Integrating Your Child into the Family
Every child who comes into your family, whether by birth or adoption, changes the group dynamic. When you adopt, an only child may now have a sibling; instead of one gender, both may now be represented in your family. Adopting a child internationally also changes your family's culture.
As indicated earlier, you can start the process as soon as you are matched with a child. Stay in touch as frequently as time zones allow. If possible, contact your child on a regular basis. Even if you just send photos, it will be something for your child to see. While you are waiting at home, start thinking and talking about your child as if he is part of your family already, so that all of you can begin to adjust. Talk with your children and spouse about the new child: “When Jin comes home, we can all play in the snow together” or “Next year there will be an extra stocking to hang on Christmas Eve!”
When you finally have your visa to pick up your child, your travels may be stressful, but they will also become one of the most important periods of your life. Go prepared to collect and preserve as much about your time in the country as you can: take lots of pictures of the countryside where your child awaits you, including the orphanage or foster home and people he may have seen; buy a few souvenirs that he can cherish when he is older; make a special effort to photograph his caregivers and other children. When you return home, you could make a special scrapbook for him with all of these items in it.
Your agency will let you know exactly what to bring when you go to get your child, but the list is certain to include gifts for your child's caretakers and possibly the other children at the home or orphanage, medicine in case she is ill, formula or fortified beverages, food, clothing, and toys.
You and your child may spend some time in a hotel room before leaving for the United States. This can be stressful for both of you, since you will both be in a strange place with strange people. These moments may be difficult, but they will be precious since they will be your first time alone together. By the time you arrive home after endless hours on airplanes, trains, buses, and cars, both you and your child will be tired and strained. Give yourself time to decompress and get used to each other. Your family and community may want to celebrate, but a celebration is not in the best interest of your child. Ask your family and friends to wait until your child is truly ready to be introduced to many new faces and voices. What you need most is time to develop a routine, become familiar with your child's way of communicating his needs, and rest. Your child needs your help in regulating his physical and emotional reactions to all the new stimuli in his world. This takes hours of quiet observation, close physical contact, and attentive responses that reassure him that you understand his needs and will help them be met in a loving and trustworthy way.
If you'd like to understand the way your child feels, put yourself into this scenario: You wake up one morning to find that your house, neighborhood, and family have changed completely. Nobody speaks your language and they offer you food you don't recognize. They smile but you don't understand their gestures and they smell different. You aren't sure if they will hurt you or love you.
Plan to have several weeks, even months, off from work. Most international adoption experts recommend that one parent stay home with the child if possible, because attachment forms through physical connection and close emotional attunement. However, if that's not possible, be sure that you've lined up a consistent caregiver who will support your role and be with you for at least two years.
Depending on your child's circumstances, you must rearrange your life to accommodate the new person in the family. Consider whether or not to enroll your child in school (if he is of school age) right away or to delay enrollment for several months or even a year after the adoption. You should make that decision based on your child's command of English, the attitude of school personnel, and his need for socialization. Often, a gradual introduction to his new life is the best plan. Many children adopted when older do much better in their overall adjustment if they are given time to learn basic language skills before entering the socially demanding environment of school.
The answers to questions about bonding and dealing with the impact of abuse or neglect are much more complicated. You must be sure that you have taken specialized training and that you are psychologically prepared to confront the very real challenges you will face. It won't be parenting as usual! See Chapters 14 and 16 for tips and more information.