Family and friends of adoptive families often have the desire to show immediate support to the family.
Though motives are often pure, some of these good intentions can actually serve to hurt attachment. It is important for these loved ones to understand that attachment is something that develops over time and requires parents to be very intentional. Having this basic understanding can help others realize that sometimes the most loving thing that they can do is give the adoptive family space.
To assist in providing education on what is commonly viewed as appropriate and inappropriate interaction with newly adopted families, I have created a top 5 list of “do’s and don’ts” for family and friends:
TOP 5 DO’S:
1) Assist with household and daily tasks. By offering to cook, clean, run errands, shop, do laundry, yard work, or by bringing meals, you can help the family tremendously, thus allowing them to focus on caring for their newly adopted child.
2) Encourage and ask questions. Give space to the new family while still expressing your care through cards, emails, phone calls, care packages, etc. Ask what their needs are and how you can help. Ask about established boundaries. By asking questions up front, this takes pressure off of the family and they are less likely to feel as if they are pushing you away.
3) Redirect the child to the parents. This can be as simple as saying, “go give your mom a hug” or “I bet your daddy would like that, go show him” or “let’s ask mom if that is okay.” The child needs to see you getting approval from the parents. It is the parent’s job to train and other’s to reinforce. Also, look to the parents for guidance on interacting with the child.
4) Care for the biological or previously adopted children. The other children in the home are transitioning too and need encouragement and support. Continue to make them feel important as they are often overshadowed in adoption.
5) Read and educate yourself about adoption! Educate yourself on the differences in attachment parenting and then communicate what you have learned to others. Become an advocate for the family.
TOP 5 DON’TS:
1) Don’t meet needs or wants of the child. Initially, it is probably best that you don’t try to meet needs or provide care for the child at all (feeding, diapering, etc). This is how a child understands who their caretaker is and who they belong to. To begin with, the adoptive parents need to be the ONLY ones seen as the authority figure, provider, encourager, comforter, etc.
2) Don’t shower the child with gifts. If you want to give gifts, ask what would be appropriate and when it would be appropriate. Also you may need to let the parents give the gift and get credit for it.
3) Don’t lavish attention/affection on the new child. Don’t try to hold, hug, kiss or make eye contact with the new child, especially if he/she keeps reaching for you. Don’t encourage the child to come to you and leave their parent’s side. Try not to bombard the child with attention as many of these children are easily overwhelmed.
4) Don’t compare to biological children. Attachment parenting is, in many ways, opposite of traditional parenting. Trust and respect what these parents are trying to do.
5) Don’t make assumptions about the child’s feelings. Don’t assume the child is “relieved,” “grateful,” “excited,” or “appreciative” they’ve been adopted. Adoption is often a life-altering difficult transition for these children.
Most importantly, I urge you to PRAY! Pray for the family’s transition, pray for their attachment with the child, and pray for them to feel supported and encouraged even when they are isolating themselves from others for their child’s sake. These parents are trying to teach their children trust, safety, love, and attachment so we don’t need to do anything to hinder their progress!
Whitney White, International Education Counselor
To learn more about Lifeline’s Crossings Ministry (adoption education and training for families) CLICK HERE.