“How can I help?”
What a BLESSING to have heard this question so many times over the last two weeks! I have had to apologize, because most often my answer has been “I don’t know yet.” A few times, it was just a whimpered “Sonic, please.” Really, the Sonic lady and I have become besties recently. She gives me extra Nerds in my slush, which we have now renamed the Stress Slush.
It is a wonderful and caring question. It’s also a question that triggers my pride. I remember that when Malachi came home, a friend offered to bring me a meal and I laughed heartily and said “Why no, friend! I’ll bring YOU a meal! I am most capable with my three, count them three, children!”…then hours later, cried in the fetal position in my kitchen while tossing my children potato chips out of the bag. I honestly assumed that since Malachi wasn’t a newborn, I would be FINE. I didn’t account for so many things, like how siblings would adjust or how meltdowns happen and can’t wait to be dealt with or how responding in a kind and consistent and quick way would emotionally and physically exhaust me. I was a dummy. A prideful shortsighted dummy.
I will not be a dummy this time. I can’t be. The truth is, this adoption is different. My four, count them four, children need me in a way that they never have before. We have big feelings here and big thoughts. Big questions and big reactions. And quite honestly, it is like boot camp right now, except a boot camp with calm gentle voices and playful interactions. But don’t be fooled- I collapse on the couch as soon as the upstairs is quiet and try to mentally unpack all the details of the day- did I respond the most nurturing way to her statement? Am I building rapport with her teacher? Did I show enough empathy to a hurting sibling? Did I put enough stuff in her hair? Did Malachi’s homework get done? What did that facial expression mean? Did I shower today??
So I decided that maybe it would be helpful if I wrote out some ways that you as family and friends, can support a family who has recently brought home an older child (many of these things will apply to bringing home a baby as well). One of my best friends has kindly offered to set up a care calendar for us and I am going to be a not dummy and embrace it with my gentle exhausted arms. (See below for information) How can you help?
Pray. No, I don’t mean that in the Christian cliche way. I mean, sincerely pray. Imagine for a moment walking in to your friend’s house and they are drunk, having a panic attack, and climbing up the front of you. Add three more people who are only slightly less disheveled. Add a dog. Realize it’s time to make dinner. Someone asks you a mild theology question like “why does God allow pain if He loves us?” This has been my house for a week.
Space and time. Typically, it is recommended that new adoptive families do something called “cocooning”, which just basically means simplify and close ranks. Especially with an older child, and a child who may have experienced trauma, their brains are firing away with stress hormones, and so some extended time in the home, away from lots of people, noise, and excitement is a good way to calm them down. It also gives the child, siblings, and parents time to begin attachment, and helps the child learn who they can and should trust to meet their needs. It’s so hard, because people get excited about adoption! Everyone wants to meet the new child and spend time with them…but the truth is, that child needs less people, not more. That child doesn’t need zoo trips and play dates, they need quiet books read to them while cuddling on the couch. Just ask- sometimes it will be fine, and sometimes parents will need to say no. But understand that when a parent says no, it is not about you, it is about meeting the needs of a vulnerable child.
Sibling Love. Ladies, have you ever been somewhere and been constantly called someone’s mom or wife? Have you ever had that feeling of wanting to say “hey, I am a person too- not just someone’s mom!”. Well, this can happen with siblings of a newly adopted child. You can bless a family by offering to take the siblings for a fun outing, or offer to drive them places that they need go. You can also do something as simple as engage them in conversation that has nothing to do with adoption. Realize that the siblings are adjusting too- and they won’t always be happy about it. Remember that they are likely grieving the loss of what they knew as their family. Remember the drunk panicking analogy earlier? Well, siblings are dealing with it too- only they probably don’t have the same coping skills as parents do.
Practical help. I’m being totally honest here- my brain is full. So the question- “what can I do to help?” is one that most of the time, I simply cannot answer. Last Sunday, my best friend texted me to ask me to lunch and I literally said to her “Choose a place and tell me where to meet you.” Organization and decision making skills are not high functioning right now, and they have been replaced by marathon rocking sessions and trying not to fall asleep while “making dinner” (ordering pizza). Some things that may help are meals (don’t forget breakfasts, mornings are often very stressful for new families), cleaning services, help with home repairs, playdates for older siblings, errands run, etc. The goal would be to free up the mom and dad from other responsibility so that they have the energy and time to just be slow and love that child. Older children don’t just seamlessly assimilate into families, they arrive, often prickly and self protective, confused and anxious and angry and grieving. And like when there is a death, we stop life. We focus on what is needed, what is important, and hopefully others come alongside to pick up the slack.
Adoption is beautiful. But it’s also grief and pain and loss. My baby girl is grieving and grieving hard. We all are.
So many of you have offered to help. We are so grateful. Here is a link to our care calendar, where you can sign up for various ways to help.
Calendar ID : 218771
Security code : 6144
You can also email Cate Miller if you want to help in a different way- firstname.lastname@example.org