Here I am writing about bonding while in China when the truth is…. I’m not so good at it! When we are in China there are so many emotions swirling around for our newly adopted child as well as myself that initial bonding is not my first priority… survival is!
So maybe this is more of a surviving when adopting in China post!
When we adopted a 16 month old the bonding was immediate. She was my daughter, she was helpless, she needed me and I was not going to let her down. I was “in love” with this child.
Years later, as we walked into the lobby of our hotel we were greeted by the orphanage director and a small, adorable 11 year old girl. The eleven year old girl refused to look at us and wanted nothing to do with us. She had not received the photo album or any of the gifts and notes we had sent. To her, we were very scary and we were about to take her away from everything she had ever known. Seriously, I do not blame her at all. She was and still is a survivor.
It was so different from our first adoption. I wasn’t sure if I should give her space or keep showing her I wasn’t going to give up and that she was stuck with me. I did both!
And then there were 11 other gotcha days that fell somewhere “in between.” So bonding with your newly adopted child while in China can look differently depending on the variables.
1. The age of your child.
2. Was your child prepared to be adopted by a foster family or the director or nanny at the orphanage? Do they understand what is happening and do they want to be adopted?
3. Their overall health at the time of adoption. It’s hard for a child to bond when they have a toothache, earache or sinus infection.
4. Their preconceived ideas of what it means to be adopted? Have they heard horror stories of what their new family may do to them or did they see their friends being adopted and then visiting the orphanage. Did they like what they saw and heard?
We do our best to send gifts and ask our “allotted” questions so that both our new child and ourselves will be as prepared as possible but it doesn’t always turn out the way we had planned.
At the time of our gotcha days our children were 16 months, 3yrs, 4.5yrs, 5.5yrs, 5.5yrs, 5.5yrs, 6yrs, 7yrs, 7.5yrs, 8yrs, 8.5yrs, 10yrs and 11 years old.
Prayer is our guide and our comfort. As we go into an adoption we put our trust in God, knowing that he will see us and our new child through this exciting and tumultuous time. We try to be flexible and as prepared as possible for what is ahead.
When we meet our child for the first time we bring them a backpack. It’s packed with things that they can have control over, such as a small amount of candy/snacks, crayons and a coloring book, toy car or doll, etc. They love to see what is in it and we like to share in the discovery with them! We actually learned this with one of our adoptions. We gave them way too much candy and toys in their backpack. It was so chaotic and they ate their candy all at once, lesson learned!
We keep items such as a translator, leap frog, camera or iPad with us and we have it available whenever we need it. If our new children want to use them they need to ask us. By having them ask us for something (that we are pretty sure they will be interested in) it causes them to interact with us and establishes who is the boss/parent/in control in the relationship. It creates an early dependence, which is what we want. We want them to learn that they need us, their new parents. Oftentimes children who are from an orphanage do not understand why parents are necessary. The have lived all these years without parents so why do they need them now? It’s our job to teach the children that parents and family are important and necessary in life.
A fun and easy way to bond and to show that we are a family is to dress the children alike. They love it and it connects them to their new siblings. It makes it easy for others to see that even though we are not the same ethnicity we are still family.
Oftentimes the guides want to take the new families to the pearl and jade markets. Most likely you will want to go and purchase something from your child’s home country. These stores are not necessarily “kid friendly” and shopping is just plain boring to kids unless you are shopping for them. After we had done this once or twice we started declining this “site seeing” opportunity and chose more of the kid friendly activities. That way the children had fun and if they were having fun we were having fun! There was a better chance they would behave on an outing if they enjoyed it!
If you can bring your other child or children I would highly recommend it! It is an amazing experience and it is wonderful for bonding! The kids don’t even need to speak the same language to enjoy playing together (and dressing alike)!
Some essentials to bring are
1. A beach ball- tons of fun, can’t do any damage, no one will get hurt!
2. Bubbles- all time favorite! Bring them to gotcha day and use them whenever you needed!
3. A game or craft that doesn’t require language- jenga, uno, matching game, beading, coloring, etc!
We go shopping together once our child is with us. We get a few snacks that they like to have in the room. One time the children wildly stocked a shopping cart with what they thought we should get. Instead of causing a scene I let them do that and then packed another shopping cart of what I actually intended to purchase! They didn’t quite understand as we were checking out but no one complained so it worked!
This is a life changing event and can be quite stressful. Try your hardest to have fun! Laugh, smile, and don’t sweat the small stuff! Be silly whenever you can! Laughter is a universal language!
Give yourself grace and be kind to yourself. Chat with other families for support. Try to keep your conversation positive. Your child may have behaviors that seem unusual and impolite. They have lived in an orphanage where manors are not important. Work on changing behaviors once you are home and on your own turf. We draw the line at safety. If we feel like they are going to put themselves in a dangerous situation then we lay down the law. We also keep our new kids close and with us at all times.
As the years have gone by we realize more and more what a blessed time it is and if we could go back and change anything it would be to just relax and take things in stride. Also, your child may not remember much of anything from this initial time together. Half of ours can recite stories while the other half have no recollection of our time in China. So whether it went smoothly or not they want to hear “their story” over and over again!