Has your friend just adopted a child? Then this post is for you because right now you have the chance to give them a gift of a lifetime and I’m not talking about a matching Mommy & Me t-shirt set.
Bringing home an adopted child is crazy stressful. There is just so much to deal with. Everyone has to learn everything about each other and it takes a long time and Job-like amounts of patience. Everything about this child is new and the relationship is new and both parties are going into it blind. This is true whether you are bringing home a baby, a toddler, a preschooler, an older child, or siblings. Let me tell you what your friend won't tell you because she's too nice. SHE NEEDS HELP!
When most women have a baby, their friends and family are falling all over themselves to help because they love her, her baby, and the potential that the new family represents. I hope that you will still do that because while most adopted kiddos come home "big", they are newborns when it comes to their new life here.
Another reason that people help is because they remember what it was like for them to have a new baby, but that’s the rub, most people don’t know how to help a new adoptive family. I hope you want to help, though, because this new family needs you.
These are some things that you can do for your friend depending on who you are and your relationship with her.
- Take her meals for as long as humanly possible. Take her one for now and one for the freezer. Do this for as long as humanly possible. Do this for longer than you think it's necessary. Maybe you can be the one who organizes her local family and friends and church to bring her meals. Take her meals because she’s jet-lagged, because she’s shocked by this new adventure, because there is nothing that she needs to be doing that it was more important than bonding with this new child, no matter how old they are. Even if she’s been home for weeks or months, it’s not too late! Call her up and surprise her with the gift of a meal she doesn’t have to cook. Do they love pizza? Give them a gift certificate to their favorite pizza shop. Do they like Chinese carryout? Have them place an order and you can go pick it up and pay for it. A restaurant will be over-stimulating for their new child, but lots of restaurants do curb-side pick up, when you’re picking up your meal just call them and tell them you’d love to bring them something. If your friend has adopted internationally and there are restaurants that serve the child’s home food that will be a huge comfort to them. Arrange with the parents that you’ll pick up their dinner from that restaurant once a week. That’s a double-whammy blessing for both the parents and the child who is getting a taste of home. Be creative and be persistent.
- Help with the kids already home. Don't underestimate the amount of adapting that these kiddos will have to do, too. Pamper them a little bit. Invite them to your house to play, take them out for a pizza, buy them a dvd and a couple bags of popcorn for an at-home movie night. Take them swimming, take little ones to the park, take the big ones to get their toenails painted or to a ballgame. Ask them how they’re doing and listen to them; validate their emotions whether easy or hard to hear.
- Respect whatever boundaries are set. I know they are cute, I know that you've been waiting to hug and squeeze them, I know that you love them. But hold back when you're asked to even/especially if the kids are trying to get your attention. These kids have to re-learn what it is to be in a family and have parents. They've been in an orphanage with different caregivers for a long time, or been passed between foster homes until they assume any adult is sufficient. They expect that each new adult they meet will be the one to take care of them. They have to learn that the new parents are IT. They have the rest of their lives here, but they need these first months to learn to trust their parents. Don't push for them to leave the kids with a sitter, or take them to Sunday School, or go to Zany Fun Amusement Park with Overwhelming Sights and Crowds. Let their parents introduce their children to the world slowly, as they see fit. Don’t contradict them in front of their kids. Ask, ask, ask.
- Be a safe person to talk to. Adoption is tough, tough stuff. If you've been following their journey you know that already. But, contrary to what it seems like, the hard work is not over. It's really just beginning. Maybe (everyone hopes) that they have a great transition and easy attachment, but even so, emotionally this is a difficult road to walk. Be someone who they can talk to and say anything to without judgment, without telling them what to do, without anything more than a hug and a promise to pray for them. Understand that they are most likely tired, scared, anxious, and overwhelmed. Understand that their child comes from a “hard place” and has special needs that you may not be able to see. Trust what the parent is telling you, hug them, cry with them, drink with them…coffee, that is!
- Play taxi. Most likely they're going to try and keep their new little ones home for awhile as they adjust, but if they have big kids who have places to go then maybe you can take them. Do they need four things from the Big Box Store? Offer to pick those things up for them. Your friend will be tired. Can you help? Are your kids going to the same meeting that hers need to attend? Call and ask if you can pick up her kids at the same time. Are you running to the store for a few things? Call and ask if she needs anything. If she says no, buy her a treat and just drop it off. Don't stay long, just drop it off, smile and leave.
- Think dirty. Are you really good friends? Are you willing to become really good friends? Clean for her. If you're family and you have a key, maybe you could just surprise her sometime. If the family goes out somewhere maybe you can sneak over and clean and she can come home to a clean house. If you're visiting with her, maybe you can wash some dishes for her as you talk. If you're there to play with the kids already in the family, grab a vacuum cleaner and sweep a bedroom. Ignore her if she tells you that you don't have to do that. If you don't do it then she will have to and, really, she's got enough going on now. Scrub a toilet with a smile, sit down with her and fold some laundry, dust her living room, have her go soak in the tub while you soak her kitchen floor and mop it up.
- Babysit for free. There will be times that she has to go out and can't take all the kids with her. Tell her that you'd LOVE to stay and watch all the rest of the kids for her and that you can do that while respecting the boundaries that she's set. Tell her that it doesn't matter if it's short notice or an awkward time. Tell her that you're available and then be available. If your friend is adopting from foster care and the adoption is not yet finalized, offer to become an approved respite care/babysitter (she is not allowed to just leave them with whomever she chooses). This requires obtaining several background checks and a doctor's approval. Are you willing to do that so your friend does not have to find an approved sitter who might be a stranger to her new child?
- Promote Zen. She is going to be crazy busy. Moments to herself will be fleeting and far between. Do what you can to help her achieve her zen. Buy her a Starbucks gift card, give her a candle and a fun magazine to read. Send her flowers. Mail her a card. Do you know a favorite of hers? Make it happen. Is her child's class having a party? Tell her that you’ll bake the cookies for her contribution, then bake a few extra and leave her a plate. Is there a new CD out that she’d like? Buy it off iTunes and stick it in the mail for her. She’s going to need to be able to laugh to keep her Zen up. Did you know that you can give Netflix subscriptions? Get that girl some comedy that she can stream at a moment’s notice.
- Don't Pressure Her. Let the parents set the rules for their family. Let them emerge slowly back into their regular life. Don't assume that you know best for any of them. Don't hassle them if they forget your birthday or if you invite them to a party and they decline to attend. Don't ask them to join a committee or to be responsible for anything beyond their children. Don't force them to put on a happy face about situations, or ask them questions about their children's history. Let them share what they want, when they want. This might not be the year for her to host Thanksgiving dinner for 73 people even if she’s done it every year since she was 13. Don’t even ask her if she wants to DO something because then she’s got to have the pressure of saying no and disappointing you. You volunteer to do it and let her speak up if she wants to participate.
- Keep It Up. Really, they have a lot of things that they're worrying about and praying about as they live their life from here on out. Ask them how you can pray for them, write it down, and then do it. Listen. Help. Pray. Encourage. Rinse. Repeat. Trust me, they’re gonna love you!
Jamey has been married for nearly 10 years and she and her husband have three preschoolers (two sons and our daughter who was adopted in 2010) all born within 25 months of each other. She drink a lot of coffee while blogging honestly about the joys and challenges of navigating this life they've been given at Zehlahlum Family. You can also say "Hey!" to her on facebook and twitter.