Whenever you add a child to your family, there are so many people who want to come and be a part of your day. The love that people want to express to that child and your family is wonderful, but it can sometimes feel like you are being pulled in multiple directions. Once you are settled in your house after bringing your new child home, there may be times that you feel overwhelmed due to the excitement and involvement of the support circle around you. But, that feeling does not need to stay. It is not something you must muscle through. If you feel a bit closed in from all the attention, imagine how your new child must feel. Everything is new to them, so this type of centered focus can feel like a lot, and may actually be detrimental to their transition into family life. It is absolutely okay for you to ask for more space in many situations.
During your adoption education, you should be taught about the importance of cocooning. This is important for any child but especially important for our children that we bring home from hard places. Cocooning is a word representative of staying home with your immediate family once you return home from your pick-up trip and only allowing the adoptive parents to meet the needs of the new child.
For us and our own experience, this meant cocooning at home as much as possible. We did not put our new son in preschool. We did not go to church. We didn’t go out to eat, to the store, or to the library to pick out books. We lived life inside the walls of our home. (In hindsight, it’s similar to quarantining, without the added fear of health risks.) The only place we traveled to within the first month as a family of five was the doctor.
Limiting exposure to outside places, strangers, and overwhelming elements can be very important to your child’s ability to learn what family life looks like and to establish felt-safety within the confines of your immediate family. This will help lessen the impact of culture shock if your child was adopted internationally (there will be enough culture shock in your own home, you certainly don’t need to overwhelm them by adding aspects of the world). The world can be a big and scary place, especially when you have been trapped inside the walls of an orphanage. Or, maybe your child is a newborn, or brought into your family from foster care–the world can be overwhelming for them, too. Everything they have ever known may have been removed from their lives. Keeping things simple and at home is a way to help them slowly, and healthily, get used to their new life.
Cocooning also means limiting the contact of the people around them. My son had no idea what a mother or father was. So, making sure that we were the only people who were there to meet his immediate needs was very important to our attachment and the development of our relationship with him. If he needed water, we were the only ones to give it to him. If he was hungry, we were the only ones to feed him.
My mother did come over to the house, but she was there to take care of my two other children (one of which was still an infant). I needed more hands, so she came over to be an extension of me. But, we both made sure that I was the only one caring for the child we just brought home. If he got hurt, I hugged him. If he fell, I picked him up. If he needed his diaper changed, I changed it. And then, when my husband came home from work, we took turns doing those things. It was imperative that our son started to look to us for comfort and we needed to create an environment where that was the only option possible. He was so used to fending for himself and dealing with the trauma of living in an orphanage that having parents to dote on him was a brand-new experience. That in and of itself was such a change for him, let alone everything else he was experiencing.
Even after we eased up on the physical cocooning and started to leave the house, we made sure to maintain the care aspect of cocooning for much longer. When we went to restaurants, we made sure that we were the ones to feed him, even if we had other family or friends joining us for the meal. We hugged him when he was hurt, even if grandparents were the ones closest to him in proximity. We even took it a step further so that, when he went to his therapy sessions, I joined in for each and every one. So, if he got scared, overwhelmed, or nervous, I was there to comfort him instead of the therapist. We tried very hard to show him, for a very long time, that we were the ones that he needed to look towards for all his needs.
This is such an important factor for attachment when we bring home our children when they are older than infants. They have never had someone react to their every need – when they cried, many times, no one came to soothe them. When they were hungry, no one fed them until it was time for everyone to eat. When they needed a diaper change and were uncomfortable, they weren’t changed until a specific time predetermined by the caregivers. Many of our older children have never had anyone meeting their needs promptly, so this experience was so brand new. And, so important for our relationship and his understanding of what a family looked and acted like.
2. Overwhelm – Yours or Theirs
It is absolutely okay to ask for more space if you are overwhelmed, or if your child(ren) is overwhelmed. If you are overwhelmed, asking others to give you time to acclimate to your new family dynamic is definitely a healthy boundary to put into place. Sometimes, the mere presence of others can feel overwhelming (like your house being too full of people). So, not inviting others over for a while (especially so you don’t feel the need to be a new parent and a host at the same time) may be crucial to your own adjustment. If your child is overwhelmed, they may be telling you that they need space. Acting out, crying, or other difficult behaviors may be their way to telling you that they need more space. You may notice these behaviors once you decide to ease up on cocooning–this may be an indication that you stopped too soon. Your child is going through so much change at once; you will need to try and follow their pace in terms of new introductions and acclimations.
Or, if you are overwhelmed by your new family dynamic, seeking respite care is sometimes a necessary need for parents. Asking a loving grandparent to take your child for a weekend, or even for a walk, may be all you need to gather some extra patience and composure to parent through the trauma. Many parents of disabled children reach out to respite care providers so that they can have a mental and physical break. Seeking respite is okay and it doesn’t mean you don’t love your child and love to be around them. It just means that you may need to find some self-care.
Holidays, birthdays, or days of remembrance are often periods of time that your child may need space. Even if they were young, had seemingly positive experiences, or are disabled, their body still keeps the score. Their mind may not remember Christmases in an orphanage, but their body may. And that may mean that specific days throughout the year are difficult for them to cope. Their coming-home day, birthdays, and holidays are sometimes difficult for our children to manage their emotions. They have experienced so much loss that sometimes creating a challenging day (on these special days throughout the year) means that they won’t feel the sting of it not turning out if they are the ones who created the difficulty. This coping mechanism is one way of telling us, as parents, that they need more space and more time to process their emotions and cope with big feelings.
If disrespect is happening to you or your family, you will need to ask for more space for protection. If the rules you establish and the boundaries you create are being disregarded and passed over, that is not okay. These rules and boundaries are there to protect your child(ren), to protect your family, and to create a family atmosphere that can foster love, growth, and healing through trauma. If someone can not understand and respect those boundaries, they will need to be removed (or at least kept at a distance) from your family. What you and your child are experiencing is earth-shattering. You are walking with your child through their history which may be full of all kinds of horrors. You are showing them that parents show up, even when the evil of their past emerges and overwhelms. You are showing them that love will not fix everything or heal everything or make the bad things go away; but love will always be there–a beautiful constant amongst the darkness. If anything dares to upheave that constant or try to take control of your family’s coping mechanisms, then they may not be the best fit for your new family and the growth trajectory you are on.
If someone is disrespecting your child’s culture, or their disability, or their race, or their ethnicity, you may need to take action in putting space between that persona and your child. You will need to be their protector and eliminating that negativity will be crucial to how they view themselves especially amongst such drastic changes such as joining a family. This type of disrespect is unacceptable–I believe your child(ren) was made in a perfect image, and no one has the right to defile that.
When someone disrespects you, your child, and/or your family, asking for space is not only okay but is expected.
When your child’s story is at risk, you must ask for more space.
Their story is theirs to explore and theirs to share when they are ready. You, as a parent, can share certain aspects, especially those aspects that involve you and your parenting, but the intricacies and details of their story are theirs. They own their history, their now, and their future. When people try to invade your child’s story, or pry too deeply, or delve too far, you and your child have no obligation to offer up an explanation. Your child’s story is something you have the job to protect and you need to protect it from those who pry.
It is absolutely okay to ask for more space. Whether that be from specific people or space from specific places, it may very well be something that your family needs in order to grow together. Asking for more space will be very important as you begin your new life as a bigger family. Your child who you adopted, you as parents to a new child, and your new family dynamic all deserve to live in a time and place that is protected, honored, and encouraging of growth and healthy attachment. Anyone and anything that interferes with the sacredness of your new family needs to be kept at a distance. Protection of your child, your family, and yourself is so important. If you need self-care, take it. If your child needs more time cocooned at home, do it. If your family needs to isolate itself from certain people, act. You have the most important little lives in your hands, and asking for space may be the best way you can protect them.
I’m Kristi Frazier—Mama of 4, adoption advocate, and wife to my high school sweetheart. I’m just here surviving off of sweet tea and sarcasm, sharing all the feels of life with some honesty, a little bit of humor, and a whole lot of Jesus.