The last twelve days have been filled with joy, awe, gratitude, and love as our family welcomed its sixth member, baby Maryn. We haven’t even reached a year since Caroline’s “Gotcha Day” and another little one has joined our family! Four kids in four years. A friend recently joked that it isn’t a requirement to add a child each year in order to send out Christmas cards.
We had only been home from China three months last fall when I discovered with surprise, delight, and a little panic that I was pregnant. I worried how all my kids would react, particularly my adopted daughters. I was overjoyed to learn that all three of our kids were super excited and eager for a baby sibling.
Grace (my 3-year-old) and I had some interesting conversations throughout my pregnancy. She would often say, “Carter comes from the hospital, and I was born in China! Right, Mommy?” And one time she asked, “Did you and Daddy come to China to get me in your belly?” I had to explain she grew in her China mommy’s belly and that we went to China to pick her up later. The conversations haven’t gone much deeper yet, but I know hard questions will eventually come as she digests and fully comprehends her background and her story.
Caroline, my 13-year-old, loves to help and be hands-on with the baby. I had anticipated this. What I hadn’t expected was her lack of knowledge about newborn care and precautions. I had forgotten that she had been the only child in a foster family for seven years prior to her adoption, so she hadn’t really been around any newborns. In one of several scary and disconcerting incidents, my helper took off running to hide from the two little ones coming down the hallway…WHILE CARRYING THE BABY! I think this was the first time I ever yelled at Caroline, but I panicked when I saw Maryn’s fragile little body flopping at high speed across the room.
After a few incidents, I found myself very irritated, wondering how and why my teenager was making such poor decisions. And then I remembered…. a sense of consequences, perception of cause and effect, linear thinking, are concepts many adopted kids lack and have not yet developed. Hence why Caroline hopped on a bike last summer for the first time and thought she could ride it down a hill. As you’ve probably concluded, the situation didn’t end well. She crashed into a fence and got pretty scraped up. Adopted kids typically don’t have a sense of danger, and this mixed with impulsiveness can be a recipe for disaster.
The key to handling this “special need” that often goes unmentioned? Patience. While my first thought was, “How does she not know better than to jerk a newborn around,” my eventual response was to extend Caroline grace and gently instruct her on some basics of newborn care. I had to remind myself that she wasn’t trying to be annoying by clapping loudly in the (sleeping) baby’s face…she was trying to find a way to engage. And she wasn’t purposely being careless when she swiftly swung her baby sister back and forth in one arm…she was trying to be a fun big sister. (After all, Grace and Carter love to be tossed and swung about.) I had to review my expectations through a filter of adoption knowledge in order to have the right perspective and the right approach to my daughter’s behavior.
If you’re adopting an older child, be prepared for the unexpected in regards to behavior. It’s easy to think your child will have age-appropriate knowledge of manners, or social cues, or safety precautions. It’s also easy to become frustrated, perturbed, and even disappointed when your child falls short in one of these areas. Just remember that adopted kids have such limited life experience, particularly if the orphanage was their only home, that they never learned the lessons that are second nature to others. Lessons we tend to assume have already been learned. I believe this delay can be as much a special need as a medical issue, and it’s often overlooked when preparing parents for post-adoption challenges.
My eldest child may not know all the ins and outs of newborn safety and care. But part of my role is to teach her these things. I’m learning to anticipate situations in which Caroline may be unfamiliar. What I do know is that she truly loves her baby sister and desires to help her momma. And loving kindness and service are two traits that are much tougher to cultivate. As our family has grown, I believe Caroline has as well. Again, I feel overwhelmed with awe and gratitude.