On December 12th,
2002 2000, we had three children, ages 2, and roughly 8 and 9. On December 13th we got two more girls, and the new kids were nearly 4 and nearly 6. Yes, our lives changed radically! I would say it was two years before I started to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and it was four years before the new kids were fully integrated and bonded, and things felt ‘normal’- or as normal as they get for me.;-0
Our new daughters barely knew us at all, had never been to our house before, and they had a *huge* culture shock adjustment to make. We were, at that time, nearly vegetarian, and my new girls didn’t know what most vegetables were, having never seen broccoli or tomatoes, and hating the veggies they did know. They only drank carbonated, sweetened beverages or Kool-ade. I *never* served kool-ade, and we drank water, milk, and sometimes homemade lemon-ade.
Everything was new to them, and changes are a shock to the system. Things smelled different, tasted different, looked different, and the whole basis of how their world operated changed overnight. That takes some getting used to.
Some of the things that I think helped us the most during the transition, in addition to prayer and more prayer, were:
Limited outside contact (and I wish we’d limited it even more- they were overwhelmed by the ‘new’)
Quiet time, every day, absolutely insisted upon. They didn’t have to have naps. But one girl went to my bed, one girl went to the couch, and our birth children (who were used to this and could be quiet in the same room with each other) went to their separate beds. They could read, play with paper dolls, color, work with stickers, do origami, string beads, do puzzles, play with baby dolls- whatever could be done quietly while sitting on the couch or bed they could do. But no noise above a whisper. This retreat was marvelously helpful for *everybody*. It made them calmer the rest of the day. The downtime was just vitally important. We moved to a smaller house with less space, and sometime quiet time had to be in the same room. In this case, I put one in an easy chair, turned towards the wall, and one in the couch where she couldn’t see anybody. This isn’t punishment, it’s a *gift.* It’s vitally important *space* in the day- downtime, a retreat from all the stimuli that can get little children’s nerves on edge without them even realizing it.
My older children got to a place where they would ask for quiet time if we got out of the habit. They learned to look forward to it. Of course, now they ask for quiet time for their younger siblings.=)
When they are up, keep them with you. They will learn to play quietly sooner than you think if you are right there alongside them, able to nip bad habits in the bud and replace them with good habits (very CM, too, btw).
In our family, our new 4 y.o. and our home-grown 2 y.o. bonded instantly, and instantly became a dynamic duo devoted to dastardly deeds, spurring one another on toward love, but anything other than GOOD deeds. For their own safety I developed this plan- they had to play near mom, no matter what. They could never leave the room I was in together. They pottied separately, got drinks of water separately, left the room to get toys to play with separately.
I did not alter my schedule much to accommodate this. If I had to leave the living room to prepare lunch in the kitchen, they had to pick up their toys and come with me. They could help me or play together at the counter or table nearby. They could not stay in the room without me. If they wanted new toys, they decided together what they wanted, and then ONE child went to go get that toy.
I cannot stress how much this helped them stop some very bad habits they had developed, because, since I was right there all the time, I could catch things almost before they started and redirect their thinking and actions. I continued to do school with the older girls, and the littles just learned to listen in quietly, play
nearby without too much ruckus, or even participate!
Have fun together. Make sure you make time during this busy and often overwhelming period, to have fun. Play a game together, read aloud together, sing together. one of our new children did not let me touch her unless I was singing to her. As long as I sang, she would sit cozily in my lap, but as soon as I was done- off she’d go. I sang myself hoarse quite often in those days, and it was well worth it.
Do lots of reading aloud together. They are probably going to be behind in the vital skill of visualizing what they hear. Reading aloud and more reading aloud will help them catch up. Get books on tape to listen to together so that you can give your voice a rest.
Eliminate sugar from the diet- in spite of studies to the contrary, in my observation, it made my kids hyper. We have too much sugar in our diets again, but during those first two years, I really did need to keep my children away from the stuff.
Watch them for cues as to how they are adjusting, what’s special to them, what’s painful. Never, ever underestimate how hard this is for them. I do not care if they’ve been rescued from the pits of hell, YOU are not what they are used to, and children are great traditionalists. It’s hard for you, too, but frankly, you’re a grown up and you had a choice. They aren’t, and they didn’t. You also have coping mechanisms and life experiences that help you process what’s happening and put it in perspective. They don’t. Imagine being plucked out from all that is familiar to you and taken to a new home among strangers- possibly people who don’t even speak your language, and who certainly don’t do or say things the way you’re used to. You’re told this is your new family, and perhaps you’re given a new name to answer to. You don’t get the food you’re used to. It would be hard, and that’s an understatement.
Other people told us about ‘the honeymoon period.’ A lot of people who adopt older children experience the first six months as fairly easy (the kids are learning the rules and getting used to the new place). After about six months they relax, let their guard down, have the emotional energy to focus on something else besides survival, and sometimes the change can be pretty hairy.
We never really had that. The things that were easy the first six months continued to be easy (The Cherub actually never had any trouble adjusting, she was happy as a lark from the get-go). The things that were hard continued to be hard. Nothing anybody had to say about the honeymoon period proved true for us, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be for most people. Ours was a unique situation because they never had been in foster care, never had lived anywhere but with their birth parents, and it was a domestic adoption.
That said, it was still very foreign for the girls. Although we ostensibly spoke the same language, their language skills were so delayed that communication was often difficult. I had to learn to translate “Show me where you are hurt” to “where’s the boo-boo?” and I had to lose ‘tell me’ from sentences like, “Tell me what just happened.” “Tell me” was understood by one of our new daughters to mean, “Repeat back what I am about to say,” so she answered ‘tell me what just happened’ with “what just happened.”
There was hostility, and there came a point where I thought to myself, “We have made the biggest mistake of our lives, and things will never be the same again. I have taken in a child who hates me and will always hate me.”
I reminded myself that I had been able to choose every step of the way on this path, and this child who wanted nothing to do with me had had no say in the situation at all, and I settled it within myself that I would simply parent a child who would hate me forever and leave as soon as possible, and it would be hard and discouraging, but I still had to parent her.
It was hard enough as it was, but I also had no friends who really understood what we were going through. I never really spoke about it in detail, because I quickly learned they didn’t want to hear it- it didn’t match their fairy tale. Whatever concerns I expressed were quickly dismissed with a wave of the hand and an unrealistically optimistic explanation or excuse.
In our case, things got better- so much better. I would say it took at least four years before things began to be really better. I know that there are families where that never happens, for whatever reason. Often, the damage done to the children before you get them is just too deep. We were blessed that things got so much better that those four years are a very distant memory.
I’m thrilled we adopted, but I don’t believe adoptions is for everybody, and older adoptions are for even fewer people. It’s not something to go into lightly, and absolutely not every something that should be taken up with a ‘savior’ mentality. That never works.
P.S. We have other posts on adopting older children and some of the difficulties involved- look for the adoption label at the bottom of the post and click through to find them.