I felt compelled to write a little bit about what I have learned about adopted children and their grieving, coping and learning what life is like in a brand new place. In the last week and a half of being home we have all learned and grown so much each day but we have a long way to go and whole lot more to learn. I have spoken with so many other families who have adopted and been there done that. From others in our own agency who have adopted children from the exact place where our son was from, to families who have adopted from other countries as well as those fostering or have adopted domestically, and there is one BIG common denominator....every single child has grieved and coped with the new life in ways that are completely normal and expected. I guess I may be writing this more for people who don't have their children home yet and for those who may be brand new to the adoption world and may read stories from others about their adopted children and think negative or concerning thoughts when in actuality is it 100% normal. The adoption world is small in comparison to the number of children who need a family and it is my goal in life to help make it bigger and more positive. I am hoping to do this partially by telling our story as we go, the good and the bad just like we experience in parenting our biological child.
I know in the last 2 years of our adoption journey, we encountered a lot of mixed emotions from people around us and it seems like much of the concerns and negativity comes from a few stories they may have heard or the worst case scenarios they may have heard on the news. RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder) seems to be everyone's biggest concern and it is very valid but also is not the diagnosis for every adopted child nor should it be an immediate thought of diagnosing a child who is newly home. We have taken several adoption education courses and some of the things that have really stood out to me in many of them was the fact that children who don't attach to their new families right away is a normal sign as is having grieving methods of shutting down, withdrawing, retreating, anger, rages, etc. In actuality some concerns are for the kids that do attach to their new families quickly because it MAY (not always) be a sign of an attachment problem. If you think about it this makes total sense, why would any child (especially those who are older and have been moved around and never known a true family) attach to a family they just met, or even have been with for weeks or months? Why would they know this was their last stop and forever family and not just assume it is just one more stop along the way?
In many cases, children in Ethiopia at least, are taken to an orphanage near their village due to a death of a parent or both parents or an inability for the parent to care for the child amongst many other reasons. That child may stay in that orphanage until they are adopted or they may be moved to another orphanage that may be more capable of handling more children, age ranges, special needs, etc. Then often times if the child is associated with an adoption agency and not just in the city run orphanage, they will be moved to a "transition home" once they are matched with a family. This home may have less kids and more caregivers to help the child become more familiar with a kind of a "home" before they come to their forever family's home. So just imagine being a small child and moving from your village to an orphanage to another home to a transition home and finally to a home in another country with "mommy and daddy". Although we might like to think this child will get it, how can they? I would love to think our son knows he is here for good and we tell him and use lots of ownership talk with him...your brother, your mommy, your bed, your school, your clothes, your seat, our family, etc BUT I can imagine he may not be able to fully comprehend this yet until he actually lives it longer, for now I'm sure his little head must wonder where his next stop will be.
I one of our adoption education courses I read this and thought it really painted a good picture of children who have been institutionalized:
In the orphanage setting independence, self-reliance and
self-sufficiency are valued and reinforced. After all, there are not enough
adults available to attend to everyone's needs to tie shoes, button shirts or
kiss boo-boos. Children are praised and pride themselves on their abilities to
attend to many of their own needs. Not showing emotions may be expected.
Have patience with your child and appreciate that it may
take time for them to consider you as a resource for comfort, soothing,
assistance and nurturance. Don't be so quick to identify it as an "attachment
disorder," consider the origin. Some may require an invitation to seek you out
when distressed. Additionally, for some, the intimacy of a family or demands of
a relationship can be overwhelming. Allow space and distance if your child is
uncomfortable but never stop extending the invitation. (BG Center Online School: Adopting Older Children Internationally)
I mention grieving earlier and this is something all children will go through whether they are babies or older children and you may not know it or recognize it but it is there. From grieving the loss of their country, culture, friends, caregivers, language, people of the same colored skin, same textured hair, to grieving the loss of the familiar smells, tastes of food, water, juices, sounds, etc. This is very normal and some children handle it differently, some children are excited to see pictures and eat foods from their country when they come home and some can't tolerate it but both responses are 100% normal as well. Just like any child, every child is going to be different so if you hear about a family who adopted a child who attached right away, never withdrew, fit right in with their new family and was just great and then you hear another family that adopted a child who wasn't connected, had fits of rage and tantrums, refused to eat food the family made and things seem to be not so great, just know both scenarios may be normal and don;t judge or look to deep into what that means. Think about your own children or your friend's children, do they act the same? Do they get mad at the same things? Throw the same kinds of tantrums? Adopted children are no different, they have their own personalities and come from their own cultures and the child that seems so abnormal to you may be completely normal in his/her culture. When you travel outside the US, especially to a country like Ethiopia, you see the culture and realize a lot of things they do would be considered wrong, rude or concerning in our country but imagine they come here and see how we act, I'm sure much of what we do would be considered wrong, rude and concerning to them as well.
So for an update on our front. We are doing great, good and bad days but learning and growth with each. Our child has only been home 11 full days so I know he is still grieving and will for a little while but I would say overall when I look at the big picture, he is doing wonderful! He is now communicating with us more in English and although it is baby steps, they are huge steps as he maybe knew 5 words (if that) in English on July 1st and now knows how to say he's hungry, tell us what he wants to eat and drink, go to the bathroom, go swimming, play outside, do school, color, watch a movie or tv and tell us certain shows he wants, hot and cold, big and small, go to bed, take a shower, brush teeth, and I'm sure I'm missing some more. He has also went from being disgusted at cheese, milk, lunch meat and cereal to asking for each by name and having seconds and thirds. He loves taking a shower and brushing his teeth, wearing a new outfit each day and loves tennis shoes. He loves Jalen and gets so excited to go pick him up and out of almost all the words I can write, he recognizes Jalen's name on paper. Of course they have sibling issues like any other, not wanting to share or not agreeing on the same movie but overall they are buddies :) He has also became very ok with our dogs and pets them and asked to hold Laila's leash today while I got the battery in the little kid jeep for him to drive, I heard his sweet Ethiopian accented voice saying "Laila, come here" when she started to walk off. I will leave you with a few pictures from the past couple days here: