Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Adjustment Period

Some in the adoption community know what I'm talking about and some don't.  Mostly, the new to adoption folks don't know.  However, it is something very real and something that needs to be dealt with.  I have been in the adoption community for over 12 years now.  I can safely and confidently say I've learned quite a bit along the way.  Don't think I'm bragging.  I'm not.  As most of what I've learned has been through trial and error.  I am going to be very honest in this post.  May rub some the wrong way but I still feel things need to be said.  So, here goes nothing.

Way back in the day, there really weren't any blogs when we started adopting.  You went to informational meetings and heard people who had adopted talk.  But, something was missing in those conversations.  Despite them living through it, they never talked about it.  The adjustment period.  No one.  Everything was all cake and roses.  And, let me tell you, that is just NOT TRUE!  It is not normal to have all cake & roses.  How can you?  It is a major, major shift in family life.  And I don't care if it's your first child or your last.  It is the same either way.  It is a huge undertaking.  Especially, if you are adopting older kids.  I think I have a say in this as we have done nothing but adopt older children.  In addition, this go around we will be adopting our oldest child ever.  He's 11 yo.

Back to the adjustment period.  When you go over to adopt children, some orphanages will prepare the children for adoption and some will not.  I've had it go both ways.  Let me tell you, you DO want your orphanage to prepare the kids.  Irina was the worst.  I don't say that lightly.  When did she know she was being adopted or when she was leaving her life forever?  When we walked out with her.  They never, ever told her what was happening.  Now, think about that for a moment, will you.  People, strangers who don't speak your language, come in and just take you away...forever.  It is a bit traumatic for them to understand.  We have not one single picture from that adoption trip of her smiling.  She laughs about it now at 18yo but trust me, none of us were laughing at that very mad, unruly, upset, scared 6yo little girl that wanted nothing whatsoever to do with us.  If you can convince your orphanage to prepare your child for adoption, I suggest you do so.  It is hard enough as it is. But, for them to be totally blind sided, it is hard.  And despite you having a first trip, the younger ones don't always remember you that much.  Even Nik & Alex didn't remember us quite so much.  I think after awhile they did.

Let's put things in perspective from the kids' point of view.  No matter how "great"  you think their new home is, it is not their home in their minds.  In their minds, you have uprooted them from the only 'home' they've ever known.  Despite it being an orphanage, it was a home.  Their friends in their groups were like their brother & sisters.  In fact, some of my kids called their friends brother/ sister.  Scared us at first for sure.  Many of these children have a very tight bond.  You, in their minds, are responsible for breaking that bond they had.  This in turn forms a little resentment in them towards you.  This is normal.  I assure you, it's normal.  All of it.  You must, must give them time to grieve. 

Grieve what, you ask?  The children that are adopted from orphanages have suffered a great loss.  They must grieve that loss.  They have lost all their friends, 'family', foods they love & were used to, smells, routines, clothing, & everything else that was familiar & comforting to them.  No matter how we feel about it, to them, it was their life & they have just lost it.  Does not matter how good the life or the family is that they are about to enter into.  What matters is what they left behind and you as an adoptive parent need to be aware of that & work with it, not against it.  Do not fight it.  Let  it happen.  The grief needs to happen.  They can not move forward w/ family life till grief takes place. 

Grieving comes in all shapes and forms.  Trust me on that one.  I've experienced it all at this house.  Irina was not happy w/ her life here in the beginning.  One day, she climbed in Warren's lap & literally sobbed, not cried, sobbed for 2 and a half hours straight.  From that point forward, she was okay.  We've had very angry grievers.  Those, are the worst btw.  For Yana, we made a critical mistake.  Haven't made it since, let  me tell you.  We allowed her to keep mementos from her orphanage.  B-I-G fat no-no!!!!  See, she would scream, rant rave and then go back to her room and take out the pictures from Russia.  Her former life & religious icons she brought back were comfort to her.  This needed to end.  Let me explain before I get the nastygrams sent to me.  See, she needed to let go of that life behind in Russia.  So, we took all the pictures out of her possession, all the religious icons (she was Russian Orthodox-- I grew up w/ this faith so know a bit about it), & any other memento she had.  Sure enough, that did the trick.  Why?  Because when she needed that comfort and to grieve, she now had to go to mom & dad versus those pictures.  It was now us she was talking to.  Made a big difference.  She got the items back but not for a few more months.  However, sorry we ever gave her the items back b/c she cut them up.  The pictures, she cut out the people.  These are pics that we do not have replacements for & could not get copies of.  Alyona was another griever that cried.  Did not take her long either.

This is another point to make as well.  Each child will grieve in their own time frame.  It is NOT the same for every child.  There is no magic #.  Some of ours grieved in the same week even if it was something simple.  Some grieved weeks out after being home.  Once they have that grieving period though, you can focus more on healing from there and adjusting better to American life.  Much different than orphanage life for sure.

When first home, there are some simple things we do to help w/ their adjustment period.  We have learned many of these along the way.  Thought I'd share.  When they first come home, they are typically overstimulated.  We do not tend to take them anywhere the first month home.  Not to Walmart, not to Target, not to parties, not to events, etc.  Trust me, they have a lifetime of that to experience that stuff.  And they will.  Give them a chance to settle down first.  They first and foremost have to know where home is & that they are there to stay.  They can not do this if constantly being shuffled around from here to there.  Just won't happen.  Keep them home.  This means school too.  Now, some kids adjust very quickly.  We had planned to keep Alyona home.  But, due to some of the techniques we have in place, she adjusted record fast time.  A week!  Yep, that's about how long it took her.  So, we let her go to school b/c she knew we were mom & dad, this was her home & she wasn't going anywhere.  Some kids will adjust quickly.  Others need that extra time. 

Keep stimulation down to a minimum while adjusting.  No outings if at all possible.  Also, they do not need a room that looks like a Toys R Us toy store.  Seriously.  They aren't used to much & when you give them too much, they have no idea what to do with it all.  Overstimulation is just not good for these kids. 

Get a routine in place immediately upon return home. My kids have chores the first day home.  They do.  It helps we've found.  Why?  It is something familiar to them.  You need to establish a basic routine.  They are used to this at the orphanage.  it doesn't have to be as rigid as the orphanage routine but something that they at least expect to know what is coming next.  It gives them that feeling of consistency.  And I mean simple chores folks.  Nothing harsh or crazy.  Shoot, some of mine were upset b/c I wouldn't let them mop the floors. 

Learn the cuss words first if you are adopting older kids.  Umm, don't even asked how we learned this tidbit of knowledge.  Let's just say American cartoons like Hey Arnold are NOT as innocent as they seem!  Max & Irina were cussing up a storm in Russian at the ripe old age of 4 & 6yo.  So, learn those first & nip it in the bud right away.

Speaking of language, I'll say something that I know I'll get comments on.  If you do not plan on being fluent in your home in both languages, then drop their native language altogether.  Trust me, the older ones just want to fit in anyhow.  For us, we speak to them in the native language for the first month along w/ English.  At the month mark, we completely drop the native language & do not answer them in it.  We have them answer us in English and teach them how.  This has been highly effective for them. All of them.  In addition, last time we did sign and they learned English at lightening speed. This next time, we will also do sign.  They must learn it anyways.  I know for a fact if you don't use a language, you lose it.  My fluency in German is gone. 

Bonding time.  Do it.  For younger kids, we cuddle, read together, I'm in the bathroom at bath time washing them.  3 & 4yo we bathe them.  Orphanage, they are used to doing this alone.  However, water is a great bonding tool.  Play with the letters, engage them.  Let them have bubble baths and play.  Let them show you the bubbles.  Remember, they've missed out on these simple pleasures as toddlers.  This gives them the chance to get some of that back.  Bonding is all about trust.  Older kids, we walk the dogs together, play board games, & yes, even cuddle.  They are never too old to cuddle on the sofa & watch a movie together.  You need to establish that closeness.  In summer, swimming together is a great bonding tool.  Fun pool games & trust just being in the water. 

Keep things simple.  The adjustment period will happen in its own time.  It will.  The first month home is typically very rough for everyone involved.  You are jet lagged, you're beyond exhausted, the kids are sometimes tantruming, kids at home are adjusting to new sibs, everything has changed.  PI (post institutionalized) children have many, many issues to work out.  The older, typically the more issues they may have.  It takes time folks.  There will be rough days that you feel like giving up.  That is completely normal.  Let people know.  No reason to hide it at all.  I'm here to say these things happen.  Adjustments happen.  However, if you have others you can rely on, it helps.  Also, if you know what to expect, it helps.  Talk to someone who has done this before.  Ask questions. 

I'll be honest.  Our first two children we had no idea what in the world was going on.  Why?  Because we were fed cake & roses!  No one told us what they'd be doing.  No one told us of possible night terrors or remnants of orphanage life & how it would effect the kids.  Now, compare that with our last 2 kids home who adjusted remarkably fast.  Why?  Because we knew what to expect, we had our things in order, we'd been there before, and we were okay with the process of adjustment.  We too know this go around there will most likely be issues.  And, that is okay.  We will deal with whatever comes our way and move forward.  I'm not saying this is easy folks.  Far from it.  I am saying this b/c I think everyone out there should understand the adjustment periods.  As of late, I've seen many blogs out there returning from various countries in EE and having many issues.  It appears like some may have been given cake & roses like us instead of the truth of adjustment periods and how to get through them and how to make them successful for the children.  I was pretty honest in this post and do hope I didn't offend.  This is an area that everyone has an opinion on and this is just my opinion based on my kids and my experiences.  That and listening to hundreds of adjustment stories over the years.  BTW, after a few months you'll be saying how great it all is.  Well, until your new child gets into some sibling squabble over some stupid toy.  LOL.  That my friends is a welcome sign though.  Why?  It is normal childhood behaviors.  Good luck on all the adjustment periods.  And remember, these are my opinions.  Yours may be completely different.  Would love to hear what others do to help with adjustments and bonding. 

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