To Travel or Not to Travel with Children
For adoptive parents who have biological or previously adopted children already in their home, when the time comes to bring their newly adopted child home, they will be faced with the decision of whether or not to travel with their children. This is a question that I frequently receive from parents, and my response is never a simple “yes” or “no.” Though I feel that this is a decision that is best made at the discretion of you, the parents, I would like to provide some thoughts on the subject in order to assist you in weighing various pros and cons so that you are able to make the best decision for your individual family.
Important Considerations: Financial Expense: Traveling with more people is simply more expensive. If it would prove to be a financial burden for you to buy one or more additional plane tickets, consider it a blessing that this decision is easy for you and leave your children at home with a trusted family member or friend. Temperament of Child(ren): Is your child a “laid-back” easy-going traveler who handles change with ease? Or is your child one that could be described as a little more “needy”? Your child’s temperament should certainly be taken into consideration when deciding if they should travel with you. Consider that there will be (not might be) less time to devote to that child individually once your newly adopted child is in your care. Think about how they will be required to share a lot of attention in an environment that is not familiar to them. Is your child easily entertained? Think about how much waiting and travel will be involved. Temperament of Parents: Are you the type of parent who is comfortable being away from your child(ren) and leaving them in the care of someone else? Or does it make you a nervous wreck to even think about spending one night away from them? If you feel that you would be unable to be “fully present” with your new child due to worrying about or fretting over your children left at home, maybe it would be best to have them with you. Consider your potential separation anxiety level as well as your children’s. Cultural Differences: Think about how your child has handled new environments in the past. Regardless of where you are adopting from, there will be many cultural differences that you and your child will be faced with. There may be very little that is familiar to them. Consider food as one example. Is your child an extremely picky eater or open to try new types of food (or willing to eat only rice for a few weeks straight)? Also, if your child will look different from everyone around her, you can expect for others to be somewhat fascinated with her. She will likely receive the curiosity of others in the form of hair or skin touching along with a barrage of questions. Country Specific Factors: Is the country you are adopting from a relatively family friendly place to travel? Or is it a war-torn area tainted with high levels of corruption and crime? You should be cautious wherever you go, but if there is a current state of unrest, you may want to do a little more research before traveling with additional children. Also think about the length of stay in country and what the travel arrangements and living conditions may be like. Consider how many hours will be spent traveling by plane, bus, taxi, train, etc while you are away. Logistically, more people may bring about more challenges; for example, they may not be able to fit in one taxi car. There may also be a lot of walking involved and the weather may be trying. Additionally, keep in mind the fact that most countries do not
have the same level (if any level) of precautions and safety features that we are accustomed to within the United States. There may be a cliff with no guardrail, or an extremely busy street with no walkway, or no car seats within a thousand-mile radius, not to mention the extra level of cleansing and sanitation required for proper food preparation. Help / Extra Hands: Is it possible for someone (a grandparent or close friend) to travel with you to assist with your other children? If you decide to travel with children, it may be quite helpful to have an assistant to help care for them so that you can focus more attention on your newly adopted child in addition to completing all of the necessary in-country adoption requirements. If given the option, you may choose to leave your children in the care of someone else when you have various appointments and meetings. Your children may prefer this option as well, especially if the alternative to sitting quietly in a stuffy government building is a trip to the park or a pool. Exposure / Triggers: Think about what your child may be exposed to if he/she travels with you. What type of orphanage environment are you adopting from and how do you think your child would respond to potentially seeing a harsh environment? If you have previously adopted children, please think about what could be negative triggers for them and if they are at a place where it could be beneficial for them to return to an orphanage type setting. Also, be mindful of the fact that everything will be changing for the new child and it is impossible to fully predict what that initial transition will look like for that child. You need to be aware that if your other children are present, they may see much grief and unpredictable behaviors from the child during those first few days and weeks. Pros to Traveling with Children: There are obviously many potential additional challenges to traveling with biological or previously adopted children, but there are a number of likely benefits to it as well. Your already securely attached children can model appropriate behaviors and interactions with you as parents. Children also have a tendency to help other children feel at ease and safe. If they are able to travel with you, they are furthermore given the opportunity to see firsthand where their brother or sister is coming from. It can be an amazing learning opportunity and experience for the entire family. Regardless of your decision to travel with or without any number of your children, I ask that you prepare them well. Being with you in an entirely new context or being home without you are both challenging scenarios for nearly any child. If you are traveling without them, provide some form of visual, like a paper chain, to allow them to see when you will return (if a set date is known). Leave them with little notes to open each day and schedule fun activities for them while you are away. Allow them to celebrate little victories from afar so that they continue to feel included in the adoption process. Video chat with them over the internet and/or talk to them as much as possible. If your children are traveling with you, prepare them for all of the likely challenges listed above and so much more. Prepare them for what they will see, feel, taste, hear, and experience. Also prepare them for what their role should be while in country. Their role is not to “play mom” to their new sibling or to meet any of the child’s needs. Their role can be to model appropriate behaviors, to play with the child and be mom and dad’s “helper.” Preparation and setting proper expectations for yourselves and your children will likely drastically decrease your in-country stress, allowing you to be the parent you desire to be!
Whitney White International Education Counselor