After the Adoption
How to parent your adopted child
November is National Adoption Month.
The painstaking process of adoption demands so much time and effort, it’s not unusual for adoptive moms and dads to put their practical parenting concerns on the back burner. This fact can lead to anxiety in that crucial post-adoption period, after the child comes home and families start to gel.
Dr. Sue Cornbluth, a psychology professor at Temple University and the national foster care/adoption expert for Examiner.com, urges adoptive parents to begin the bonding process even before the legal process is complete. “Parents need to learn as much as they can about the child’s background before he comes to live with them,” she says. “You have to prepare yourself mentally and physically for what you’re getting into.” Delve into the child’s medical, social and genetic background; to properly parent him in the future, you must know if he’s been ill, abused or neglected in the past.
Bonding with an adopted child
Once you bring your child home, let her acclimate gradually. "In the beginning, make the bonding about getting to know the child and introducing her into your family, into a routine, and making sure she knows she is part of the familiy," Dr. Cornbluth says. "Whatever your family traditions are, introduce those slowly to your child."
Dr. Cornbluth emphasizes that bonding and earning a child’s trust occurs over time and that adoptive parents often experience immediate emotional issues such as postpartum depression, just like biological parents of newborns.
For families with an adopted child from a different culture, the transition can be even more overwhelming. To create a welcoming environment, parents should honor their child’s culture while introducing their own.
“Prepare yourself by learning about the culture your child comes from ahead of time,” says Tara Gutterman, founder of the Philadelphia-based agency Adoption ARC. “Cook food from their culture, learn the language and observe their customs.” She also recommends that parents set up play dates with another boy or girl adopted from the same culture.Cross-cultural adoption
Adopted children and trauma
Another obstacle some adopted children experience is coping with past trauma, such as abandonment or loss. Danger signs include excessive alone time, early onset behavioral issues, problems at school and complaints of stomachaches or headaches.
“With trauma, the best kind of treatment a child can get is family treatment — don’t send the child on her own,” Dr. Cornbluth says. Therapy can be found through your insurance company or state agencies. Not every therapist works with every type of issue adopted kids face, so do your homework.
Whether it’s sooner or later, adopted children are likely to have questions about their past and their birth parents. Gutterman believes it’s important to talk about the adoption early and often.
“Kids aren’t going to understand adoption when they’re 1 or 2, but if you’re using age-appropriate language, they’ll grasp the [concept] and know it’s not something the family has been trying to hide,” she explains. “Remind them that their birth parents cared for them and made an adoption plan so they could be even more cared for and safe.” Gutterman suggests creative ways to tell an adopted child his story, whether it’s by reading adoption-themed storybooks or making your own, adding to the narrative as the child grows. Social workers and counselors can help parents decide how to share the information.
Despite the ups and downs adoption brings, Gutterman says parents should feel entitled to parent their child. “Although you didn’t biologically produce that child, you are his parent,” she asserts. “You don’t have to feel like you need to be the perfect parent because you adopted; all you need to do is the best you can. Enjoy the child, because he is yours. He just came to you in a different way.”
Cheyenne N. Shaffer is a journalism student at Temple University and a MetroKids intern.