Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Words of Wisdom, Part I

We're asking parents who have adopted older children to share their insights, their tips and tricks, survival skills, etc. Our parents have provided a variety of responses, what we call "Words of Wisdom". We will post a few at a time for you to read and contemplate. We hope you'll enjoy these Words of Wisdom.

Words of Wisdom I
Off the top of my head, the best words of wisdom I can think of came from Susan Song (ASIA staff in China). It was about not letting the shopkeepers on Shamian Island embarrass or question an older child too much. Susan said that had bothered some older kids from previous adoptions.

Susan also said try to go with the flow as much as possible with older kids, and try not to deny them things that they may want within reason. After all, the child is really exploring a whole new world in a way, even while still in China. I pretty much let my child do what she wanted as long as it was safe even if I didn't especially agree/like it. For instance, Chinese TV is generally very violent (we think so anyway) and she just loved watching all those violent Chinese soap operas. She appreciated that I did that, even though when we lived in China we never allowed our kids to watch them. If we went shopping and I could afford what she wanted, I wouldn't fuss about it even if it wouldn't have been my choice. Maybe the key is realizing that an older child wasn't born the day of adoption, and has her OWN interests and desires that may or may not be exactly what the adoptive family promotes. There's time for the child to learn the family values and such later.

Words of Wisdom II
I was adopted as an older child and would like to offer a bit of advice from my own experience. As an older child I had so many ways I already saw the world from what I knew it to be through my previous experiences. It would have been tremendously healing and helpful in my adjustment to my new family for my adoptive parents to have respected my worldview and shown patience as I changed everything about my life to fit into their world. The change was much more difficult than they ever understood. I longed to please them.

Words of Wisdom III
Here are some things I have learned after having adopted three times from China:

1) Every child needs a family.

2) Not every child wants a family.

3) Just because a child wants a family doesn't mean they know how to be part of one. For some children their only adult relationships have been with teachers and/or SWI workers. They've never been invited to a friend's house and witnessed the interaction between parent and child. They don't know how to interact with adults, including their new parents. They don't have a realistic vision of what 'family' is. Many times their only vision is fantasy. A fantasy that their new parents can never live up to.

4) For some children the adults in their lives were only people to be avoided or pacified or manipulated for the child's survival. They enter their new family only knowing these survival skills.

5) Not all Social Welfare Institutes are highly structured institutions where the children are closely supervised and follow a regimented routine.

6) Years of SWI living and the survival skills and habits learned in them take time to unlearn, lots of time. Lots and lots and lots of time. Old habits need to be replaced with new ones. Wrong information needs to be replaced with correct information, etc.

7) Some adopted older children may mistake their new parents' signs of love and affection as a weakness. These children need to be drawn into a loving relationship with their new parents slowly. At first, they need to know we are firm, but not unkind. As the child learns to adjust to this new atmosphere and relationship, privileges and outward indications of love can be added to the relationship slowly.

8) Children in China are not necessarily taught to respect adults.

9) Just because a parent longs for a child, completes mountains of paperwork to adopt a child, waits anxiously for their child, spends months dreaming and imagining what life with this child will be like does not guarantee that the parent will love the child. Or like the child.

10) Love is a commitment. The emotional attachment, in some cases, takes time. Wanting to love a child does not guarantee that you will fall in love with, or even like your child right away. And that's okay.

11) A parent struggling with a new child does not, under any circumstances, want to hear "it will take time" or "it must be a difficult time for the child" even if it is true!

12) No matter how experienced a parent is, each adoption, like each child is different and presents its own problems (and joys). Support is so very important. When a parent can not get that support from the people in their lives, their Internet friends' support can mean so much. When a parent turns to that Internet support they need to know they will not be condemned, ridiculed, put down or thought less of or referred to immediate therapy. It is hard enough to admit to having struggles without the fear of yet more rejection, especially from those in the adoption community who have Been There and Done That (BTDT).

13) Adopted children, for a while, can not be expected to react like children of the same age born into a family. With time they will blend in and interact and react just like their peers, but for a while they won't. I had a friend whose newly adopted daughter was having trouble sleeping at night and all the advice she was given by non-adoptive parents was "she is old enough to be sleeping through the night, just let her cry herself back to sleep". This obviously would have been a terrible idea for the newly adopted child. Likewise with kids adopted at an older age. A child adopted into a family probably won't run to his/her mother for love and nurturing like a child born into the family. There is a good chance they have never had anyone to depend on or run to. It will take time for them to trust, to understand and to accept love and nurturing.

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