When you're preparing to adopt, the anticipation can be overwhelming. It’s a long journey: getting fingerprinted; going through a home study; choosing domestic, international, or foster adoption; putting your family profile or dossier together; then finally wondering what it will feel like to bring your child home
Here are some key strategies to help you and your family move through the adoption process until everyone can finally settle in together.
Wait Out the Waiting Game
Adopting can take a while -- sometimes, longer than you expected. Keep yourself busy by doing all the things you won't have time to do once your new baby or child comes home.
Maxine Walton, a social worker whose Children's Home Society and Family Services in Minnesota handles domestic and international adoptions, says, "Empty the job jar, go on that vacation." Get your home as ready as you can. For example, stock the pantry and medicine cabinet. That will certainly come in handy once you bring your new child home.
Find Out What Your Child’s Life Was Like
If your adopted child is not a newborn, they have had a life before you. Talk to foster parents, orphanage directors, or even your child's birth parents to learn what that life has been like.
Debra Harder, adoption information coordinator with Children's Home Society and Family Services, says, "You want to learn what your child's routines are, how he might have been soothed, how he likes to be held, his favorite toys and games."
She adds, "If you have the opportunity to meet your baby's or child's caregivers, this is a great opportunity to learn firsthand what he's used to so you can help him feel more comfortable in your home with familiar routines."
If you're adopting internationally or bringing home a baby from a state other than your own, it's likely that you'll have to travel and spend at least a week in your child's home state or country. That can be frustrating because you want to get home and start your new life together. But look at it as a great opportunity to build attachment between you and your new child.
"This is precious time," Harder says. "You can get to know each other and bond one on one. You have time when you don't have to share your child with anyone else -- it's just you together as a new family."
Keep the Nursery Simple
It's tempting to overdo the decorating of your baby's or child’s new room, filling it with bright colors and an array of toys and clothes. But if you're not bringing home a newborn, this may be a little much for your new family member.
"You want the room to be calming, not over stimulating," Walton says.
Don't expect to settle your baby down in their perfectly prepared new crib at bedtime, say goodnight, and turn out the light. Even a newborn you gave birth to probably wouldn't settle down to sleep alone in a new crib. A baby or child who's just been separated from the world they know needs comfort and closeness.
"Babies and children who have been in an orphanage are used to sleeping in a room with multiple children," Samantha Walker, associate director for international adoptions at New York’s Spence-Chapin adoption agency, says. "They then arrive in this beautifully decorated room, so lovingly prepared for them, and are expected to sleep alone. They may not be able to settle in by themselves."
Ease the transition by temporarily moving the crib into your bedroom or placing a mattress or daybed for you in your child's room until your child feels safe.
If You're in Touch With the Birth Parents, Expect an Evolving Relationship
You may have some degree of open relationship with your child's birth parents if you’ve adopted domestically. (This is even becoming more common in some international adoptions.)
You may have established a plan in advance about how that relationship will work -- how many letters, whether or not there will be phone calls or visits, and so on. But remember that it's not set in stone.
"Be prepared that your relationship with your child's birth parents will evolve on both sides," Walton says. "It's your job as the adoptive parents to take care of the child not to take care of the child's birth parents," she adds.
Be sensitive about what the birth parent(s) may be going through. They're adjusting too.
Set Up a Support System
Get family and friends onboard to help out when your baby comes home. No matter how they come into your family, kids mean a very different schedule.
"You really need to set up a support system in advance," Walton, who's had children by birth and adoption, says.
Accept help. "When people ask if they can help," Walton says, "give them a job to do, like bringing food or maybe doing a load of laundry." I tell families that you need at least one person who, if you call at 2 a.m. saying, ‘I don't think I can do this anymore, the baby won't stop crying, and I've been walking the floor for hours,' will say, ‘I'm coming right over to help.'"
Your support system should also include other adoptive families. They can give you empathetic, been-there-done-that advice.
Your New Child’s Homecoming
1. Make the Day Low-Key.
You'll be thrilled to welcome your child home. But you might want to wait on the big celebration for a little while because parties can be overwhelming for a newly adopted child.
"Minimizing the big celebrations at first will serve your child's needs better," Walker says. "A big party can be very stressful, especially for a toddler. Keep the celebrations low-key at first, especially during the first few weeks after coming home."
Family and friends who want to show their happiness for you right after you come home can do it best with a short, mellow visit. They might even volunteer to bring food or do a load of laundry.
2. Keep Your Child Close.
A child who is born to you spends nine months getting to know the sound, scent, and rhythms of its parents while in utero. A baby, toddler, or young child who is adopted needs the same kind of close bonding time to feel safe and comfortable with you as the new parents.
So in the first weeks and months, keep your baby or child as close to you as you can as much as possible.
Try a sling or wrap or other carrier even if your child is a bit older. "I tell parents that they may need to prepare for having a child on your hip who's 30 pounds or more," Harder says.
That also means gently discouraging loved ones from playing "pass the baby."
"Let friends and family know that they can't expect to scoop up the baby or child and confuse the situation for a little one who's already going through a lot of changes," Harder says. "You don't need to be totally isolated, but you need to make it clear to the child that you are the parent, the caregiver, and protector."
3. Help Your Child Adjust.
You are overjoyed that your new baby or child is coming home with you -- but it might take your child a little while to feel the same way.
"Your baby or child is being separated from everything they know," Harder says. "Be prepared for what those first days, weeks, and months might be like."
If you'll be bringing home an older baby, toddler, or child, Harder suggests that if it's allowed you send a care package to the child before you meet. That care package could include a photo album of you and your family. "You can also sleep with a small blanket or soft toy that can be sent to the child so that the child learns your familiar smell. That can ease the transition," Harder says.
4. Give Love Time.
"You may expect to fall in love with your child instantly, but that might not happen," Walton says. "You think it'll be this lovely picture where you sit and nurture your child and the child gazes into your eyesright away. But you may not feel that instant bond. You may like but not love your child right away."
That's OK! Parents don't always admit this, but even when you give birth to a child, sometimes you don't always feel that instant rush of love.
"Relationships take work, attachment takes work, and little people take work," Walton says. "It doesn't always happen all at once. That's normal."
5. Cut Yourself Some Slack.
As you're taking care of your child, don't forget to take care of yourself.
People advise moms preparing to give birth to "sleep when the baby sleeps," but they often forget to advise new adoptive parents to similarly give themselves breaks.
If you have a partner, take turns on nighttime baby careso that each person gets a full night's sleep at least every other night. Ask that support system you've lined up to help with some of your mundane daily chores for a bit so that you can take time to be with your child and care for yourself.
And expect the unexpected. "The things you think you'll need to worry about, it may turn out you don't, while other issues you never thought about may crop up," Walker says. "No matter how much you prepare, parentingis about the unexpected."