Ways to Help Friends Adopting an Older Child

by Camille on May 4, 2013

For the purposes of this post, I’m going to refer to our potential adoptee as G. It will be up to her whether any identifying information is ever shared here. 

Adoption #2 Update: InstaMom Version 2.0

I promised to try and keep y’all updated as our second adoption becomes a reality, but life has kept me away from my computer this week. In case you missed it, I’d recommend reading THIS POST explaining how we came to the decision to pursue adopting a teenage girl.

So….funny story. Some of you may remember how Ellie came into our lives rather quickly? Seems as though this addition is going to progress more rapidly than expected as well. The Lebels: we build family fast.

As I wrote in the last post, we were planning on having G. move in permanently at the end of May after a series of visits. Turns out, she could be moving in as early as next week.

Yikes. This just got real, y’all. I mean, we’ve attended the classes, read the books, stalked the blogs, discussed the endless “what-ifs,” prayed and planned and prayed some more. But as you probably know, nothing can truly prepare one for being a parent. At some point, you just jump in and go.

We met with G. on Wednesday in what must have felt like the Spanish Inquisition of social workers. One seventeen-year-old kid and ten or so adults seeking an answer to, “So, based on one letter and a picture, how do you feel about these folks becoming your family forever?” 

I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been for her all those times, sitting at a table with so many people controlling her life. Fortunately, after a few minutes of introductions and such, they left us alone to talk, and we were able to begin the fragile and challenging process of getting to know one another. We only had about 15 minutes, and there was still an audience of social workers hovering nearby, but we discovered some similarities. They’d probably seem insignificant to most, but it’s the little things that matter. A favorite food. A movie. A book. Tiny links upon which we can build a foundation for trust and relationship. A place for a new family to grow.

We weren’t sure how the visit was going (and we were actually afraid she was about to completely reject us), when a counselor informed us G. is ready to move forward. As in….now.

So, she’ll be coming for a visit this weekend, and if all goes well, we’ll have another family member by next week. We’re nervous, of course, but also terribly excited. :-)

Several incredibly kind individuals have asked how they can help, and so, I thought I’d share some advice from around the Web and from my own experience in how you might be a blessing to families adopting or fostering. You know how churches, neighbors, family, and friends take care of folks when they have a new baby? Many of the same principles apply to adoptive families, no matter the age of the child.

How to Help Your Friend Who is Fostering/Adopting an Older Child

1. Read What Foster Parents Wish Other People Knew by Sharon Astyk 

Not all of this advice applies specifically to us at this moment, but it’s excellent advice, nonetheless. Pay special attention to

#1 We’re Not Freakin’ Saints

#2 Watch What You Say Around the Kids

#3 Don’t Act Surprised That They’re Nice/Smart/Loving/Well-Behaved….

Ok….just read the whole thing. 

2. Provide Some Food

Yes, this is completely self-serving. I hate to cook, but I love to eat. I’ve gotten a decent handle on meal-planning and shopping for our family of five, but adding another teenager to the table is no doubt going to require some adjustment as I figure out how much extra food to cook, what she eats, etc. If you show up at my door with food, I will kiss your toes and grab the guys to sing your praises in three-part harmony. Or something like that. Like most families, adoptive parents want to spend the first few days at home just getting to know the new person, whether that person is a seven-pound chunk of baby wrinkles or a drum-playing, gospel-singing 18-year-old boy. Oh, and G. loves chicken wings. Just throwing that out there.

3. Show the New Kid Some Serious LOVE.

We want G. to feel completely comfortable and insanely loved not just in our family but in our lives as a whole. So, if you’re a regular part of our lives, please consider some ways to make her feel welcome. For instance, some amazing people from our church offered to throw a sort of “welcome party” for G. in place of the traditional baby shower. I was so touched by the thoughtfulness of that gesture, I went home and had a good old ugly cry. Love y’all. LOVE. 

Other ideas? Maybe mail her a card, telling her who you are and how you know us. Include a picture from last year’s Christmas card if you really want to get fancy (No doubt I’ve lost it by now. Sorry.) I’ll never forget how some special friends made special efforts to make the guys feel welcome when they first moved in. Whether it’s sharing a meal, lending a drum set, or going for a run, small actions go a long way, and kids cannot have too many positive and encouraging mentors.

(Do be aware that depending on the age of the child and his or her history, adoptive families may go through a “cocooning” period in which they need space to form strong attachments. There are plenty of ways to help without being directly involved with the child. Ask the parents what you can do, and respect any boundaries they have with regards to the child.) 

4. Become a Support Person

Fostering to adopt in TN takes, at minimum, six months. That means for the next six months, we have to follow the extremely detailed and strict rules of Youth Villages. While not at school, G. has to be under our immediate supervision at all times. Even though she’s 17, we can’t run out to the grocery or go grab dinner without her. This isn’t a huge deal, as we want to spend as much time as possible getting to know her, but at some point in the next six months, there is a possibility we might want one or two dinners alone. There’s also the possibility she might not appreciate hanging out in the pediatrician’s office for three hours or looking at tile samples for the afternoon. Hard to imagine, I know. We can’t drop her off with family or friends…..unless they have filled out the appropriate support paperwork. (Hint, hint, shameless plea.) A support person has to have a background check and provide a driver’s license and proof of insurance. Easy! With YV, a support can keep a child for up to four hours. The rules and procedures vary between agencies.

5. Offer to Keep the Other Kids

For families that already have children, it can be challenging trying to shuffle their needs while focusing on a new person. For instance, Ellie is two-years-old. When she feels she’s not getting enough attention, she gets loud. Really loud. We’re trying to convince her that she’s not queen of the world, but yeah….like I said. She’s two. Therefore, while trying to help G. adjust to a new environment, new people, new rules, etc., it might be nice to have the occasional moment or two of solitude so she can get used to us before fully taking on the tiny whirlwind of destruction known as “little sister.” So, if you’re headed to the park or the Zoo or are just throwing your kids into the backyard with the water hose for a few hours, consider inviting your adopting friends to dump their littles into the mix for a bit. For those adopting younger children (who may need some intense bonding time), consider helping by taking older kids out of the house to do something special.

6. Pray

Above all, lift up your friends and their family in prayer. I can’t tell you how much it has meant over the past few months to have people that continually call or text with support. Those reminders that we are loved and that people are asking God to watch over our family….that’s gold, people.

 

If you’re a foster or adoptive family, what advice would you add? What supports have been most helpful as you added a new member to your family? 

 

Update: Our daughter’s name is Karlos. We used an initial to refer to her in these earlier posts before her adoption was finalized to comply with foster care privacy policies. 

 

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Nancy May 5, 2013 at 3:05 pm

We have friends who’ve fostered and adopted teens. So here’s what was helpful for them: gift cards to Target, so their new child could purchase a few things for their room, and gift cards to pizza places and ice cream places for a treat night (in or out). Congratulations on adding another daughter to your family!

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Nikki May 7, 2013 at 11:59 am

My husband and I in our second round of foster parenting with hopes of adopting. We have had so many people supporting us – this time we have a 15 year old, a 2 year old, and an 8 month old (in addition to our 8 and 9 year old birth daughters). We had friends show up with new and used items like diaper bags, blankets, toys, etc. I couldn’t tell you how many people sent me texts and messages asking what we needed – and it was all provided in record time! Support is key! Congrats on your new journey!

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Camille May 12, 2013 at 1:09 pm

Nikki,
Thanks for taking the time to comment. :-) Sounds like you have an amazing family, and that you can relate to the large range of ages we’re currently parenting. Fun times! We are fortunate to have some supportive friends and family; you’re right! It’s key. Best to you and yours!

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