We have dozens of special stuffed animals that were given to our daughter both before she came home and after. After two years of being home, she plays with exactly one of them. The point is, we do not always know how to prepare or what our children will need when they come home. Many people becoming parents for the first time go a little overboard. With adoption, that is very true as well.
Because the wait times are so long, hopeful adoptive parents find themselves over-preparing. There are also families that wait until the last minute to prepare their homes for an adopted child for fear of getting their hopes up when the timelines and nature of adoption are so unpredictable. Preparing for a child through adoption is different, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. Here are five easy ways to get ready for an adopted child.
1. You have too much stuff: less is more.
This is not a new concept. Many Americans have more stuff than they will ever be able to enjoy. Many documentaries have come out exploring minimalism and the joy of decluttering. We think children and babies especially need way more than they actually do. Most children have a few toys they tend to play with more than others. Babies do not need every single gadget and device.
To prepare for an adopted child, it is essential that their space is uncomplicated. Keep their world safe, predictable, and small. This can be achieved by having a nursery that is not cluttered. Only have a few things in the room. Do not overdecorate with bright colors. Many children adopted internationally come to America and it is overwhelming when there are so many toys, bright wall colors, and flashy characters on the bedding.
Our daughter spent most of her time in two rooms of an orphanage. Her world was small and uncomplicated. Suddenly, her life was turned upside down and I didn’t want her to come to her new home and be overwhelmed there as well. So, we got rid of extra furniture and toys. We put toys in the garage and cycle them through every couple of months so we are not buried in piles of toys that go unplayed with. Well-meaning friends and family will continue to gift toys and stuffed animals, so have a plan to keep it simple.
2. Make the home safe.
When my sister was a foster parent, one of the first things she would do before the child would go to bed the first few nights was showing them the safety features of the house. She showed them that they had locks and alarms on the doors leading outside. She had nightlights set up so the kids could find the bathroom at night. And she always made it clear that they could come to wake her up if they were afraid in the night. Kids need to feel safe—that is especially true for children who were adopted or who come from hard places.
There is also the issue of safety that is for the parents. We have child safety locks on doors leading to the garage and back door and we pay attention to our child’s ability to get through them. If a child gets scared, that happens a lot when a child first comes to live in a new home, they may go into flight, fight, or freeze. Many children who come from hard places like orphanages or foster care can respond to fear by running. Having a plan in place to keep children safe is essential. We have physical ways we keep our children safe while we work on helping them have felt safety.
3. Food: bring what is familiar into their new home.
When we started adopting from India, my husband and I were not super familiar with Indian food. I was nervous to cook the food because they use ingredients and cooking techniques that were new to me. I would consider myself a good cook. I grew up eating delicious homemade Filipino and Chinese cooking. Both my grandpa and great-grandpa were master chefs. My husband grew up around a large Hispanic population; so when we got married, I learned how to make Mexican food as authentic as I could. Despite my comfort in the kitchen, Indian food seemed a new task.
That is why we went to Indian restaurants and tried all the dishes. We asked awkward questions. We even took pictures and notes of the food so I could try and recreate it at home. I found Indian and Asian grocery stores and found the spice blends and special ingredients to bring Indian food into our home.
When we were in India to bring our daughter home, we already knew the names of the dishes. We had a general idea of what different foods were. We still learned so much and tried many new foods, but it was still a shock—especially the level of spice. We learned what our daughter ate in the orphanage; when we came home, I always had some rice dal in the fridge. Now we eat Indian food on a regular basis. My daughter loves the spicy flavors of her homeland and we love to share her culture as a family.
4. Prepare to adjust your bedtime routine.
In international adoption, the children may be older when they are adopted, but still, be prepared to co-sleep. Every family is different, but we found that so much bonding happened in those first months of sharing a bed. Our daughter had spent two years in an orphanage in a crib by herself and; when she cried at night, someone didn’t always come to her aid. During the first months home, I was proving to my daughter that I will come running when she needs me, even if it is in the middle of the night. For months, she cried for hours every night. She had grief and night terrors and I got to be the person who prayed for her and rocked her in my arms, night after night.
That was a hard season, but I am so glad I was physically close—I got to be there for her right away. We had her sleep in a specially made crib that had an open side so she had her own space, but I was inches away if she needed me. Slowly, we moved her farther and farther away from our bed, but I was always available until she was in her own room. We even had an extra bed in her room in case I needed to go in and be there for her. It took more than a year, but now she sleeps through the night and very rarely needs me in the middle of the night. She knows she can come to our room if she needs mom and dad. That is beautiful because before her adoption, she used to cry and had no comfort. Some families just keep a small bed in their room in case their child needs it because they need their bed to be child-free. Other families have an open-bed policy. Every family is different. So, as hard as co-sleeping is, it was one of the best bonding experiences we did early after our daughter’s adoption.
5. Make their circle small.
We waited years to bring our little girl home. Our family and friends helped us financially, prayed for us, and my friends even gave me the most extravagant baby shower. They were so excited for us to adopt; when we came home, everyone wanted to meet her.
In our church, when a baby is born, people bring meals and come do your dishes and hold your baby: that is normal in our family culture. Adoption is different because we need those first weeks and maybe even the first months to bond and become a family. The child can confuse other adults as caregivers or even parents, so we have to limit who spends time with the child. We needed those first few months to prove and show our child that we are more than caregivers. We are Mom and Dad; it takes space and time to teach the child that.
It was hard for my family and church community to give us space, but they were understanding and respected our wishes. They dropped meals on our porch and sent video messages to help me feel connected to my friend group. The reason they were able to love and support us this way was because of lots of education on adoption and, funnily enough: a social media post. We explained attachment and adoption and bonding and allowed people to ask questions and get answers. We had so many great conversations because most people just didn’t understand adoption.
We did have all our friends and family meet us at the airport so they could briefly meet our daughter and celebrate our return. Then, we went home and we cocooned for a month. It was just the three of us enjoying the sweetness of our new, little family. After that, we slowly invited others to meet and be around our daughter in a healthy and happy way. We kept her circle small and she learned that home is a safe place.
Overall, every adoption is unique and every family approaches it differently, but these 5 ways we prepared our home for our adopted child have made life easier for us all.
Natalie Welch is a co-creator of the InstaMommas, a Christain podcast/blog that is all about motherhood and adoption. She is happily married and a mother through international adoption to her 4-year-old daughter. Natalie graduated with a BS in Secondary Education in English with an emphasis in English as a New Language and Spanish Language studies from the University of Idaho. Natalie was a teacher for many years and now loves being a stay-at-home mom. Natalie enjoys traveling the world, creating or listening to music, reading long novels, and continuing her education. Currently, Natalie is learning American Sign Language (ASL) to communicate better with her daughter who has special needs. Natalie loves to take long walks with her family and explore the beautiful state of Idaho she has called home for the last ten years. Natalie has a passion for adoption and loves to share hope and healing through her writing.