Archive for May, 2011

Adoption and the Extended Family

The decision to welcome a child into your home is one of the most joyful and exciting you will ever make, and it can be terribly painful when extended family members don’t share in that joy. For a number of reasons, sometimes grandparents, aunts, uncles, and other relatives have negative ideas and feelings about adoption. If you have relatives like this, check out these six tips.

Start talking about adoption early and often. It can be hard to talk about the adoption decision, especially if you are adopting after infertility or are feeling insecure that the adoption might not go through. However, it’s helpful for family members to have some time to get used to the idea of adoption and to talk it over with you, rather than having it presented to them after the decision has already been made.

Provide opportunities to learn. If your family members are open-minded enough that they are willing to learn about adoption, help them out. Different people learn in different ways, so tailor your education efforts to their style of learning. If they like to read, there are many adoption books to choose from, as well as magazines like Adoptive Families. If they prefer to learn by listening, see if your local adoption agencies or adoption support groups hold events at which extended families are welcome. Introduce them to other adoptive families so they can see for themselves how beautiful adoption is and how “real” the bonds between adopted children and their parents are.

Have a heart-to-heart If you have family members who are especially resistant to the idea of adoption, have a frank discussion about what bothers them about it. Try to stay calm and really listen to their concerns. Some common ones are worries that all adopted children have behavior problems, that you can’t love someone as much if they are not your “blood,” that they are uncomfortable with multi-racial families, that the birth mother might come to claim the child back, etc. Address these concerns as best you can by talking about the facts of adoption, and by explaining how important it is to you.

Get them together early on. The sooner your extended family meets and interacts with your new addition, the more involved they will feel and the easier it will be to bond. Although it is very important to have some time alone together as a new nuclear family, as soon as you and your child are ready, gradually introduce your extended family. Allow them to help you with child care so that you get a break and they get a chance to bond with your child.

Be clear about what you need. Even the most well-intentioned of relatives aren’t mind readers. Since most people have never adopted before, they may not know the best way to support you as you settle into your new family life. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need from them. For example, if they often use insensitive language to talk about adoption, ask them to read an article about positive adoption language, or simply explain (gently) why certain words are offensive to adoptive families. If they are calling too often during the waiting period before placement, let them know that it’s stressing you out. And when your child arrives home with you, let them know how much private time you need on your own and what they can do to help you when that time is over.
Think about how you will talk to your child about especially difficult family members. If you have a family member who persists in using offensive adoption language or simply does not accept the idea of adoption, give some careful thought to how you will handle it. You may want to limit this relative’s contact with your child, and you certainly want to plan how to talk about it. Adopted children are especially sensitive to feelings of rejection.

Do you have other tips that helped you get reluctant family members on board with your adoption? Share them in the comments or email me at evaughan (at) vaughanfirm (dot) com.

Do you have more questions about adoption? Contact The Vaughan Firm to speak with an adoption attorney.

Family Night Out: Kung Fu Panda 2

The sequel to “Kung Fu Panda” comes out in theaters on Thursday, May 26th. As viewers of the first movie might remember, the main character, Po the panda, is adopted, having been raised by the noodle-making goose. From what I have been reading in the press, the sequel deals with adoption themes in more depth, exploring how Po came to be adopted and mentioning that another character was raised in an orphanage. Angelina Jolie, who is the voice of the character Tigress and a three-time adoptive mom, says that her adopted children “absolutely love the movie … I wondered whether they’d ask me questions about it… But because ‘adoption’ and ‘birth mothers’ and ‘orphanage’ and all that in our home these are happy words, they’re used to these discussions and they just felt that much more proud that they were a little more like Po.”

What do you think? Will you take your children to see “Kung Fu Panda 2″? Will you “pre-screen” it yourself first to see if the discussion of adoption is appropriate? If you have seen the movie, please be sure to post your thoughts on it in the comments!

Do you have more questions about adoption? Contact The Vaughan Firm to speak with an adoption attorney.

Do Babies Remember Separation?

Many adoptive parents have heard some version of the following remark, be it from a friend, family member, or a stranger in the grocery store. “You are so lucky to have adopted your baby so young,” people say, “that way she won’t remember her birth mother or being adopted.”

Although it may be true that very young babies don’t “remember” their birth mothers or early experiences in the same way that you and I remember things, child-development experts and experienced adoptive parents know that babies do experience loss, grief, and sometimes even depression during the transition period of adoption. Knowing this in advance gives adoptive parents the confidence of knowing that it’s nothing they’re doing wrong, as well as the tools to deal with it in a way that is healing for parent and child alike.

If you think about it, a newborn baby is a highly sensitive Mom Detector. Having spent nine months in the womb, the baby is intimately familiar with the voice, scent, and rhythms of his birth mother. When the baby emerges from the womb, he can see poorly, but his sense of smell is acute, and he responds best to the scent of his birth mother’s body and breast milk. His hearing is not fully developed, but studies show he responds to his mother’s voice from hearing it in utero. He cannot see well, but sees best at a distance of about 8 to 12 inches — not coincidentally about the distance to his mother’s face when he is in her arms. With all systems primed to detect the birth mother, it’s a wonder that anyone would think a baby wouldn’t notice a change in caregivers. In his well-known article “Helping Infants Cope With Change” (Early Child Development and Care, January 1974), child psychologist Dr. Justin Call notes that babies between one and three months of age are most likely to be highly distressed by a change in environment and caregivers.

We also know that babies are highly attuned to how quickly their needs are met. Studies show that babies whose cries and other cues for help are answered promptly are more securely attached to their caregivers, and show it by fussing less and eating and sleeping better. Conversely, babies whose needs are not met or are met very slowly become fussy, withdrawn, and in severe cases develop attachment disorders, learning problems, and more frequent illness.

If your new baby is showing symptoms of grief and loss, such as fussing inconsolably, poor eating, poor sleep, etc., it doesn’t mean she doesn’t love you, and it doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong! Below are a few tips to help ease this difficult transition time for both of you.

Meet your child’s needs as promptly as you can. Adopted or not, all babies are highly attuned to how quickly their needs are met by their caregivers. When babies learn that their signals for help are answered quickly, they develop trust and security. Far from “spoiling” the child by answering his cries too promptly, parents who rush to meet their babies’ needs are creating a sense of security that actually makes the baby less fussy. Most babies show signs that they need something (a bottle, a diaper change, a warmer outfit, or just a cuddle) before they begin crying, by exhibiting little cues like squirming and making pre-crying sounds. Consider keeping your baby in the same room with you for at least the first few months so you can catch on to these pre-crying cues and meet your baby’s needs as soon as possible.

Try to mimic your baby’s prior surroundings. Since we know that babies are very sensitive to changes in environment, it makes sense to try to make your home as close to your baby’s previous environment as possible. A comfort object such as a crib sheet, blanket, or stuffed animal can be a big help (note that for newborns, items in the crib are considered a no-no because of the risk of suffocation. Use the comfort object outside the crib or choose a safe item that smells like prior surroundings, such as a fitted sheet). Especially if your baby was with her birth mother, an orphanage, or other caregiver for long enough to have a routine, try to copy that routine as closely as possible in your home.

Develop a consistent routine of your own. If your baby did not have a consistent routine before coming home with you (or if you don’t know what his routine was), there is no time like the present to start one. Bedtime rituals are especially important. Try starting at the same time every night and doing the same routine (for example a bedtime story, a favorite song, then bed) consistently night after night. Routines and rituals help make babies and small children feel secure.

Try attachment parenting. Attachment parenting is term coined by Dr. William Sears for a style of parenting that emphasizes togetherness and learning and responding to your baby’s cues quickly. It includes sleeping close to your baby, wearing your baby frequently in a sling or other baby carrier, using nurturing touch (such as having skin-to-skin contact during feedings and cuddle time, and baby massage) and learning your baby’s “language” of cues to her needs. Attachment parenting is an especially wonderful style for adoptive parents, whose children are especially vulnerable to insecurity. Remember: You can’t spoil a baby with too much love.

Don’t take “no” for an answer. Newly-adopted babies often cry inconsolably, flail and strain against being held closely, refuse to eat, and are difficult to soothe. It’s easy for the exhausted new parent to feel that the baby does not want them and to give up and put the baby down. Don’t. Remember that babies have extremely limited ways of telling us when something feels amiss. They sense that something has changed drastically, but they don’t understand what is going on and can’t do anything about it. The worst thing you can do for attachment is to give up. The best you can do is to remember that it is not personal and to persevere. Keep holding that screaming, resisting baby close to your heart. Soothe her, rock her, sing to her. Trade shifts with your partner if possible so that you can have a physical and emotional break. But above all, don’t take “no” for an answer from your baby. With patience and perseverance, he will learn to trust that you will be there to consistently meet his needs, always.

Don’t take it personally. Some adoptive parents who have pined for years for a baby to love feel dismayed when the newborn they’ve dreamed of seems to reject them. The red-faced, screaming newborn with her back arched away from their embrace is not quite what these parents had in mind! However, your baby is not rejecting you, but simply responding with instinctive panic to a big change in what she sees, hears, and smells around her. When you think about babies as highly-attuned Mom Detectors as described above, it makes a lot of sense. This is not because they are rejecting you – babies are nowhere near developed enough to have such a thought. They are simply panicking at the thought that they might not get their needs met. Prove them wrong, by all means, but don’t take it personally.

Seek out support. All new parents need support, and adoptive parents have special challenges that make that support even more important. Join an adoptive-parent support group or make friends with other adoptive parents, be it in your area or online. Knowing that others have been through these difficult, sleep-deprived first weeks can make all the difference.

Do you have more questions about adoption? Contact The Vaughan Firm to speak with an adoption attorney.

Book Review: 20 Things Adoptive Parents Need to Succeed

There are a great many books on the market about how to adopt, and a fair number about parenting adopted children, but precious few about truly understanding the heart and mind of the adopted child. As an adult adoptee, Sherrie Eldridge has such a heart and mind, and she shares it with adoptive parents in her book 20 Things Adoptive Parents Need to Succeed. Like Eldridge’s earlier book, 20 Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew, this book goes straight to the heart of the matter and addresses the strong emotions that both adoptees and their adoptive parents struggle with on a daily basis. These are books to read early, often, and with a box of tissues nearby. They will touch your heart and help you draw closer to your child.

What I most appreciate about Sherrie Eldridge’s books is that she recognizes that the adoptive parent’s needs and the child’s needs are inextricably linked. Unless you are confident and secure and have worked out your own emotional issues, Eldridge states, you can’t be at your best for your child. 20 Things reads like a talk with a good friend: She offers support and encouragement while also giving adoptive parents tough love by reminding them that they must be the adults by getting past their own feelings of loss and insecurity to better heal the emotional wounds that every adopted child carries. Eldridge also has an unfailing sense of what adoptive parents want and need to know. Topics covered include:

· The importance of creating an environment where your child feels safe telling you the truth

· When and how to talk to kids about adoption

· How babies experience separation and loss, and how to help them

· Embracing the “differentness” of adoption

· Getting emotionally healthy so you can help your child get healthy, too

· Dealing with insensitive remarks from others about adoption

· Finding appropriate ways to honor birth parents

· Mixed feelings – both yours and your child’s

· Why perfectionism isn’t perfect…or even good for you or your child.

Eldridge’s chapters are peppered with tips for helping adopted children at every age, interesting statistics, and great suggestions for further reading. At the end of each chapter she includes a set of exercises for families to do together as well as a set of exercises for adoption support groups.

If I had one criticism to make about 20 Things Adoptive Parents Need to Succeed, it would be the emphasis on spirituality and religion, which Eldridge sees as crucial for adopted children. While this is understandable given the importance of faith in Eldridge’s own adoption journey, many families will be uncomfortable with her suggestion that spirituality is indispensable for adopted kids. I applaud Eldridge’s conviction, but I’m a firm believer that families of all different backgrounds and beliefs can make great adoptive families.

That said, like 20 Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew, 20 Things Adoptive Parents Need to Succeed is a must-read for parents in any stage of the adoption process, from those considering adoption to parents of adult adoptees. These books will tell you truths that you may not want to hear, but that your adopted child absolutely needs you to know and understand.

Do you have more questions about adoption? Contact The Vaughan Firm to speak with an adoption attorney.

Happy Mother’s Day from Adoptivity

To all birth mothers who still hold their babies in their hearts,
To all adoptive mothers who prove each day that family is so much more than genetics,
To all foster mothers who open their hearts to a child in need,
A very happy Mother’s Day to you from Adoptivity. May you have joy and know that by your choices you are so important in the life of a child.

Do you have more questions about adoption? Contact The Vaughan Firm to speak with an adoption attorney.

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