Deep breath, the mountain of paper is out of your hands, literally, and now you are ready to…do what? What is there to do during the next phase of the process known as “The Wait”? For some parents, this is a time to sit back and relax, return to your life before home visits and notary appointments. For others it is an abyss of anxiety of unknown timeframes, of not knowing what is going to happen next and when. Whether you have already been matched or are still waiting to see your beautiful child’s face for the first time, this phase is H.A.R.D. There is no checklist to consult, no social workers giving you tasks to complete and a lot of free time on your hands. This may be your first child or your 18th…either way, a small person is about to enter your home, your heart, and your life and turn things upside down and inside out. There are a several things that you can do before that day comes to help yourself and your family prepare for the whirlwind of energy, love, grief, and every other emotion that will most likely come all wrapped up in a child you have longed for.
Work and Medical:
If you work outside of the home, try to bank as much vacation, sick, or overtime as possible. There will be unexpected days where an appointment opens up for a specialist or the chance arises to tour the new school your child will go to; employers are likely to be a bit more forgiving if they see that you have prepared ahead of time for these surprises. Make a list of all of your log in credentials and frequently visited software programs/websites to give to whomever will be backing you up while you are gone. If you hop on that plane knowing that you have prepared your stand-in as thoroughly as you could have, you will have a much easier time letting go and being in the moment with your newest family member. Whether or not your child has significant needs to be addressed when you get home, you will want to make an appointment for a regular exam and other doctors you may need to see as soon as you can as some specialists have a several month wait list. It is better to already be in the system before your plane touches down than have to wrestle with phone calls and scheduling conflicts while tending to the needs of your new child.
Get your kiddos room all ready, new clothes washed and put away, walls painted, bed made, toys organized and ready to be played with. You will be preparing to send a photo album to your new child and it will be incredibly comforting to them to see the reality look exactly like the photos they have been shown as they were waiting for you. If you have a pet, this is a great time to get them acclimated to being around other children; leave toys around to teach them what they can and cannot play with themselves…unless you have a dog like mine who believes everything is communal property! Purge the house of all items you truly don’t need any more. Your house will fill up with “stuff” from having another person living there faster than you can say Garage Sale. It is impossible to know everything your child will require but you can stock your house with a majority of things ahead of time – Target shopping while jet lagged is like grocery shopping hungry…not that I write from first hand experience…
Read every blog, forum, book and Facebook Group you can find. Been There Done That parents are some of the best resources you will find. Ask for suggestions on what books were the most helpful, there are tons of adoption and travel guidebooks out there, some are far more beneficial than others and you don’t need to waste precious time on outdated material. Scour your local library or Netflix for movies not just on adoption but on China travel in general. It will feel like a lifetime that you are over there but two weeks goes by in the blink of an eye and the more you learn beforehand, the more you can appreciate that experience. Plus, who wouldn’t love feeling like they are starring in their own travel show as they navigate through the streets of another country already filled with knowledge gleaned from Lisa Ling or Anthony Bourdain?
Traveling physical roads and trying new foods is one thing, but preparing for grief and fear, excitement and love, attachment and bonding is a completely different story. Attachment comes in many forms. Adoptive parents are taught that eye contact and spontaneous hugs and I Love You’s are the tell-tale signs of a bonded child. For some this is true, for others it is a well-rehearsed act that the children have practiced repeatedly to ensure that they won’t be left again. Children’s homes and foster care have the huge responsibility to make or break a child’s trust, and sadly some do not take that responsibility seriously enough. Some children will attach to one parent over the other initially; i.e. a child who never had a male role model falling head over heels in love with his new father while being equally angry at the new mom as she was seemingly trying to replace women who loved him dearly his whole life. That kind of rejection can break a person if they don’t understand that this is a very real possibility before they even sign the application with an agency. Use this time to learn how to identify these signs of rejection and attachment from the child and from yourself. Research food hoarding, sensory issues, self-preservation behaviors, and fear. These children will be scared; they may show it they may not. But inside their minds and hearts, there will be fear and sadness on some level. It will be your job to find that fear, acknowledge it, and help them replace it with peace and stability. Read the hard books that talk about worst case scenarios in attachment issues and grief; read the flowery books where everything works out perfectly wrapped up like a sitcom episode. Prepare yourself for life somewhere on that spectrum. Your newest family member has just gone through a change that few of us can truly and personally understand, and their confidence will be your number one priority.
Family and Self:
Use the time waiting to get a pedicure, write in a journal, take long walks by yourself, whatever you need to do to just BE. You will have this time again, but it may not be for a while. Parents of a new child need to have their batteries fully charged to start this new relationship. Speaking of relationships, if there are already children in your home, hug them – A LOT. Reassure them their accomplishments in school or sports or the arts are still just as worthy of your time; talk to them about their lives and fears of having a new sibling, this change will affect their worlds just as much as yours. If you are married and especially if this is your first child, stop everything you are doing immediately and go on a date – turn your phones off, power down your tablets and talk to each other, not just about your new child or the process, talk about your day, movies you would like to see, something you saw in the news, go to dinner, take a walk, just BE with each other. Strengthen that relationship as much as you think you can and then do more. This child will add a dynamic to your already established “normal” that you cannot fully prepare for and for some that is hard. It is ok to reach out for help, every partnership has gone or will go through a period of readjustment and some days it can feel like you will never have “normal” again. You may feel lonely and think, “What did we just do???” But you are not alone. Let me repeat – you are NOT alone. Please call your social workers, local support groups, clergy, sister, online friend, someone, and talk about it. Your fears are normal and valid and there are countless people who can help you through this.
Just so this is written in fair perspective, I asked my husband what advice he would give to other waiting dads and in his words, “Study up on China, learn some Mandarin, do everything in your power to make sure the wife stays sane.” Smart man.
So what do you do while you wait? You exhale. Then you study and learn and arm yourself with as much knowledge as you can. You gather your Village and be comforted and supported by their love. You continue to live your life because this new adventure is just beginning!
The Connected Child by Karen Purvis
Beyond Consequences, Logic and Control by Heather Forbes and B. Bryan Post
Post-Adoption Blues by Karen Foli
TCU Institute of Child Development – www.child.tcu.edu
Empowered to Connect – www.empoweredtoconnect.org
Love Me, Feed Me Resources – www.thefeedingdoctor.com