Mark and I are prepping to lead a series of discussions at the Together for Adoption Conference this weekend in Arizona. We will be leading four sessions there. The first two will be about transitioning children from living in a group setting to living in a family session. These will probably be most appealing to prospective or waiting adoptive parents, orphanage or group home directors, or parents with kids newly home – but I encourage all adoptive parents to attend because we will could definitely glean from each other’s wisdom in the discussion. The second two sessions will be on fostering attachment and establishing discipline techniques that fit with the with the unique needs of children adopted from orphanages or group homes. This will be relevant to prospective and current adoptive parents. You can see the full schedule for Together for Adoption here.
It’s been interesting to prepare for a talk about transitions, because naturally it is causing us to reflect quite a bit on our transition with Kembe. As much as we are trying to objectively pull from our knowledge of psychology and child development, our personal experience is probably informing us as much as anything. And, in truth, our failures are informing us as much as our successes.
I feel like we came into adoption well-prepared. We read all of the books, went to the seminars, and read all the requisite blogs. Still, we found the transition to be very difficult, and I know it was very difficult for Kembe, too. Adopting an older child is hard. In can be extremely difficult for a child, and still I believe the long-term benefits of love, permanency, and family outweigh the difficulties of transition. Still, I think that adoptive parents hold a sacred responsibility to acknowledge and attempt to minimize the traumas that can be associating with uprooting a child from all they know . . . even when all they know is a life of abandonment in a third-world orphanage with sub-standard care.
I think one of the most important ideas I want to convey in the sessions on transition is the idea that we, as adoptive parents, have to adapt our lives to the children we adopt. This is in direct conflict with most of the conventional advice on parenting, which advises new parents to try to train their baby to adapt to the parent’s lifestyle. While this may be effective with children adopted at birth (and it’s certainly the approach we took with Jafta, who was a baby at adoption), trying to force an older adopted child into your lifestyle and pace can be cruel and traumatic. I think there is not enough attention paid to the role of transition in adoption and attachment, and the sacrifices that parents need to make to initially provide an environment that is more familiar to the one from which the child came. I think this encompasses food, language, clothing, furnishings, and even daily routines.
This will be the focus of our first two sessions (I’ll try to sum it up here afterwards, and I’ll try to talk more about the two sessions on attachment and discipline later this week). For those of you who have transitioned adoptive children home from an orphanage or group home setting, I would love to hear more from you as we try to prepare other parents. What do you wish you had known prior to transition? Were there things you did that helped mitigate the trauma of so much change at once? Are there things you wish you had done differently? Were you surprised by how hard the transition was for your child? For you? And how long do you think it took before all of you felt back to “baseline”?