You’ve endured the extensive home study and been approved for adoption. You’ve been matched with an eligible child in a foreign country and, once the paperwork is complete, you’ll be able to bring your new little darling home.
While any adoption (domestic or otherwise) requires some adjustments for all parties concerned, international adoptions can present some unique challenges that many new parents just aren’t prepared for.
Although the majority of couples looking to adopt seek infants under a year old, there are a large number of children adopted each year who have progressed beyond that age. And as you know, the older the child, the more language skills they’ve developed.
Even adopting a child as young as two can present some language barrier problems as they have developed some basic communication skills that you may or may not understand. To alleviate the frustration, try to learn some basic phrases in your child’s native language. Things like “drink”, “eat”, “sleep” and the like will help you understand when your child is trying to communicate basic needs. In addition, be ready with picture cards and/or learn some suitable phrases such as “show me” to encourage your child to help you understand what they’re saying.
You need to remember that the life your child has known up until now was likely very different from the life you’re introducing. In addition to foods and accomodations, your child may also have some cultural expectations or practices that you’ll want to embrace and understand.
Holidays may have been celebrated differently or were different holidays altogether. Games, crafts and toys were also likely different to some extent as well as even basic day-to-day chores. One of your jobs as a new parent is to help your child learn new customs and practices without feeling as if he or she has to give up their own heritage.
To do this, you’ll want to try and incorporate some of the child’s cultural icons into your family unit. For example, try cooking a traditional dish from your child’s home country once a week. While you’ll certainly want to teach your child English, it’s not such a bad idea to learn their first language too. There are several websites and books to help you raise a bilingual child.
Research toys and games that are played in your child’s home country and set aside some time for traditional crafts or playtime where your child might feel more “in his or her element”.
If your child lived at an orphanage for an extended period of time, he or she may have some developmental problems at first. This doesn’t mean that they won’t catch up, but understand that children at orphanages don’t normally receive the interaction and attention required to encourage typical development. They may still suck their thumb, they may not speak clearly or perhaps they are simply unsure what to do with the attention you’re now providing.
That’s okay and moving past this point is just going to take time and attention.
Your child may have been neglected, he or she may have suffered some abuse and, depending upon the home country, he or she may have experienced or witnessed events that children probably shouldn’t see.
As a result, your child may be quite wary of adults. Depending upon the child’s age, this lack of trust may not be overcome right away. The most important thing to remember is that there should be no expectations at this point. You and your child are getting to know each other so if he doesn’t shower you with love immediately, don’t take it personally and be prepared to give him some space. Allow him to adjust slowly. Show him or her the stability they’ve been missing. Let them learn the routine of the household and see that things really are okay, day in and day out.
Your goal is to make your child feel as if he or she is part of the family. That means not overdoing it by making your child feel “different” than everyone else but at the same time, let them feel and particpate in the closeness that your family shares at their own pace.
Questions, Stares And Other Inappropriate Behavior
Even though we like to think of ourselves as an evolved nation, the sad fact is some people just don’t know how to be polite. And because it’s quite likely that your internationally adopted child will exhibit some physical features that set him apart from you and the rest of your family, you may find that some of your friends and even strangers comment on the differences, also a common occurrence in interracial domestic adoptions.
This is something that you and your child are going to have to deal with together so you’ll need to be prepared when these events occur. Remember, you want your child to feel that he or she is part of your family, not an adopted child who’s just lucky to have a good family now. Regardless of where they came from or who their birth parents are, your child has the right to take pride in his or her culture and heritage and the best way to encourage that pride is to show some yourself. Don’t tolerate questions or comments that you think are inappropriate, no matter how “innocent” they might be – even if it’s from family and friends. Be proud of your new child and he or she will learn to be proud too.
You may also enjoy this book which focuses on international adoptions .