRAUMA-INFORMED: This subject is huge. No adopted child escapes trauma, and trauma manifests differently in each child. Managing and undoing the damage caused by trauma is the basis of our daily lives. It takes years for a child to begin healing and is likely to be a lifelong effort. By learning how trauma has rewired our children’s brains and knowing techniques to help them heal, you can become an invaluable ally to our family.

Although not specific to adoption, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk is a great book because it provides detailed, clinical explanations of trauma, as well as the paths to recovery. Another good book is From Fear to Love by Bryan Post. This book teaches loving ways to address difficult trauma-related behavior in foster and adopted children. There are tons of other resources available, but these are both good places to start.

Lastly, trauma has no statute of limitations. Just because a child has reached a certain age or has been in a family for a long time, it does not mean that trauma no longer has its grip on that child. Never gauge a child affected by trauma by their chronological age. Often, a child’s maturity level is half of his or her age, and can be less when they are under stress.

USE RESPECTFUL ADOPTION LANGUAGE: Our society places a lot of emphasis on the use of politically correct terminology. Unfortunately, this hasn’t caught on in regards to the adoption community. If you don’t believe it, just watch children’s movies and TV shows. They are chock full of orphan narratives and insensitive dialog. We would love it if you learned our lingo. For instance, instead of saying a child was abandoned or given up, say a child was relinquished. Avoid using the word “real.” “Are they real brothers?” “Where are their real parents?” The word that should be used instead is “biological.” Furthermore, please use caring words in regards to a child’s first family, country of origin, or culture. If you don’t know how to properly phrase something, just ask! We are happy to educate.

TRUST US: There are reasons we parent the way we do. Chances are, you won’t ever see our child’s trauma behaviors because our kids work hard to hold it together in public. You may not realize that it can take them days (or weeks) to recover from a stressful situation or schedule change. Additionally, be respectful of the guidelines we have in place to keep our children regulated. It may seem cruel that we are limiting their food or water intake, for example, but we are teaching a child who can’t read their physical cues that their stomachs are full.

GIVE GRACE: There is a lot about our children’s journeys that we don’t share in order to protect them. Understand that big events, holiday gatherings, and noisy public spaces can be overwhelming and frightening to our kids. This fear can cause severe meltdowns. Please don’t stare when you see a seemingly-too-old child having a tantrum or hitting. There is a lot more behind this behavior than an under-disciplined child. Be kind when we chose to cut these outings short or don’t participate at all.

OFFER RESPITE: Parenting a child with a trauma background is outright exhausting, both physically and mentally. It’s hard to convey the levels of grief and emotional sacrifice that our families endure. We tend to feel alone in our struggles and can easily become isolated from friends and family. Our marriages can also suffer from secondary trauma. Sometimes we are too deep in the trenches to think to ask for help. If you can, offer to babysit, bring food, or help with errands.

And remember, respite isn’t just for parents. Siblings need respite, too! Siblings are often dragged along to doctor’s appointments, IEP meetings, and therapy sessions. Offer to take them out and do something fun.

NORMALIZE our FAMILIES: It seems silly that this even needs to be mentioned, but adoption is still not always seen as a legitimate way to build a family. A lot of adoptive families have lost friends or been estranged from relatives because adoption has made our loved ones uncomfortable. We are not blind to the stares, disparaging remarks, and the uneasiness that our families can cause. We are keenly aware that racism still plagues our society and that our families are not immune. We see the eye-rolls when we parent differently and the eyebrows that get raised a little higher when our kids are struggling. We know our families aren’t typical and never will be, but hope that someday all adoptive families will be held in the same regard as those built biologically.

Farin is the mother of two active boys. When they're not hanging out with the kids, she and her husband, Matt, are renovating an old farmhouse outside of Seattle, Washington. She is a passionate advocate for adoption and care for vulnerable children.

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