Lord, this humble house we’d keep
Sweet with play and calm with sleep.
Help us so that we may give
Beauty to the lives we live.
Let Thy love and let Thy grace
Shine upon our dwelling place.
– Edgar Guest
I have that quote framed in our downstairs bathroom. I can’t tell you how many times a week I pray just those simple words… asking that God grant our house be sweet with play and calm with sleep. Hearing your kids contentedly giggle together in another room or a blissful night of perfect sleep. There is a chance that you took those things for granted before entering the world of adoption. Having children who love each other well is a gift, and one that often has to be fostered. Nothing brings me joy quite like beholding my kids loving each other well.
Before we brought our third child home, I thought I had realistic expectations about adoption. We had done it once before, so I thought I pretty much knew what I was in for. My boys had always gotten along so amazingly well. They affectionately referred to themselves as “best brothers”, as in brothers who are best friends. They were not overly excited about getting a sister, but were not particularly against it either. Indifferent would be the word I would use to describe their feelings. I naively assumed that a darling sister would just slide into the mix once she was home. I thought they would easily fall in love with her when we were all under one roof. After all, she was ridiculously adorable. How would they be able to resist?
My first clue that things were not going to work out as easily as I planned was my boys’ facial expressions at the airport. Apparently, having a little sister was even less appealing when she was in the flesh, than when she was a hypothetical sister across the ocean. And while one brother came around pretty quickly in welcoming a little sister to the fold, the other brother just did not.
Helping our children attach to us as parents is regularly discussed pre-adoption, but we don’t often think about what we can we do to help our children form healthy attachments to each other. So what can you do to help foster bonding between your children?
Be proactive during the wait.
It can be tempting to check your email every three seconds in between reading adoption blogs and day dreaming about having your child in your arms during the big wait. However, I encourage you to look at this time as a chance to pour into your kiddos who are already living in your home. Fill up their little love tanks while you have extra time on your hands. We all know that time basically stands still during an adoption process so this may be the only time in your parenting life when you do feel like you have “extra time”.
Use it as an opportunity to prepare your kids to have realistic expectations about what it might be like when their sibling arrives. Talk to them about how things might change and how you will have to give their new brother or sister extra time and attention. Look for changes you can begin to implement now so they won’t directly attribute them to your new child’s entrance to the family. For example, if they have a really lengthy bedtime routine, you might try to start streamlining it. If you carry around your small child a lot and are adopting a toddler, start putting them down today and teach them to walk holding your hand. Tailor this idea to fit whatever your family dynamic may be. Brainstorm about what might change and work with your children before hand to make those things less dramatic.
Carve out time for the struggling sibling.
If you have a child who is having a hard time adjusting to life with their newly adoptive sibling, be intentional about spending time with them. This may be the hardest, but also the most important thing you can do for them. It can be difficult especially at the beginning when you yourself may be incredibly frazzled. Don’t be afraid to use some creativity. Let your spouse watch the other kids while you take a stroll together around the block. Run out for a quick bite of ice cream together. Sneak up and get them out of bed before they fall asleep and bring them back down for cookies and milk. Whatever it takes, just find that time to remind them how special they still are to you. One of the best things I was able to do with my struggling child, was set up a weekly lunch date. It gave me a chance to give him undivided attention away from his sister and remind him that he had not been replaced. I began to look forward to our time away together as much as he did.
Give them permission to be honest about their feelings.
This is a big one. Invite your children to be honest with you about how they feel and don’t chastise them for it. You might even want to give yourself a pep talk before you open the door to remind yourself not to react. Sometimes their honesty can be jolting, like if they suggest sending their sister back to the orphanage. Remember they are just children trying to make sense of what may feel like a catastrophic situation in their life.
I think it is also helpful to be honest and vulnerable with them as well. Share what has been hard for you in the transition. Adoption is not a walk in the park and they need to know that they are not struggling alone. Let them know it’s ok if they miss how life used to be pre-adoption. Tell them how you really miss cooking dinner without holding a crying toddler, how it makes you sad that you can’t snuggle with them as long at night because you are having to help your new child fall asleep, or how it makes your ears bleed to drive around town with a thrashing, screaming child in the backseat. There is something healing about just being able to say how you feel out loud to someone who you can trust. Be that person for your kids.
Follow their lead.
Watch and see where your kids are taking initiative towards their new sibling. If they really want to help you decorate the new room, invite them to do that. We took our three year old daughter back to China with us to adopt her little sister because she was so convinced that she would be a great helper. While it, of course, made things more complicated to have her along, we did not want to stifle her enthusiasm, or make her feel left out of something she desperately wanted to be a part of. In the end, I think it helped her to be very accepting of her sister, because she had so much ownership of welcoming her to the family. Conversely, back off if you are facing major resistance on your children at home about an open handed issue. Do you know what my boys are not wearing in the airport picture above? Matching “Big Brother” t-shirts. They looked at me like I had lost my mind when I suggested they wear them. Those sorts of things are not worth the battle! You may have prepared the most amazing room for your kids to share with handmade bedspreads to match. However, once you get to know your new child, it may become apparent that sharing a bedroom would be not the best idea for your kids. Don’t be so rigid that you cannot switch directions if you realize things are not going to work out.
Just don’t freak out if your kids are not getting along! Bringing a child home through adoption is like shaking your life as a snow globe and slowly letting the pieces fall back down until a new normal is established. It just does not happen overnight. Chances are, it is going to take time for both you and all your children to establish a new rhythm of life together. And one day when you least expect it, you may turn around and see your kids, who were once mortal enemies, sharing a tender moment.
– guest post by Jenny