By October 6, 2012 0 Comments Read More →

Adding a second adopted child

girlsrunA few months ago we added a fourth to our family, a wonderful 5-year-old girl who was born in West Africa. While she is adapting well and my oldest enjoys having a sister, we’ve had to deal with a myriad of issues, some of which surprised us. I am sure our experiences are not unique so I wanted to share some things I’ve learned along the way.

Visiting the country: A family affair or a solo trip?

If it is not required, I  strongly recommend visiting your child’s country of birth. Not only will it help you bond with your child, it will provide a lot of answers about his or her behavior and will give you with the opportunity to meet with any surviving family members if their whereabouts are known.

The big question is,  do you bring your other children with you or take the trip alone? When we had a court date, I spent 10 days in the country doing the legal work necessary to complete the adoption. It was great meeting our daughter and spending time with her alone. I was able to give her my undivided attention and to bond with her and she thrived.

But the 10 days were very difficult on our oldest back home, who is also adopted. We were worried that she would somehow feel abandoned again and would act out in ways that were unmanageable for my husband.

I had prepared her by repeatedly telling her that I loved her, that I was going to meet her sister and by assuring her that I would be home in 10 days. I also did things to let her know that I was thinking about her while I was away. For example, I hid little notes around the house for her to find when I was away. Sometimes I hid small treasures along with the notes. Once she found a piece of bubble gum wrapped in a note with hearts all over it. Since she is rarely allowed to chew gum, it was a great surprise and a big treat for her.

I also gave my husband a small toy that I knew she would love and told him to give it to her on a day when she was feeling down. Sure enough, one day she was on the verge of a meltdown and told my husband she was worried I wasn’t coming home. He gave her the gift and it worked its magic. She called me to thank me immediately and then ran to the park to show her friends.

But by the end of my trip, the notes and small gifts had lost their magic and the only thing she wanted was for her mother to come home.

A family trip

For a variety of reasons — including that we didn’t know how long it would take to get a visa and feared our oldest would not be able to handle another separation  — we decided make the trip to bring our daughter home a family vacation.

The first few days as a family of 4 were spent at the orphanage and in a hotel nearby. We spent a few hours a day with our daughter’s friends at the orphanage and the rest of the time coloring and playing at the hotel. When we felt she was ready to say goodbye, we went sight-seeing around the country.

We spent the first week at a beach resort and the rest of the time traveling. We had a great time and the girls had a carefree and fun environment in which they were able to learn how to become sisters.

However, as expected, our oldest had some mixed emotions about being back in her country of birth. Despite our best efforts to prepare her,  she was surprised and upset by the poverty she saw. She loved being a big sister but she was also jealous and didn’t like sharing her parents. The myriad of conflicting emotions she experienced confused and upset her.

With time she was able to see the beauty and kindness of the people of her country and she learned we didn’t love her any less because we had another daughter.

Our youngest learned to be a part of our family in a setting that was familiar to her. When you are used to being able to do whatever you want, it is a shock to have someone suddenly tell you what you can and cannot do.  It helped that we were in her country during her adjustment period and she had something that felt comfortable and easy. And while it was not an easy trip, it was a valuable one.

Back home

My biggest fear about adding to our family was that our oldest would regress and our youngest would be difficult to manage during her transition to life in France. Much to my dismay, this is exactly what happened. Having two children is an adjustment. Having two children who are acting up and acting out is frustrating, exhausting and, at times, humiliating — I’ve had a lot of disapproving looks from neighbors who don’t understand why my child or children are screaming or stomping or crying.

I read that sometimes when one child  misbehaves, the other tries to compensate by behaving like an angel. In my case, the opposite happened. When one got upset or frustrated or threw a tantrum, the other joined in. Every once in a while I had two out of control little ones and no idea how to calm them down. Sometimes I did well and was able to calm them without too much trouble. Other times I made mistakes that I tried to learn from (hint: yelling doesn’t work).

What I learned is that sometimes you have to let the tantrum run its course and deal with it afterward. Get the kids home or in your car if you’re out and let them wear themselves out.  When they have calmed down, you can discuss what happened and come up with ways to prevent it from happening again. I had to do this six or seven times so plan on being patient, repeating the lessons and reminding them what they said they would do if they felt a tantrum coming on.

Now if the youngest seems on the verge of a tantrum, my oldest will say, “quick, we have to put on some music and dance, she said that will help her.” The youngest does the same when the oldest is cranky. It doesn’t always work, but it’s nice that they try to help each other.

Stay on message

It’s also important that you and your partner stay on message with the children during the first few months. Be clear about what is acceptable and what is not. Set rules and stick to them. Discipline to teach, but make sure the punishment fits the crime and that the lesson is clear. And remember, your newest addition may not understand you as well as you think. Make sure what you are trying to say is what is being understood. This is especially important if English is not the child’s first language.

One-to-one time

Something I realized early on is it was very difficult for me to spend time alone with our oldest daughter. Our youngest was clingy and not fully comfortable with my husband and anytime I went out, she was with me. I could see it upset our oldest so my husband and I decided to make sure we each spent time alone with each of the children. Once a week I take the oldest to her piano lesson and we spend a few hours together afterward.  I try to make the time fun and easy so we can laugh and talk. For example, once we went on a short boat ride, another day we went to a music store and then out to lunch at her favorite restaurant.

My husband takes the opportunity to spend quality time with our youngest. As a result, we’ve both been able to bond more fully with both our children and open the lines of communication between all of us.

Time alone

And finally, I have to admit that I really miss having time for myself. I still haven’t managed to find a lot of time, but I now do set aside at least 10 minutes for myself every day. I have also given up some of the things I did when I had just one child. I no longer belong to the PTA (which is actually a relief). While I will attend most of my daughter’s soccer games this year, I will skip some. And I will not go on every school trip like I’ve done in the past. I divide my time evenly between the kids, but I now factor myself into the equation more than I did before.

Raising two is harder than raising one and it’s more than twice the work because you have so many different things to consider. But it is so worth it. Both our girls are now thriving. And while we are more tired than before, we also laugh more.

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